“The only inappropriate thing we did was lead on 17- and 18-year-old guys just to get them to come to the school,” Lacey Pearl Earps, a former hostess at Tennessee, told Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian, the authors of the new book The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. “We are not the only ones who do that. That goes on with hostesses at lots of schools. And no one tells us to do that. We just did it.”
Benedict and Keteyian argue that leading these young men on with “the promise of an intimate relationship is the sort of thing that can trump sold-out stadiums, state-of-the-art facilities, Nike deals and schedules packed with nationally televised games.” Even though Earps says that no one in college football programs tells hostesses to “lead on” recruits, programs are well aware of how instrumental these women are in helping them land top athletes.
The publication of Benedict and Keteyian’s new book on the seedy side of big-time college athletics coincides with Sports Illustrated’s release of the fourth part in a five-part series that focused primarily on the Oklahoma State University football program. After covering money, academics, and drugs, reporters George Dohrmann and Thayer Evans (with help from Melissa Segura) turned their attention to sex and the Orange Pride, the OSU hostess group.
Members of the Orange Pride are, according to their website, “required to attend and work each home football game for the 2013 Football season, raise $300.00 in sponsorship money, attend weekly meetings, and work recruiting official visits, Junior Days, Coaches Clinic, etc.” The SI piece alleges that between 2001 and 2011, a small number of women in Orange Pride slept with recruits while the recruits were visiting campus. It also says that members of the OSU football staff “decided which hostess to pair with which recruits” and “were aware that certain Orange Pride members were having sex with visiting prospects,” and that “Oklahoma State football personnel played a central role in vetting Orange Pride candidates.” According to Dohrmann, Evans, and Segura, the NCAA “passed legislation [in 2004] that, in part, prohibited ‘the use of alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling in recruiting.’” The scandal here, then, is that if the reporting is correct (and there are many, many questions about the veracity of the reporting), the football program did not do enough to prohibit sex during recruiting and thus broke NCAA rules.
Michael Felder, a writer for Bleacher Report and a former college football player at UNC, weighed in on Twitter after reading Sports Illustrated’s report:
But overall, the response to the Sports Illustrated series has been something like one long, collective shrug. Part of that can be attributed to the ongoing scrutiny over the facts in the articles, but another part is that many people just think corruption like this at a Division I football program is old and unsurprising news. They aren’t wrong: This isn’t the first time allegations have been made that women in hostess groups are being used for sex. This known tradition of corruption, however, is not an excuse to ignore the evidence that the culture of men’s Division I sports can be harmful to women. Rather, the Sports Illustrated report and the publication of The System come at a moment when the use of women by college football programs and the sexual abuse of women at the hands of college football players deserve as much attention as ever.