Is FSU getting a bad rap from Tom Lemming
Like a lot of things in modern-day sports, college football recruiting has seen its share of abuses over the years. Until recently, most the problems have come from two areas. First, there are college football coaches who attempt to circumvent NCAA rules in an attempt to gain an advantage. Another problem is overzealous boosters and school supporters who become part of the recruiting process by providing improper benefits to prospects.
Within the past few years, another unique predicament has arisen, due in some part to the growth of the Internet. Just 10 to 15 years ago, only a handful of media members regularly interviewed prep athletes to find out information on their college destination. Now there is an influx of "reporters" whose job it is get the latest scoop in recruiting.
As with everybody who follows college sports, most of the new age recruiting journalists favor a particular college or university. Since they are in regular contact with prospects, it is tempting for them to attempt to sway these prep athletes to their preferred school. Unless someone is considered an "athletic interest" of a school, there is little the NCAA, which is a non-governmental association, can do if a reporter tries to become part of the recruiting process.
Recently, a fan who fancied himself as a reporter took his love for his favorite school too far. According to reports, he was not only interviewing prospects for updates on his website, but also working with the Kentucky coaching staff and actively organizing UK booster groups to go out and recruit top players. Since there was enough of a connection between the reporter and the school in question, the NCAA stepped in and sanctioned Kentucky for his actions. Also, Kentucky banned the fan from attending athletic events at the university for 27 years. Unfortunately, more often than not, there isn't anything the NCAA can do.
Tom Lemming and Florida State
Perhaps the world's most well-known recruiting analyst is Tom Lemming of Prep Football Report. One would think someone with Lemming's reputation wouldn't use his position to influence recruits one way or another. However, after he publicly showed his displeasure with Lorenzo Booker's decision to sign with Florida State, red flags were raised. Unbeknownst to Seminole fans, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes with Lemming and Booker than met the eye.
When Booker first agreed to make his commitment on ESPN, the plan was for him to tell Lemming of his decision a few days in advance. However, as the date drew closer, Booker said he learned that Lemming planned on leaking out his commitment on a 900 number. As a result, he and his cousin, Curtis Richardson, who was acting as his advisor, decided to cut Lemming out of the process.
"We went over Tom Lemming's head and we started talking directly to the producer of the show to cut Tom Lemming out," Richardson said. "When that happened, which was about four days before signing day, that's when he started bad-mouthing Lorenzo, saying 'Lorenzo was too small to play running back, he ain't that good,' and this and that.'
"Before that he was constantly saying negative things about Florida State, Washington and USC, saying, 'They lied to their players, that Notre Dame can offer you so much more.' We knew about the academic side of it, and we knew coach (Tyrone) Willingham was a standup guy, but he just said that, 'All the other coaches, especially Florida State coaches, lie to the players all the time, they are never truthful and they are going to move Lorenzo to wide receiver.'"
After Booker announced that he was headed to Tallahassee, Lemming said that the speedy running back had previously committed to the Irish, but changed his mind at the last minute. That's not at all how Booker remembers it.
"After I said I was going there and signed with Florida State, he was telling everybody that I had actually told the Notre Dame coaching staff and said I was coming for sure," Booker said. "I felt like he put words in my mouth. I never even talked to the coaches, not once."
Booker also says he dropped in Lemming's player rankings after he signed with Florida State. Although he enjoyed the experience of being able to make his commitment on national television, he was upset with the way Lemming conducted himself, and has a word of advice for recruits who talk to ESPN's recruiting guru.
"To recruits everywhere, if you ask me and I know as much as any current high school football player, Tom Lemming is not the kind of guy you want to go to for advice," Booker said. "When you ask somebody for advice you want them to tell you what is best for you but this guy has his own intentions at heart. He doesn't care about the athlete, all he cares about is what is going to make him look better, that's it."
Is Tom Lemming recruiting against FSU?
Because of the high-profile nature of Booker's recruitment, and being the first high-profile high school athlete to make a live commitment on ESPN, it would be easy to attribute his experience with Lemming as an isolated incident, but that may not be the case.
The following year, after two relatively down seasons, Florida State was trying to re-establish itself as a college football power, so recruiting became a priority. It certainly didn't help the 'Noles' efforts that they had to deal with several off-the-field problems, including the pending gambling trial of former quarterback Adrian McPherson. As such, it was critical for the Seminole coaches to pull in as many quality recruits as possible for the class of 2003.
One of the top defensive targets for FSU that year was Bartow standout Alex Boston. The all-state defensive end had several top programs hoping to lure him, including Notre Dame, Florida and Ohio State. He went with his gut and signed with the Seminoles. He says that wouldn't have been the case had he listened to Tom Lemming.
"When I talked to Tom Lemming, I went over to Bradenton High School and he was basically downgrading Florida State," Boston said. "He was saying there is a lot of corrupt stuff that goes on over there, all the players are thugs and stuff like that. Basically, I didn't take his opinion and have to do my own thing.
