Big time athletic departments at colleges around the nation have spirit, yes they do, but they’re telling some "spirit" groups “We’ll have to do it, without you.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association cracked down last year on certain “spirit groups” after allegations that for years, recruits at the University of Colorado at Boulder had been plied with alcohol and sex. Now only athletes and conventional campus tour guides can act as hosts for recruits. Many groups, often traditionally entirely female, that help with athletic recruiting, are going extinct – although a few are managing to stay alive by undergoing radical changes.
About three years ago, before the crackdown, the University of Georgia renamed the “Georgia Girls,” who helped out with football recruits, the “Georgia Girls and Guys,” in an effort to dispel any notion that the squad was a dating service. Then came the NCAA regulation, and the group was disbanded.
“I’ll admit, we do miss them,” said Connie Connelly, program coordinator for the Georgia Athletic Department and former adviser to the Georgia Girls and Guys. Connelly said the group helped make sure recruits didn’t get lost, and guided them through throngs of fans and media to their seats when they came to check out a game. The group already had rules, such as not allowing women to accompany a recruit past the lobby of their hotel. Most of the duties have been taken over by students in the admissions office who work with prospective students, athletes and otherwise. But Connelly thinks more than labor has been lost.
“I loved getting to know them, and all they wanted was to be part of Georgia football,” she said. “Many of them were interested in public relations, and we’d give them recommendations for jobs. They’d go to an interview, and all the employer wanted to hear about was Georgia football.” Connelly noted that the problems at Colorado did not involve women from the CU Ambassadors, a mostly-female group that helped with football recruiting, and wishes the NCAA could have looked at spirit groups on an individual basis.
Other spirit groups such as the University of Oklahoma’s Crimson-n-Cream, Mississippi State University’s Bulldog Belles, and the University of Kansas Crimson Crew -- have also been forced to hang up their spirit shoes.
The University of Florida got rid of the Gator Guides, who gave campus tours to football recruits, and now use the Florida Cicerones, which was an all-female group when formed in 1968, but has since become a group of over 100 students who work with the alumni association and many student groups. Jamie McCloskey, associate athletic director at Florida, doesn’t miss the Gator Guides. “It’s worked out even better for us,” McCloskey said. “The Cicerones know way more about the entire university.” He added that he thinks the move “sends right message. We shouldn’t have female groups in place just to assist in recruitment of high school football players. We never had problems, but maybe we should have made the switch years ago.”
Other institutions have found ways to salvage their sports spirit squads. Texas A&M University kept the Aggie Hostesses, but there’s no hosting going on any more. Taylor Mattson, a senior and the event coordinator for the hostesses, now spends most her volunteer time helping out Athletic Department administrators in the office, rather than recruits on campus. She said the group has shrunk from 60 to 40, all female, members.
“Before you could actually talk to a recruit on personal level,” Mattson said. “Maybe it’s a guy you heard a lot about and you can get to know him and make him fall in love with A&M. Now you can only talk from an administrative standpoint.” Mattson said she never had a problem with getting into sticky situations, like being left alone with recruits. “I know my mom didn’t want me put in situations like that, and we’re not. We were always supervised.” She added that “we have a young man who was recruited by Colorado. They took him places I can never go based on my moral standpoint.”
The University of Texas at Austin has kept the Texas Angels, now the Texas Angels and Gabriels, alive, but members must have any romantic relationship with an athlete approved by administrators. “A couple of our girls date players,” said Brenda Preston-Robison, administrative associate for recruiting and the group’s sponsor. “They had to report it to [NCAA compliance officials at Texas].” Group members now have to join Students Helping Admissions' Recruitment Efforts, and can still give tours to athletes, if they are paired with them through a lottery systemt, but must also give tours to non-athlete prospectives.
The Angels and Gabriels can still help freshman athletes find their way around campus, and do things like compiling scrap books for a player about his season. Preston said the group gained one man since augmenting its name, but that some members quit, because they did not have the time to be part of the Angels and Gabriels and to give additional campus tours. Preston said participation has just about rebounded to about 40 members.
Some spirit groups that never played a role in recruiting came away unscathed. The University of Mississippi’s Diamond Girls, who do community service, help promote baseball games, act as bat-girls and occasionally sing the national anthem, are still going strong.