Top MU officials decided Wednesday to revamp the Tiger Hostess program, following allegations of sexual harassment and other illicit behavior made in a national magazine by a former hostess.
Effective the start of the fall semester, volunteers who assist with welcoming student athletes will be under the direction of the more general welcome service for all prospective students.
“Many excellent students have participated as Tiger Hostesses and in other welcome programs over the years,” athletic director Mike Alden said in a release issued by the MU News Bureau, “but we believe it is the right time to integrate these programs with the campus and that all students can be better served as a result.”
The announced changes coincide with an NCAA Division I board of directors meeting today, in which six recommendations made by the NCAA Task Force on Recruiting will be implemented. One of the recommendations says athletic programs should have written policies for recruiting visits, including policies about student hosts.
The MU News Bureau’s release said the decision to make changes was not directly prompted by September’s issue of Seventeen magazine, which features an article called “College Sports Sex Scandal.” Rather, it said, the decision arose from “an ongoing discussion of the topic since news of a major recruiting situation broke in February of 2004 that impacted another NCAA institution.”
In the article, a woman disguised as “Emily” talks about her negative experiences as a former Tiger Hostess. She says she was sexually harassed by drunk recruits, asked by players and hostesses to go with recruits to strip clubs, and asked to drive a player and recruit to buy marijuana. “Emily” says football coaches joked about her complaint that a recruit sexually harassed her.
Athletic officials began looking into the anonymous woman’s complaints immediately after they learned of the article on July 27, the release said. They have so far “found no evidence of a complaint being filed with anyone affiliated with the university, the athletic department, its football program” or local police departments.
In an e-mail Wednesday evening, Chad Moller, director of media relations for the MU athletic department, said the department has tried repeatedly to contact Seventeen, with no success. “We have contacted them by letter, by e-mail, and with many voicemails, but cannot get any cooperation,” he said.
In his response to the description of the woman’s experiences, the article quotes MU Director of Football Operations Mark Alnutt, saying “College kids will be college kids.” On Tuesday, however, Moller said the department was trying to determine whether Alnutt’s quote was actually taken from a March interview he did with KOMU-TV reporter Rachel Goad.
KOMU’s online archive includes a March 3 report by Goad in which Alnutt talks about spring changes to the Tiger Hostess program. “I hate to say this,” he says in the interview, “but sometimes you can’t follow everybody after dinner, you know. College kids will be college kids ...”
Moller noted that deep in the crease between the two pages of the Seventeen article, a tiny attribution appears sideways: “Additional reporting by Rachel Goad.”
Alnutt released his own statement Wednesday, saying that the allegations in the article are serious and that the type of behavior described would not be condoned by anyone in the football program. He said his conversation with the Seventeen reporter involved general information about the Tiger Hostess program. His quote was not related to any allegations in the article, he said, because the reporter never told him about the incidents the story describes.
Seventeen released a statement Wednesday saying it stands by the article, “which supports the magazine’s goal to better educate its readers about serious issues like sexual harassment.” The magazine said the article was thoroughly researched and reported, and that Alnutt’s remark was taken from a conversation the reporter had with him.
The MU News Bureau release said that before the Seventeen article was printed, MU representatives were not made aware of or given a chance to respond to the allegations in the article. “A thorough review” is being led by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs.
Moller said the Seventeen article hasn’t influenced the department’s morale. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to this year in all our sports,” he said. “We’re coming off a summer period when we all get recharged, and we’re looking forward to another year.”
Chancellor Richard Wallace voiced support for head football coach Gary Pinkel in the Wednesday news release.
“Provost Brady Deaton, A.D. Mike Alden, Coach Gary Pinkel and I agree that MU should maintain the highest standards in both academics and athletics,” he said. “We certainly have in Gary Pinkel a head football coach who supports such standards day in and day out.”