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No Free Ride
Here's the transcript from Show 145 of weekly Outside The Lines - No Free Ride
ANNOUNCER- Sunday, Jan. 5, 2003.
BOB LEY, HOST- College basketball's players are the game, but the coaches put the teams together. Chasing, recruiting and selecting players. It is a wary mating dance seen in the celebrated documentary "Hoop Dreams."
RECRUITER FROM "HOOP DREAMS"- You're one of seven guys that we're recruiting right now. As soon as William tells me he's not looking at any other school, then I'm not looking at any other players.
LEY- Any player with talent is showered with attention and the promises that come with recruiting. John Bedford says he had a promise in writing from the head coach.
JOHN BEDFORD, AMHERST COLLEGE FRESHMAN GUARD- My whole life I've been striving for this goal to get a full scholarship to play Division I basketball.
LEY- But, he says, the scholarship suddenly vanished.
BEDFORD- He told me he had found another player. Then he said, 'I'm sorry.' That's all he said was I'm sorry.
JOHN DRISCOLL, JOHN BEDFORD'S STEPFATHER- They squashed his dreams. They're crooks. It's fraud. They should pay for his education.
LEY- Today on Outside the Lines, a player's expectation, a coach's promise, and the anger when a youngster ends up with no free ride.
LEY- Several weeks ago in this space, there was a lively debate about the national media attention for a high school basketball player. But consider scouting is so widespread now and recruiting pressure so intense, that the best prospects are identified before they even enter high school. That's because increasingly, college coaches need players. All it takes is a glimmer of talent, a couple of stellar games and the attention begins for a youngster, letters by the dozen, even hundreds, all personalized for the recruit -- a personal touch contradicted by the sheer volume of coaches and schools writing and calling. Coaches cast a wide net sitting in more living rooms making more sales pitches than they have scholarships, painting rosy pictures, often promising playing time. Disappointment is the backbeat of recruiting usually when a coach fails to land a player.
This morning, Kelly Neal reports a story where the opposite is true, a player crushed because there is no free ride and he decides to do something about it.
KELLY NEAL, ESPN CORRESPONDENT -- At Division III Amherst College in Massachusetts, freshman guard John Bedford is picking up the pieces of a shattered hoop dream.
BEDFORD- My whole life, I've been striving for this goal to get full scholarship to play Division I basketball.
NEAL- Two years ago, Bedford was a high school junior averaging 13 points a game for Lawrenceville Prep in northern New Jersey.
JAY GOMES, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER OF "NJ HOOPS"- He's probably going to be a Division I player. Where he ended up in my rankings, was he on the borderline of a Division I player or a small Division I player.
NEAL- Davidson College, a small Division I school in the Southern Conference, showed an interested in Bedford. Bob McKillop, then in his 11th season as the Wildcats' head coach, was in touch through phone calls and letters.
BEDFORD- There was a deep relationship. We talked a lot on the phone. He knew a lot about me, you know, he called me Johnny, instead of John, my first name. He knew my family. Coach McKillop made it known that he wanted to coach me for four years and he was -- wanted me to look at him as almost a father figure.
NEAL- Bedford says that in July 2001, the summer before his senior year, McKillop offered him a scholarship. He asked the coach to put the offer in writing. Bedford then received this letter from McKillop saying, "I've told John that he has a full scholarship to Davidson College, and now I have put it in writing. This scholarship has the value of approximately $125,000 over the four-year college experience and covers all costs of enrollment at Davidson College. I also want you to know that I will embrace John fully with both arms, treating him as if he was my own son."
BEDFORD- You know, it was like, you know, Christmas for a little kid.
RITA DRISCOLL, JOHN'S MOTHER- He screamed, mom, I've got the letter, I've got Davidson.
BEDFORD- It was one of the greatest feelings I ever had. I felt like I accomplished something great.
R. DRISCOLL- It was absolutely beautiful. I remember reading it, crying, shaking, hugging him.
BEDFORD- My stepfather, you know, gave me a big hug and said, way to go.
J. DRISCOLL- It was the school of his dreams, and not only did they want him, but the coach felt strong enough to put it in writing.
NEAL- Though the official signing date for high school players wasn't for another four months, Bedford says he called McKillop right away to verbally commit to Davidson.
