In the big business that is college athletics, hands are forever under the table, it seems.
That is where cash, new cars, or a nice job for Mom are pulled out and passed with a wink to talented teenagers who can run fast and jump high.
One lawmaker in Alabama believes more can be done to stop such practices by targeting rogue "boosters"—individuals who, without a university's approval, try to lure top high school athletes to campus with an array of enticements.
State Rep. Gerald Allen, a Democrat from Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, has proposed a bill that would make it a crime for a booster to pay a high school athlete in order to influence where he or she goes to college. A companion bill that he sponsored would make it illegal as well for a high school coach to accept money with the intention of influencing a student athlete's college choice.
Mr. Allen said the negative influence some boosters have had recently in college sports inspired him to file the legislation.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association in February placed Alabama on a five-year probation after an investigation found that, among other infractions, two boosters for the university's football program had given one recruit $20,000 in cash, and that a high school coach had received cash and had sought two sport utility vehicles in exchange for pushing a star recruit to the university.
Scandals have also surfaced in other states. Last November, the University of Michigan announced sanctions against its basketball program after an internal investigation found that a booster had provided more than $600,000 to four former players.
"We would like to be able to send a strong message out to sports boosters to remind them that when they get involved with schools, or pressure coaches or individuals to do unethical things, that this is something we don't want to see happen," Rep. Allen said.
"Here in Alabama, we have a rich tradition that was tarnished because of self-centered individuals who thought they were untouchable," he said. "We want to pass legislation that lets alumni and boosters know that we have to be a part of protecting the overall integrity of the schools."
Similar bills proposed by Rep. Allen and other Alabama legislators have failed before, though the recent controversy could make approval more likely this time. A Georgia lawmaker, meanwhile, has introduced legislation that would penalize boosters with jail time and fines if they violated NCAA rules while recruiting high school athletes.
The bills in Alabama have cleared committee and will now go to the full House.
Vol. 22, Issue 32, Page 9Published in Print: April 23, 2003, as Sports