It happened about 20 years ago, but I still remember it well. I was sitting at my desk at the old Salt Lake Tribune building on Main Street in SLC when I took a call from a guy who described himself as the sports information director for basketball at the University of Connecticut. He said he had head basketball coach Jim Calhoun on the line, and that Calhoun had a couple questions for me.
At first, I thought it was a prank. But I had seen Calhoun on television enough to know that the voice on the other end of the line was his.
Basically, a UConn fan in SLC had seen something I had written about Alta High center Travis Knight, and had clipped it out and mailed it to Calhoun. This was long before this thing called the Internet was invented.
The article quoted Knight as saying that, although he had committed to UConn, University of Utah coach Rick Majerus had still been recruiting him, and Knight was thinking about taking an official campus visit to check out the Utes.
When I confirmed to Calhoun that Knight -- who ended up signing with the Huskies and playing for them for four years before a decent NBA career that included stints with the Lakers and Celtics -- was really still being recruited by the Utes, the legendary coach went on a profanity-filled tirade. To this day, I wish I had had the sense to record the call. I didn't.
"That's totally unethical," Calhoun screamed into the phone, with some other choice words for Majerus.
Calhoun explained that the college basketball coaching fraternity considered it poor form -- extremely poor form -- to pursue a recruit that had given a pledge to another school.
Well, that was in 1992. Times have certainly changed.
Reason I bring this up now is because it is no longer considered unethical to pursue a recruit who has committed elsewhere -- but hasn't officially signed.
Even BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall, who hates the recruiting game as much as any coach I've ever been around, says the practice isn't considered unethical anymore.
It was topical at BYU's football media day last month because one of those off-the-radar type players who had committed to BYU, JonRyheem Peoples of Rigby, Idaho, began getting scholarship offers just hours after word got out that he had made the commitment. Peoples, after apparently committing to Utah within days of the BYU commitment, has confirmed that he still plans on signing with BYU next February.
Here's Mendenhall's take when I asked him if it is unethical to continue to recruit a kid who has committed elsewhere:
"You know, I wouldn't say that it is unethical. Nor would I say that it is not right. However, what I will say is that there are different ways of going about that for us. When BYU chooses to offer a scholarship, there is a flock of fast followers, meaning that [some times] they don't even know who the kid is, but because our standards are what they are, and I am talking all levels -- football, academics, social, moral -- then they they know it is safe.
Families laugh, because I tell them that after they have committed, when they leave my office, that this is going to happen, that within a week or two they will have three or four or five offers. And I can almost name the schools to them.
"And they will call back and they will start chuckling and say, 'well, it has happened. Just like you said it will happen. We had never even heard from them, and now their first call, they are offering him a scholarship.'
And so what I try to educate the young man and the parents on is that it is your future, and your commitment, and if you don't want to be recruited, then you simply say, 'I am going to BYU. Thank you for your interest. Please don't call again. Good luck to your team.' So a lot of it is educating the parents.
But no, it is not unethical, especially if you feel like that commitment was made under duress or pressure or unique circumstances, and it wasn't sincere.
As soon as I hear from a young man, and he tells me, 'no, I am committed to so and so,' and I know he is sincere, we won't call him again. But when we first hear that a young man [has committed elsewhere], we will call and confirm it, and ask him, just to be sure."
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