Oregon defends recruiting practices.
The University of Oregon athletic department has jumped to the defense of a program that hosts high school recruits after it was featured on a national cable television special about schools that use sex as a tool to lure prospective student-athletes.
The program, called Teamwork, was featured in an episode of HBO's series "Real Sports" that aired Tuesday. A reporter from the series interviewed two former Teamwork members, both female, and a former member of the UO football team, all of whom verified that sex can indeed be an aspect of recruiting visits.
The former player was Eddie Smith, who is still on scholarship but never played a down of football for the Ducks after leaving the team due to recurring shoulder problems. Smith was quoted as saying one of the attractions for recruits on official 48-hour visits to the university was "girls. Girls, girls, girls."
Also featured were former Teamwork members Monica Rodman and Lisa Wanjala. Teamwork is a program for UO students run by the athletic department that can be taken for credit as a college course and that involves participating in many aspects of recruiting, from preparing literature on the program to giving presentations to athletes on various aspects of athletics, as well as hosting recruits' on-campus visits.
Rodman, who successfully completed the Teamwork program, told HBO that although being an attractive woman isn't a requisite aspect of Teamwork, it's "something they would like to be included in the package."
Of the 30 current Teamwork members, 22 are female and eight are male. This is in contrast to some other schools in the Pac-10 Conference: All 10 of Oregon State's "football hostesses" are female, as are all 21 of USC's "recruiting guides," based on information in media guides.
Rodman also said that when hosting recruits, the women sometimes feel as though recruits "expect you're going to do more than just be their guide."
Deryk Gilmore, the university's coordinator of student-athlete retention and development, oversees Teamwork. He was disappointed that the HBO segment focused on such a narrow aspect of the Teamwork program - the hosting of recruits on visits - and stressed that the program's members are under no pressure to engage in after-hours activities of any kind with recruits.
"We train the ladies and inform them that they're not supposed to be fraternizing with recruits and players at all," said Gilmore, who is in his second year working with Teamwork. "I make that very clear. If we find out they're doing something inappropriate, we no longer want them in our program."
Gilmore said that during a recruit's 48-hour visit to Oregon, perhaps six or seven hours are spent with a Teamwork member.
Teamwork members serve mostly as tour guides, shuttling recruits between meals, campus visits and meetings before handing them off to player-hosts at the end of the day. Gilmore said none of the official Teamwork duties include activities off campus.
The vast majority of the work by Teamwork participants is done in the athletic department office, helping with the daily administrative work associated with recruiting but also working on individual projects, Gilmore said. Most Teamwork members are sports marketing and business majors, and Teamwork can be taken for credit as a course that helps prepare students for work in the various fields of athletics.
UO student Collette Fowler is in her second year in the program, and wants to eventually work in the National Football League. She said Teamwork provides her valuable opportunities to network with contacts in the NFL, and that she spent just 10 days last year working with recruits and the rest of the time working in the office.
"I don't think it was an accurate representation at all," Fowler said of HBO's characterization of Teamwork. "(Fraternizing with recruits) is not required, it's not mandatory. If you don't feel like going out with them, you don't have to."
The HBO segment was addressed in a column by Art Thiel of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on Wednesday.
Besides saying that the point of Teamwork was to show recruits a good time, "made obvious by the fact that all the enrollees are female and good looking" - in fact 22 of the 30 are female - Thiel related that Rodman and Wanjala said they quit the program "because they resented the campus-wide reputation that all `Teamwork' members were sluts."
Fowler said that's not the case.
"I've been here two years, and I've never seen a Teamworker and a recruit do anything that was inappropriate," she said, adding that she had convinced two of her friends to participate in the program. "You wouldn't want to do something if it had a bad reputation."
Athletic department administrators also defended Teamwork.
Senior women's administrator Renee Baumgartner and assistant athletic director for student services Karen Nelson both were unhappy with the narrow focus of the HBO segment, as well as the sexual implications regarding Teamwork.
"We're very proud of how we run our programs around here, and Teamwork is an area that needs to have the same values and integrity that the equipment room or the training staff has," Baumgartner said. "I think Oregon does a good job of making sure all our areas work within having good values and integrity."
Gilmore gives a presentation to the Teamwork members each year about the conduct expected of them around recruits.
Additionally, Teamwork participants hear presentations from various department members on the different aspects of athletic administration, and Nelson said she uses hers to hammer those same values home.
"I tell them not only about my job but the expectations of them and the professionalism we expect from them," Nelson said. "So they hear that right from the start from me, and we expect them to be representative of our athletic department and our university."
However, that "Real Sports" devoted a segment to the use of sex as a recruiting lure is evidence of the attention the issue has received in recent years.
Instances of excessive drinking by recruits at numerous schools and allegations of sexual assault by recruits at the University of Colorado and University of Florida were outlined in a New York Times story on the subject, published Nov. 21.
And there is no doubt that alcohol and women are available to recruits while they're off campus with their player-hosts - a current member of whichever team is hosting the athlete.
"Girls and sex are part of a lot of people's trips," Oregon football player Keith Lewis said. "A lot of recruits base their judgement of how good a school was or how good that trip was on whether or not they got to meet a couple of young girls or hang out with a couple girls.
"It's definitely important to young kids."
The problem stems, both Lewis and Gilmore said, from movies that give portrayals of recruiting trips on which women are readily available to recruits.
"This is based on perception," said Gilmore, who cited movies such as "The Program" and "He Got Game." "This is all fantasy. That's not reality."
Lewis said the idea of women being available to recruits at off-campus parties isn't fantasy. The problem with HBO's characterization, though, is that those women aren't necessarily members of the Teamwork staff, Lewis said.
"I think that's something DG, Deryk Gilmore, cracked down on a lot this year," Lewis said. "He got rid of all the negativity amongst the program. If there was anything said about a certain individual who happened to be on Teamwork and a recruit, Deryk Gilmore pretty much got rid of it."
Indeed, Gilmore, Baumgartner and Nelson confirmed that women have been removed from the program in past years due to improper contact with recruits. Were such conduct to occur again, they said, it wouldn't go unnoticed.
"If something came up, very likely we would hear about it, and we would investigate it at that time," Baumgartner said. "But certainly not from this show."
What the show did force Oregon to do, however, was defend its Teamwork program against the allegations of sexual impropriety, a reputation Gilmore is working hard to erase.
"We're trying to change the perception of this program - not just from this year, but from 100 years ago," Gilmore said. "Our students work very hard, they're great students. If it's a negative story that comes out, someone's going to watch it, see one little clip and say, `That's what the girls do.' And then we have to start all over again."
To prospective Teamwork members, Gilmore offers this advice: "Don't do this if you're here just to get next to football players. You'll find out real quickly that's not what it's about."
As for recruits who expect anything extra from hostesses, Gilmore asks Teamwork members to keep him informed so the Ducks can avoid such players.
"If a kid is here just to hook up, he's going to be a problem down the line," he said.
Gilmore was very clear in saying that he can't possibly monitor the actions of every recruit and Teamwork member during after-hours events. But whatever is going on doesn't involve improprieties by members of his program, which he said is much more involved than other schools' programs for recruiting guides.
"There are schools that have bad reputations," Gilmore said. "Oregon's not one of them."