"I think what he is trying to do is basically is have another program which is his favorite, it is Notre Dame, because he was just bragging on them the whole time. He just really wants Notre Dame to have all the best Florida players. I guess that's the way he is trying to get us - saying bad things about Florida State, or Miami or other Florida schools. He really talked bad to me because he knew I was favoring them more than any other schools."
Although Boston had a different impression of Florida State, he admits a little uncertainty did enter his mind after the discussion. However, that quickly changed when he made his official visit.
"At the time, I didn't really know what to do," Boston said. "When I came on my visit and everything, hung out with some of the fellows, and got to really know the team I didn't see all the bad stuff he was talking about. After I saw it for myself and got to know some of the guys, and was cool with them, it was like maybe he was lying or really wanted Notre Dame to get all the Florida players. I guess they have no athletes up there or something."
Now that Boston is a full-fledged member of the Seminoles and has been on campus for a year, he is happy he followed his instincts rather than rely on the advice of others.
"When I came here, it was nothing like that," he said. "The interpretation of how some of us come off might be a little bit different, but with him it was just all negative stuff. That's cool if that's your opinion of the school, but don't discourage other players thinking of coming here and trying to make our program better. It's just sad that for him to do something like that and give a bad reputation to Florida State and any other Florida school."
In the most recent signing class, at least one recruit says his decision to sign with FSU hurt him in Lemming's rankings. Running back Jamaal Edwards, a member of last year's Rivals100 team, was under the impression that he would join teammate DeMario Pressley at the U.S. Army National All-Star Game in San Antonio, but believes his early commitment to the Seminoles prevented that.
"Yes, that's what it is," Edwards said. "My coach told me that Tom Lemming said that me and the defensive lineman at my school (DeMario Pressley) were going to play in that game. He went on and played, but since I had committed, I didn't play. I think if I wouldn't have committed to Florida State, I would have played."
Lemming's recent interview with FSU commitment Matt Dunham
During the spring and summer months, Lemming goes on what he calls his "road trip" to check out some of the nation's prep football prospects. Just a couple weeks ago, he stopped by Pacelli High School in Columbus, Georgia. Running back Matt Dunham happens to be one of Pacelli's top players and has given FSU an early commitment for the class of 2005. When Dunham and his coach sat down with Lemming, the all-state athlete instantly felt uncomfortable with the conversation.
"He was really trying to encourage them not to commit early," Pacelli coach Kevin Pettis said. "He was really talking to Matt Dunham and Matt said he's solid to Florida State. He said, 'You know, if you commit early you are probably going to be left off some of these All-American lists and all-star games. You won't get the same exposure as everybody else by committing to Florida State.'"
When Dunham reiterated that he was firm in his commitment, Pettis said Lemming took his argument a step further.
"He asked Matt, he said, 'What is Florida State recruiting you as?'" Pettis said. "Matt said, 'Running back, but they told me they would let me play wherever I want to play. They aren't going to keep me on the shelf if I'm the number three running back and they can use me at defensive end, or if I'm the number three safety and they could use me at running back they are going to put me on the field as soon as possible.'
"Tom said, 'Well, that's their diplomatic way of telling you that you are going to be a defensive end. He said, 'They will lie to you. Florida State is notorious about doing that.'"
Since he is familiar with the FSU coaching staff, Pettis said he was uncomfortable and stopped the interview.
"I said, 'Hold on. I'm a Seminole fan and I know those guys,'" he said. "He kept saying there is nothing to do in Tallahassee. You can't even fly into Tallahassee, and you are going to be bored out of your mind. It wasn't like he was recruiting for somebody, it was like he was recruiting against Florida State."
As with Boston, Pettis disagrees with Lemming's assessment of FSU and the coaching staff.
"I love the FSU coaches," he said. "They are the greatest bunch of guys I know. They are good people, they always have time for us as high school coaches."
What can be done?
If Lemming did what is being alleged, there probably isn't much that can be done about it. NCAA recruiting rules do not cover most journalists and reporters, so there is little outside of professional ethics to prevent the active recruitment of prep athletes by those in the media. There also isn't much that can be done to stop negative comments made toward certain programs, outside of a lawsuit for defamation, but that would be difficult to prove.
The Rivals.com network, which promotes itself as the "recruiting authority", employs more than a dozen reporters to keep subscribers up to date on the latest in recruiting. In addition, there are even more team site publishers, including Warchant.com, that contact prospects on a regular basis for the purpose of providing recruiting updates. In an attempt to curb potential abuses in this area, Rivals.com requires all writers associated with the network to sign a document promising not to get involved in the recruiting process.
"Journalism today is so lowly regarded by many people that if we don't install ethics and integrity into everything we do, we aren't going to be able to rely on the word of our reporters and journalists," Rivals.com vice president Bobby Burton said. "We instituted a Rivals.com code of ethics that every person who ever contacts a recruit on behalf of our network must sign. It includes big things like not being a booster, making sure there is no coercion of kids, to even little things like make sure they are being even-handed in every aspect of their reporting."
* Warchant.com sent an e-mail to Prep Football Report last week to give Tom Lemming an opportunity to respond to the allegations made by the players and coaches in this story, but as of this date we have not received a reply.