We hope you didn't get the impression that Tennessee is the only school to use attractive young ladies as bait to lure prospective athletes, because it's actually a college football tradition as revered as marching bands and beer bongs.
According to the legends, the practice was first instituted in the 1960's by Bear Bryant at Alabama. His Bear's Angels became a staple of the college recruiting landscape, and in their own way, became more famous than the recruits themselves. The groups were usually created and organized by school officials—these days they are often attached to the school admissions office—but operated in a shady netherworld as a vital part of any large program, yet detached from the athletic department in an intricate web of plausible deniability.
The groups are particularly popular in the Southeast and West and while they are sometimes affiliated with sports like basketball and baseball, they tend to focus on football recruits, which are greater in number and more valuable. Since coaches can't spend more than a few minutes with any single recruit and his family when they come for their 48-hour campus visits, it's up to the hostess to give tours, answer questions, and—in the evening when the parents go back to their own hotels—provide entertainment.
The practice went mostly unquestioned and under the radar for years, but two incidents earlier this decade brought these groups into focus. In late 2001, a female student at the University of Colorado claimed she was raped by football players and football recruits at a party she was hosting on their behalf. (It was the second such incident at CU in five years.) Then in 2003, a campus newspaper's investigation into Arizona State's all-female recruiting group revealed that members routinely supplied underage recruits with wild parties, alcohol and occasionally sex while serving as hostesses.
The ASU article revealed intriguing details about the structure of these groups and their relationships to the teams they support. The Sun Devils coach and athletic director at the time essentially admitted that they knew very little about how the group worked—and that was the way they liked it. According to then-AD Gene Smith:
"When you begin to formalize a relationship based upon a contract — that's why my wife and I don't have a prenup[tual] — you are actually challenging whether or not you have trust in that relationship. I trust our student athletes. I trust the young ladies who have volunteered to be a part of this program. I am not an individual that believes in setting up structure, setting up contracts to make an organization successful."
The team may have been responsible for the recruits' well-being while on campus, yet once they turned them over to these other students the kids were no longer in their jurisdiction. The hostesses were never given orders about what to do—remember the trust?—but they were also never told what not to do. One of the group members told the paper that the hostesses were never given guidance about what constituted a recruiting violation. After all, if they knew what the rules were, then the girls might have to follow them.
Similar tales came out of Oregon and other programs, with many women saying that while the school didn't ask them to do inappropriate things, the recruits themselves often felt entitled to more than just a nice meal. ("One high-profile recruit, she says, tried to lure her to his hotel room, saying, "The girls at Kentucky and Georgia did it.")
There are also two essential facts that every hostess group shares. One, is that they are almost universally female-only. The groups were all given cutesy names like the Texas Angels, the Hurricane Honeys, the Bengal Babes, the Stately Ladies, the Black-Eyed Susans, the Tigerettes, the Crimson Courters (Bear's Angels eventually became the 'Bama Belles) and recruit heavily from the school's sororities. (Those ladies are very big into public relations!)
And the second truth is that if they work for another school besides the one you attend, then they are all whores. (Your girls, on the other hand, are wonderful, fresh-faced ambassadors for goodness and chastity.) No one is ever told to have sex with a recruit or get him drunk or promise him that ménage à trois is basically a freshman seminar, but when a bunch of attractive horny college-age kids get together with a pony keg, nature will run its course. It doesn't take much for a recruit to fall in love with his host and, by extension, her school.
As a result of the ASU and Colorado stories (and other lurid tales of strip clubs and sexual assaults) the NCAA began to crack down on these groups, although obviously they still exist as official organizations at Tennessee and many other places. The NCAA instituted new guidelines in 2004, stating that such groups could not officially be gender specific, although they are still heavily weighted toward the ladies. Shortly after that ruling, the original 'Bama Belles were disbanded.
Risky behavior not policed in ASU football recruiting [ASU State Press, Dec. 2002]
Oregon defends recruiting practices [The Register Guard, 2002]
Doing The Legwork [Sports Illustrated, Jan. 2003]
College recruits and "hostesses": where is the line drawn? [Star Tribune]