BEDFORD- I said to him, this is where I want to go. And he said, that's great. And I said, I want to spend my next four years here, I want to play basketball for you, I want to go to school here. And he said, that's great. I was at ease. I was going into my senior year at ease.
NEAL- But two months later in September, Bedford got some bad news from McKillop.
BEDFORD- He said, 'OK, we might have a real problem. Admissions looked at your transcripts.' He said, 'we might have a 50/50 chance of getting you in.' So now, at that point, I was saying to myself, I started breaking down, I said, 'Oh, this isn't happening.'
NEAL- The school's position is that McKillop's letter regarding a scholarship was based on Bedford's claim that he had a 3.2 grade-point average for his junior year. But official high school transcripts received by Davidson showed a 2.8 junior year GPA.
BEDFORD- I was never dishonest with Coach McKillop. You know, I always told him what my grade-point average was. Coach McKillop never mentioned my grades as a problem. He never said in my letter from him that depending upon my grades would I get in or not. So I never really took into mind why my grades were ever a problem.
NEAL- Doesn't it make sense that you would have to actually be able to gain admission to the university in order to get in and play for them?
BEDFORD- It does make sense. Of course it makes sense. But like I said, he never mentioned academics as being a problem and I don't think my academics were that bad.
NEAL- A few weeks later, Bedford says the issue of academics became academic and that his grades were not the real problem.
BEDFORD- Finally, he told me he'd found another player. He said to me that was really the main problem, that he had found another player. And he said, I'm sorry. That's all he said was I'm sorry.
J. DRISCOLL- He sent us something that said, I love your family and I love your son and Davidson is going to love him and we want him, and here he is. I am going to embrace him with both arms. How ridiculous is this? They crushed the kid's confidence, they squashed his dream.
NEAL- With no other scholarship prospects, Bedford and his parents decided to sue McKillop and Davidson. The coach and school officials declined to be interviewed.
But in court papers, the school says McKillop's letter was not a binding scholarship offer and that he had sent similar letters to about 10 other players, though Davidson had only five basketball scholarships to offer. Bedford says the July letter was a contract for a four-year scholarship, though NCAA policy requires that scholarships be renewed annually and that scholarship forms must be signed after mid November of an athlete's senior year in high school.
SEAN CALLAGY, BEDFORD'S ATTORNEY- The NCAA guidelines, how the process is handled, don't control what New Jersey contract law or any other state's contract law is. If you have a contract with someone and they don't fulfill an obligation, they have to pay you, whether it's in oral or in writing.
J. DRISCOLL- They should pay for his education. They're crooks. It's fraud. Am I embarrassed because I believed them? No. No. I think anybody in this position would have a hard time not believing, you know, if they're going to stand up to what they're saying here.
NEAL - About a month after McKillop warned Bedford that he might not meet Davidson's admission requirement, the coach assured him that if Davidson's admissions office would accept him, that he'd receive an athletic scholarship. Bedford improved to a 3.7 GPA in the first trimester of his senior year and scored 1250 on the SAT. But that result was about 100 points lower than Davidson's average. He still decided to follow through and apply, but after making the wait list, Bedford was not accepted.
Bedford is now a backup guard for nationally ranked Amherst. Since the Division III school does not offer athletic scholarships, the cost to his family is about $36,000 a year. If their lawsuit is successful, Bedford and his family could recoup the cost of his education and possibly change how coaches recruit.
BEDFORD- At some point, there's got to be a level of honesty between the coaches and the student athletes.
R. DRISCOLL- If they're being lied to and deceived at 19, what is that teaching them when they graduate college or when they go into business? Is it OK to lie and deceive and be dishonest?
BEDFORD- I know that his job is to win, but the way in which you do that, the way in which you recruit other players, it cannot be done this way. You can't make offers to kids and say, you know, you're definitely -- yes, you're in, and you know, having the student say I accept and then just completely blow them off and say, no, sorry, this isn't going to work. Can't do that.
LEY- John Bedford's suit is likely years from ever getting inside a courtroom. Davidson College has been told by the NCAA there's no apparent violation of recruiting rules because of the school's correspondence with John Bedford. To discuss the issue of coaches and recruits and promises, we welcome Phil Martelli, head basketball coach at St. Joseph's. This is his eighth year as head coach of basketball after 10 years as a St. Joe's assistant. He's taken the Hawks to two NCAA tournaments, two post-season NITs. Phil Martelli joins us from Philadelphia.
