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O’Neil: UW Huskies recruitment spending an example of issues in NCAA

The UW Huskies spent big hosting recruits. How the money was spent bothers Danny O'Neil. (Getty)

I have absolutely no problem with the UW Huskies football department spending more than $70,000 to host nine football recruits for a single weekend in 2018 as Adam Jude carefully spelled out in The Seattle Times.

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In fact, judging by the fact that eight of those nine players who visited Seattle that weekend eventually committed to play football for the UW Huskies, it seems like a highly effective use of resources.

My issue is with the way that money was spent, or more accurately the items that spending was limited to under the NCAA handbook.

For instance, you can’t offer a football recruit so much as a summer job, but you can treat him and a guest to a catered lunch that totals up to more than $9,000 and includes a $1,175 ice sculpture as noted in Jude’s story.

Some people will wonder why a school would ever spend that much on to recruit an athlete. I think about how much money the program actually makes and wonder why it can’t offer financial benefits with more lasting impact than a glitzy weekend.

The NCAA may have started with the best of intentions, but because teams are severely restricted in what can be offered to prospective players, the only way schools can distinguish themselves is with the luxury of their facilities and the extravagance of the accommodations. The result is an arms race in hospitality costs that makes the underlying reluctance to pay college-football players even more absurd.

Does it seem crazy to anyone else that it’s OK for the UW Huskies to spend an average of nearly $8,000 per recruit for a two-day stay yet offering something as stable and reliable as a $500 treasury bond would get you tarred and feathered by the NCAA?

Players already get plenty of incentives for playing college football, the first and foremost being the cost of tuition. But there are other benefits, too, from the status on campus to the tutoring sessions that are available to the training table and in this case the courtship that comes with being recruited out of high school.

What benefits are permissible, however, is governed by the NCAA whose rulebook seems written to prohibit any material benefits of more lasting value. The intention of those rules isn’t bad per se. The idea was to prevent schools – or more likely their alumni – from flat out bribing recruits to pick their school. But the ultimate result has been to inflate the budget for those types of benefits which are allowed such as recruiting visits, which leads to contradictions that are impossible to justify.

How in the world can you look at what Washington spent on a single weekend for nine prospective players and then explain why that school can’t offer something more tangible like a summer job? Or an endorsement contract should he wind up a star and the school sells jerseys bearing his name and number?

Nope, says the NCAA. Can’t do that because it would constitute an impermissible benefit yet it’s totally OK with the NCAA for a school to pamper high-school students with limo rides to the airport, lunch buffets and a dinner entree of a long-bone ribeye steak dry-aged for at least 42 days per Jude’s story.

When it comes to recruiting inducements, it’s almost like the NCAA is mandating that the incentives provided for recruits beyond a scholarship have no lasting value. That’s absolutely insane.

If I heard that nine high school seniors and their parents got together and decided to spend nearly $10,000 on a single lunch, I would hate it every bit as much as I hate the elaborate dinners that NFL veterans force rookies to pay for. It’s about the most fleeting way to spend money that I can think of.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s also entirely unnecessary yet under the NCAA’s current rules, it’s totally OK for schools to foot the bill for first-class weekends.

In fact, in a business where schools are limited in what they can offer to prospective players, the extravagance on an official visit becomes one of the primary ways a school can distinguish itself. And while that might result in a pretty fun weekend, I wish those perspective players had the option of accepting benefits with more tangible and lasting value.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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