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Elite Athletes Say Many Coaches Stretch the Truth in Recruiting

They laugh at how much coaches embellish. “We see right through all the lies,” says a standout lineman. According to an ESPN the Magazine survey of 50 top football prospects, they think more than 60 percent of what college recruiters say is hot air.

One former high-school recruit says coaches told him they would change their offense to suit his style. That didn’t happen. “I learned that coaches will tell you a lot of stuff to get you to sign, but once they have you on campus, they’ve got you,” said Tim Couch, who played at Kentucky. (In the end, things worked out pretty well for him; he was the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL draft.)

Not that the surveyed athletes are saints themselves. More than a quarter said they would take $50,000 from a recruiter if they knew that no one would find out. “I’d consider it a down payment on all the money I’m going to make for them,” said one Oregon player. But when asked about the most money they’ve been offered, most had little to report. Ninety percent said they’d had no handouts to turn down, while a couple declined to comment.

The survey, part of a 43-page look at big-time recruiting, comes out just ahead of Wednesday’s national signing day for football. Although most of the coverage focuses on that sport, perhaps the most revealing feature explores homophobia in women’s basketball. In a separate survey of more than 50 current and former college women’s basketball players, 55 percent answered “true” when asked if sexual orientation was an underlying topic of conversation with college recruiters.

According to the magazine, some women’s basketball programs push their “family environment” and implicit heterosexuality as part of a consciously negative campaign aimed at other programs’ perceived sexual slant. But “trying to define what constitutes antigay recruiting, let alone identifying victims and culprits, devolves into an exercise in avoidance, denial, and fear,” the magazine says.

Some say the negative environment affects not only players but the entire women’s-basketball coaching profession. Abby Conklin, a former all-SEC player at Tennessee and college coach who is now an academic researcher, says an obsession with private lives hinders the development of young female coaches. For her master’s thesis at the University of San Francisco, she examined the diminishing number of female coaches in the sport, identifying two main factors: a “homonegative environment” and a lack of mentoring. “There is a big fear of letting people in because they worry about exposing their lifestyle,” she says. “It led to my frustrations in coaching, and it’s part of why I left.”

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