Eddie Fogler played on two Final Four teams at North Carolina and coached under Dean Smith for 15 years, and as a head coach at Vanderbilt in South Carolina, was a two-time conference Coach of the Year in the Southeastern Conference. He joins us this morning from South Carolina.
Chris Dortch, editor of "Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook," and he is the author of the new book, "String Music on SEC Basketball." He is joining us from suburban Chattanooga.
Gentlemen, good morning. Phil, let me begin with you. Course of a year, how many phone calls, how many letters will your staff send out to recruits?
PHIL MARTELLI, ST. JOSEPH'S HEAD BASKETBALL COACH- Well, letters is one thing. It's all computer-generated now. What I tell young people is if they get a handwritten note from me, then they can consider themselves to be on a higher list, a higher priority list.
LEY- How many kids make that distinction...
MARTELLI- A number, I couldn't even tell you...
LEY- ... though? I was going to say, how many kids make that distinction though, and how many schools and coaches make that distinction?
MARTELLI- None. The kids don't make the distinction. The kids go into this, into the lunch table in school, they tell everybody they got a letter from Duke, they got a letter from Carolina, they got a letter from Kentucky, and they're being recruited by them. They don't read the letter, they don't really check the letter, and they don't understand that 400 of those letters went out every other day.
LEY- So, Eddie, when you hit the road for Dean Smith, recruiting for one of the premiere programs of all time, I'm sure you encountered that. You also then had to recruit for your own programs. Did you encounter, and how often did you encounter, false expectations from some of these kids?
EDDIE FOGLER, FORMER UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA HEAD BASKETBALL COACH- Well, I think that's pretty standard. Bob, I think a lot of times kids take, and families believe, that a letter means a scholarship and that is nowhere near the truth. A scholarship is something that has to be offered by the head coach in person and then, of course, each coach has an integrity, a track record, that you can take his word to mean what he says. Unfortunately, I don't know many coaches who do not offer more scholarships than they have available each and every year.
LEY- How tricky is that, Eddie? You have got to make...
FOGLER- Very tricky. It's very tricky. That's one of the reasons I'm glad I'm not recruiting anymore, because I was a great recruiter of my top choice. I could really do a great job recruiting my number one choice. I was a very poor recruiter recruiting my second choice and third choice. But, if I need a guard, a point guard, I have a senior point guard, Bob, I've got to have one for the following year. If I am recruiting three point guards, I'd probably have to offer them all a scholarship.
If I tell my second choice or third choice you don't have a scholarship, well, then those families are probably going to eliminate my school from consideration. I think the best way to go about it is to say I am recruiting three guards, Mr. Ley, your son is one of the three, it is first come, first serve, and I'll take the first one to commit.
Another problem, though, that can arise is, say, you have one great point guard and two good point guards that you're recruiting and you really have to wait on your great point guard, then I think it's your responsibility to be truthful and tell the families there is a -- you're a second choice, third choice, but my first choice is going to make a decision here shortly. I will be able to tell you whether the scholarship is still available.
LEY- Well, Chris, let me bring you in and ask you, since you bird dog all these high school youngsters for your publication. How many of them and their parents understand what Eddie and Phillip just laid out, that there is a prioritization, you may not be the number one choice?
CHRIS DORTCH, EDITOR OF "BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL FORECAST"- Bob, I'm not sure they do understand it, and I think that's part of a larger issue that a lot of kids need to be educated about the ways of recruiting. And I think it even brings up a larger issue still, in that I think the system is out of whack. I know a coach at a small level, Division I school, who is recruiting six kids in November and to a man, the first question each one of those asked was, coach, how can you get me to the NBA.
And I mean, my gosh, it's not Duke that's recruiting there, it was a lower level Division I school. And I think it's all out of whack. These kids should be educated to the fact that, hey, a Division I scholarship means something. That's why the kid in your piece at the start of the show, it's so compelling that he wants this scholarship, he values this scholarship. And I think the kids need to be educated that, hey, a four-year ride is a big deal. It can set you up. You're not going to play in the NBA, chances are.
