February 17, 2004

Ivy More Valuable Than Violations

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I imagine the biggest perks most Cornell football recruits get from their trips to Ithaca are frequent flier miles, extra cashews in coach, and a free umbrella. The athletic department might spring for the ticket, a steak dinner at Banfi’s, and a trip to Purity, but it sure doesn’t open up College Town brothels to celebrate anyone’s arrival, and coaches don’t let players test drive snow-plow-equipped Escalades enticing them to Ithaca. The players who come don’t expect such amenities. Prep stars like linebacker Willie Williams wouldn’t like it here.

On recruiting trips this fall, Williams enjoyed lavish accommodations, haute Cuisine, and just about anything else he wanted courtesy of the various universities which sought this prized possession. The 19-year old senior from Carol City, Florida, was one of the nation’s top high school players, and schools like the University of Miami, Florida State, Auburn, and the University of Florida all coveted him. And they showed it — making the prep feel like their incumbent big man on campus, untouchable.

“When I got on the plane, I was like ‘Where’s everybody else,'” Williams wrote earlier this fall in a Miami Herald expose chronicling his cross-country college search. “It was me, the flight attendant, and the pilot. I was bugging out.”

First class (or his own jet) wasn’t all that Williams enjoyed. Auburn cheerleaders screamed “We want you, Willie!” in Georgia. Beauty queens paraded for him at an impromptu pageant at Florida. On Miami’s tab, he stayed in a suite with a balcony Jacuzzi and had a private police escort to the Orange Bowl.

“After going on these trips and living like King Tut,” Williams continued, “I think business is something I want to get into.”

Bubbles and bowl games must have done the trick because Williams committed to play for the ‘Canes on national signing day two weeks ago.

But now Tut finds himself wrapped up like a mummy, though not in shrouds or the arms of a cooing coed but, rather, in controversy. Last week, charges surfaced that Williams violated his parole (he already has long rap sheet) during a recruiting trip to Florida by setting off fire extinguishers at his hotel, grabbing a woman against her will, and punching a patron at a Gainesville bar. The top prospect is now a top suspect, and the University of Miami has postponed accepting his application indefinitely.

Meanwhile, at the University of Colorado, Rice, and the University of Houston, school officials are scrambling to defend their football teams against allegations that recruits were shown more than just a night on the town during official visits.

News of scandal first started in Colorado, where three women have claimed that Buffs football players raped them at a recruiting party. Along with the charges came evidence that Buff’s recruits were treated to private strip shows, “sex parties,” and alcohol paid for with recruiting funds.

Sports Illustrated got in to the mix recently, as well, with a feature in its On Campus edition highlighting other top high school players’ recruiting experiences.

“USC coaches