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Party's over for college football recruits

The high school football prospect making his first official visit to Florida can do more than meet the coaching staff.

He will have the chance to see first-hand how the school's new recruiting policies, largely the product of last year's Colorado scandal _ and to a lesser degree an embarrassing moment at UF _ affect his 48 hours on campus.

The big change is that the Gators will have a 1 a.m. curfew.

"Parents send their kids to this campus trusting we'll look out for their welfare," athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "By not having a curfew in place before, we probably were being a little irresponsible."

It's a new era in Gainesville.

According to UF's three-page recruiting manual, a prospect and his student-athlete host must return to the hotel or dorm by 1 a.m. and check-in with an athletic department staff member, preferably a coach, or risk losing a possible scholarship or the opportunity to represent the school.

Foley, a member of the NCAA task force that recommended the emergency recruiting reforms, said the most important element to the "Best Practice Document" is a new level of expectations and accountability for all involved in the visits.

UF had an embarrassing episode last January. Miami prep star Willie Williams was arrested and charged with a felony count of setting off a hotel fire extinguisher and misdemeanor battery for hugging a woman without her permission. It was later revealed Williams had been arrested 10 times from 1999-2002. He eventually signed with his hometown Hurricanes.

"A lot of work went into it (the recruiting policy), a lot of meetings, a lot of input from different people," Foley said. "Right now, we're comfortable with it and we'll see how it works."

The NCAA supplied a template with 15 areas to be addressed. The university president or chancellor had to agree to the rules, which ultimately places accountability and responsibility at the top. Officials say most schools have crafted a similar policy to UF's.

Bob Minnix, FSU's associate athletic director for compliance, sought suggestions from other administrators, as well as from his coaches. He wrote a 10-page document with a key difference: No curfew.

"From my background in enforcement (with the NCAA), I'm not for any rule or law that's going to be impossible to enforce," Minnix said.

At FSU, like many schools, prospects can stay in several places during their visits. A curfew would demand having a coach or someone at each site to watch the clock. Moreover, Minnix said, is what do you do when a prospect comes in five minutes late? Or 15 minutes? Or an hour?

"And I can see that coming. I can write the script for it," Minnix said.

Do you put together a list of penalties? Do you expect a coach to stop recruiting a blue-chipper and suspend a student-athlete if they check-in a couple minutes late? Do you establish a zero-tolerance policy, which may sound good but often has proven difficult to defend?

"We don't want to put a public-perception policy out there," Minnix said. "We don't want to paint ourselves into a corner when it comes to enforcement. You've got to have a policy that's defendable, fair and, most important, enforceable. I think we do."

Within the ACC, only one of the 11 schools adopted a curfew, and that is 2 a.m., said league associate commissioner Shane Lyons. He said he asked all the schools that didn't include a curfew to forward a synopsis of their discussions and their reasoning so "at least two years from now, if that policy never changes, at least we know what was the drift at the time."

Curfew notwithstanding, FSU officials are comfortable their policy is comprehensive. In accordance with the NCAA mandate, FSU, UF and USF strictly prohibit a range of activities, including:

+ Consumption of alcohol by prospects and hosts.

+ Use of illegal drugs by prospects and hosts.

+ Arrangement or use of sexual favors as a recruiting device.

+ Behavior in violation of criminal law.

+ Gambling or gaming activities.

+ Hiring of strippers/use of gentlemen's clubs or equivalent.

+ Any contact with a sports agent.

FSU coaches, student-athlete hosts and prospects must read and initial forms that detail the seven deadly sins. Coaches didn't have a document to sign, although hosts did with far fewer regulations.

"We've never had the prospects sign a form before, and the reason it's important is for them to know that there's behavior that just won't be tolerated," Minnix said.

Florida and USF, however, have gone a step further in regard to alcohol and drugs by stating that prospects and their student hosts are required to adhere to a "zero-tolerance policy."

Can that be an enforcement nightmare?

Some see the possibility.

"We've all experienced peer pressure," Lyons said. "What if a kid goes to a party, he's a young adult and that's part of campus life and you want to show it to him, he goes there, somebody hands him a beer. Maybe he's just sipping, but he's not out trying to get drunk. All of a sudden with cell phone pictures, you see it (everywhere). Obviously, you don't want that to happen and there should be a penalty associated with it, but there's a difference between that case and a prospect is on your campus and he gets totally drunk and gets out of hand and fights."

Foley said despite the ominous wording, any incident and any possible repercussions would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

"We want to educate people what the expectations are," he said, adding everyone should know what could happen if he's caught drinking. "It's part of our job."

Times staff writers Antonya English and Greg Auman contributed to this report.


COLORADO: Several women alleged they had been raped by football recruits in Boulder and reports surfaced that alcohol and strippers were commonplace for prospects. Coach Gary Barnett was suspended and nearly lost his job as the scandal touched off Congressional hearings.

FLORIDA: Recruit Willie Williams was charged in two separate episodes in Gainesville during his official visit. He faced a felony count of setting off fire extinguishers at his hotel, along with a misdemeanor battery charge for hugging a woman without consent. He eventually signed with Miami.