LEY- Eddie, what's an example of some of the tough questions that parents have looked across the living room and asked you over the years?
FOGLER- Well, that's a great question from you, Bob. First of all, coaches have a great advantage in the recruiting process. Eddie Fogler, Phil Martelli, we've done it for many, many years. That young man from New Jersey was going through it for the first time. Who has the advantage of the sales pitch? The coach. The first question that needs to be asked by a parent is, does my son have a scholarship. Secondly, who else are you recruiting? Have you offered them scholarships, coach? Thirdly, well, coach, if you've offered all three scholarships, how can you tell me my son is the only one you want for that position?
LEY- How often were those questions asked of you, let me ask you, over the years?
FOGLER- Well, I used to go into homes and hope they wouldn't ask me those questions. I think most coaches don't want those questions asked. I used to encourage my top choice to ask those questions of the other schools if I knew he was not their first choice. And then quite frankly, I got to the point where I basically came to first come, first serve. I would recruit three or so for one position and I would tell them all, first young man that commits is going to get the scholarship. I need somebody, and that's the way it's going to be.
So those questions need to be asked by parents. Parents do not understand the process well enough to ask the real, real tough questions. And then coaches have tough decisions to make as to how honest they want to be as to who they're recruiting, who they want the most, what order are they going to visit the school, because generally you want your best player to visit first to give your best player the chance to decide first on your scholarship platform.
LEY- Phil, I find that fascinating what Eddie just said, you have to ration your honesty a little bit.
MARTELLI- Well, see, I think one of the things that's going on here is that the families have to understand, the high school coaches have to understand, whoever is advising these young people has to understand, that this is a process that happens with you and not to you. And too many of them allow it to happen to them. On the flip side of what Eddie's saying is, I think the coaches have the right to go into your living room and if you asked that question, how many are you recruiting, how long does my son have, et cetera, et cetera. I have the same right to ask you how many schools are you considering, where does St. Joe's fit on your list and when are you going to make a decision? And...
LEY- And how often do you give an answer to those?
MARTELLI- ... too many times, you don't. That's the problem. Like, in these cases, Bob, what happens is, it looks like the coaches deceive the kids or deceive the high school coach or deceive the family, and the same thing, in my 18 years what has happened is, that the families, the kids, and the high school coaches have gotten as good at telling you what you want to hear as what they really think.
LEY- You find that to be the case, Chris?
DORTCH- Oh, I agree, Bob. It's all a game that everybody plays. In a way, it is some sort of deception, but I think it's a wonder we haven't seen more lawsuits and that sort of thing because slowly over the years, and I know the two coaches can speak to this better than I can, but the NCAA has been taking away the opportunity that coaches get to interact with kids. You get to go out in July, but you can't say hello or it's an infraction. You have one household visit with the parents. It's a wonder that miscommunication hasn't happened before and lawsuits haven't happened before.
LEY- All right. We're going to step aside for just a second. Phil, we'll pick up and give you a chance to respond in a second. More in a moment on this topic where sometimes recruits are left feeling they haven't heard the truth.
Remember Bryan Fortay, the former Miami quarterback? He was left embittered by recruiting promises.
LEY - This is Andrew Coates, a senior at Penn. Three years ago he settled a lawsuit with Northwestern University. He claimed that then coach Kevin O'Neal revoked a scholarship offer he had made, an offer that Coates had accepted after O'Neal saw Coates play poorly in a summer tournament. Both sides are now bound by a gag order.
This is Bryan Fortay. Every major college coach in America recruited him in the late 1980's out of East Brunswick, New Jersey. He signed with the University of Miami based on Jimmy Johnson's promise of a bright future and a starting job. But Johnson left Miami and Fortay languished on the bench behind Craig Erickson and Gino Toretta. He transferred to Rutgers, and in 1993, sued Miami for breach of contract. In 1996, Fortay's suit was resolved with a sealed settlement.
BRYAN FORTAY- The coaches are in a position where they have got to bring you in, in order to keep their jobs. So what do you think they're going to come in and say, that this is a horrible place to be? They're not. That you'll never play here? They're not.
LEY- We continue with Phil Martelli and Eddie Fogler and Chris Dortch. And Phil, I promised you a chance to respond to Chris' point about NCAA restrictions on coaching contacts.
MARTELLI- Well, I felt more was Chris' point about why don't we see more of this, and I would say to you this. I think 999 out of 1,000 of these cases go very comfortably and everybody's satisfied at the end, because at the end of the day, all I have as a coach is my integrity, my honesty, and who I am. The world is small. If I burn a bridge somewhere in New Jersey, if I burn a bridge somewhere in South Carolina, that word is going to filter out and the whole gist here has been that I need players. Recruiting is the lifeblood of every single program in America; basketball, football, doesn't matter to me. You could be the best coach in the world. If you don't have players to coach, you're out of a job.
LEY- What can you promise...
DORTCH- Phil, I couldn't...
LEY- Let me ask the coaches if I could, just for a second, Chris. What can you promise a kid, what can't you promise a kid? What can you promise a player for starting?
MARTELLI- Well, you can do all the promising that you want. But the fact of the matter is, when you get them in the gym, it's all going to work itself out. Everybody on my team was the best player on their high school team.
LEY- You've got to get them into the gym though. To get them into the gym, you got get a signature and a letter of intent, right? So to get that signature...
MARTELLI- Right. There is only two answers that I want to hear. Yes, I'd like to come to your school, or no, I'm not interested in coming to your school, so I can get about the business of building this team, and that's my responsibility to the school. I can't walk into the school and say, jeez, I recruited one kid, he said no, so we're playing this year with four starters instead of five.
DORTCH- Bob, I think any kid out there that's being recruited, if a head coach tells them anything other than these two points- A, you're going to get a good education; B, you're going to get every chance to help us. If he promises you anything more than that, I think that would raise a red flag, I think. And most coaches I know in this business aren't stupid enough to say, you're going to start for me, you're going to do this or that. It's an education and a chance to start. That's all you can offer.
LEY- Is that the case, though, is it more on the table sometimes, though? Because kids, especially the highly recruited kids?
FOGLER- Bob, most coaches, in my opinion, don't have the integrity of a Phil Martelli, who has been doing it for a long time at the same school. I think there are more promises made than Chris just mentioned. Phil does it with integrity and understands the process and wants kids to be successful. I gave you the side before, of the young man. I agree with Phil, too.
This is why recruiting can be distasteful, going back to what Phil said. I've had numbers of kids tell me, coach, I'm visiting your school for an official visit. They never showed up. I've had some young men tell me when I was recruiting, that, coach, I'm coming to your school. They never showed up. I've had two youngsters one year in May, come into my office who are going to be starters the following year on a good basketball team tell me, coach, I'm transferring because their parents didn't think they were going to get enough shots off the following year.
So the coach is certainly put in a tough situation when it comes to the very important thing, the lifeblood of the program recruiting, and the student athlete is also put in a tough situation as well, and that's why recruiting can be very distasteful. It can be a very, very wonderful thing as well. You'll see all sorts of situations.
LEY- And obviously a two-way street. Yes.
Gentlemen, thank you all very much. Phil Martelli, I know you've got a game today with Duquesne. Best of luck. Thanks for joining us on game day. Eddie Fogler, good to see you again. And Chris Dortch, I appreciate you being with us. Thank you, gentlemen.
FOGLER- Thank you, Bob.
DORTCH- Thanks, Bob.
Wake Forest upset Oregon in the Seattle Bowl. But the tough job of selling Demon Deacon tickets to that ball game is the topic of our e-mail feedback. That's next.
LEY- Last week as we examined whether there's just too many Bowl games, we reported the difficulty that Wake Forest had selling its allotment of tickets to the Seattle Bowl. The school asked fans to buy tickets even if they weren't going to attend the game and donate those tickets to charity. Among the e-mails in our inbox on this topic:
"You completely misrepresented what they were doing and turned it to seem as if it was a move of desperation started by the school. I realize there may be too many Bowls today, and that there is some argument that a 6-6 team does not deserve a Bowl. But this slam against the school and alumni was completely uncalled for."
The keyword, online at ESPN.com is OTLWEEKLY for our library of program transcripts. We look forward to your e-mail thoughts on "No Free Ride" and our discussion. Our address, email@example.com. And thanks for being in touch.