For college football recruiting hostesses, the difference between perception and reality is nearly as big as the difference between a 5-star blue-chip prospect and an uninvited walk-on.
There is an unfortunate stigma that comes with the job. Often thought of as just "eye candy" to show to recruits, the reality is that they're one of the most integral pieces of the college football puzzle.
"Like everything else in college football and really in our society, abuse leads to restrictions," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema told B/R. "If everybody would just do it the right way, in the right manner and with the right approach, we wouldn't have any problems. When people try to abuse the situation or stereotype the situation, that brings negativity on all of it."
Hostess programs have been cast in a negative light over the last few years, including former Tennessee hostess Lacey Pearl Earps' role as "The Closer" for Lane Kiffin's program on Rocky Top (via: Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports).
"Our job was to flirt with them," Earps said in The System, a book published in 2013 and written by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (via Wetzel).
But is that truly the case?
"People think they are there to just be 'eye candy' and whatever happens, happens," said B/R national recruiting writer Tyler Donohue, who was a recruiting assistant for the Rutgers football program from 2006 through 2008. "From my experience, there was more flirting from the prospects trying to spit game, and maybe the girls would smile at them. I never saw a reciprocation or anything like that."
The perception that recruiting hostesses engage in nefarious practices in the hopes of luring that next superstar to campus is one that hostesses routinely fight and hope will change.
"The perception of things is not always how it is in reality," said Meredith Martin, a former hostess at the University of Georgia in 2008. "You don't want people to assume you're one way because you have this job, when in reality, it's very different."
The primary role for hosts and hostesses during the week is to assist in creating and distributing recruiting materials to prospects.
"Day-to-day, they were really important, because your goal as a Division I program was to get mail in front of prospects as much as possible," said Donohue. "They were the ones printing stuff out, cutting the cardboard, stuffing envelopes, making sure addresses are right, getting it out there. They're almost the secretarial cog of our recruiting department. While we were next door watching tape, they were doing the clerical work."
On the weekends, the duties change a bit. Coaches are busy during game days and on busy recruiting weekends during the offseason, there's only so much of the head coach to go around.
It's up to the hostesses and hosts to show prospects around on official visits, which typically include a tour of the athletic facility, meetings with coaches, training staff and administrators, a tour of campus and meetings with academic advisers and teachers. Many of those stops along the way are specifically chosen by the football staff based on the major each prospect intends to pursue.
Amy Eikmeier was a campus tour guide for the office of admissions at Nebraska in 2006 and added recruiting hostess responsibilities from 2007 through 2009. Her responsibilities didn't change all that much.
"I'm not an expert on the football program, but that wasn't my role," she said. "My role was about life as a student. Obviously I learned some things about the football program and facilities, so I could discuss those with recruits, but it was more about what it's like going to school here, the academic side and all of the opportunities.
"Other than the football stuff, a lot of it was very similar to the things I did in my job as a general tour guide and working for new student enrollment."
Many schools, including Arkansas and Nebraska, have male and female hosts for recruits for game days, official visits and unofficial visits. Rather than just "eye candy," hosts and hostesses are chosen based on their ability to connect with prospects and convey the message that the school is trying to deliver.
"I can promise you, I'm not a good-looking individual," joked Ian Anderson, a former Nebraska recruiting host. "You had to be a tour guide of some sort [to be able to host recruits]. You had to give a practice tour to make sure you were able to give a tour of the university and answer any academic questions. If you were good at that and able to give positive unofficial tours consistently, then you could be able to do official visits. It was kind of a perk. If you were doing official visits, it was because you earned your way up there, not because you were the best looking."
That's it, as far as requirement for the job. Did anything happen after hours?
"I did not ever party with the team or recruits, and I do not know of any other hostesses who did," said Martin, who is a longtime Georgia fan who applied for the unpaid job online prior to the 2008 season.
Eikmeier echoed those same sentiments.
"No," she said when asked if she had ever heard of any hosts or hostesses doing that. "I mean, you read things I suppose, but no, I've never heard of that personally or anything like that."
For most hostesses, working in the athletic department allows them to get a foot in the door that could lead to career advancement.
"A lot of these girls have aspirations," Donohue said. "It's kind of a bummer, because many had aspirations just like I did. Some wanted to work in an NFL front office one day or run things in a recruiting office. There is that negative connotation that goes with it."
Do players party at night? Sure, that happens.
Sometimes—as was the case during the Colorado scandal in the mid-2000s that cost former head coach Gary Barnett his job in Boulder—sex and alcohol are present in places where recruits hang out during visits.
During game days, the duties of a hostess are rather straightforward.
An itinerary is created based on the specific desires and goals of a prospect but for the most part, game day includes a sample of campus life, experiencing the traditions that make the school great and a trek down to the field as the players prepare for the game.
"We arrived [at the facility] four hours before game time to meet our recruit and their family, coach or whoever they brought as their guest," Martin said. "From there, we would eat either lunch or dinner depending on the time. We would get on the bus, ride to the stadium, stand down on the field during warmups and then go up to a suite for a snack before going to our seats."
That might sound easy, but when a large group of people who might be unfamiliar with the stadium, campus and crowds that accompany both on game day, it's a logistical nightmare. Hosts play an integral part of moving along the process.
"People probably don't realize this, but we have something like 150 tickets reserved each weekend for game-day recruiting," Bielema explained. "So 'Johnny B. Goode' comes on campus, and he's entitled to three tickets. Not only does he need guidance, but his guests need guidance, and they have to be herded through a huge amount of traffic. You can't just lay out two yellow ropes and guide them to their seats."
On top of the logistical issues that go along with the orchestrated chaos of official visits, hosts are also charged with keeping an eye on potential NCAA violations.
"You have people trying to get at them who we know we can't let them get at them," said Bielema, whose program, like many nowadays, employs both male and female recruiting hosts. "A highly recruited kid is recognizable, and you don't want a donor grabbing him. You would be blown away with the amount of detail our recruiting department goes through just to avoid potential NCAA violations.
"One time, at my previous institution, I had a tackle, Joe Thomas, who was a great player, first-round draft pick, an unbelievable player in the NFL. He just happened to be on campus in the offseason with his wife playing in the sand volleyball game. My O-line coach is walking with a recruit and literally ran into him, unplanned. We had to turn that in as an NCAA violation. I mean, how much sense does that make?"
It isn't just first-round draft picks or the donors that hosts need to be on the lookout for, though.
"The NCAA is stiff," Anderson explained. "I had an official visitor one time who wanted to call home and needed to use my phone. I told him that he couldn't do it because he doesn't pay for the minutes."
Typically, once the game wraps up, hosting duties are done and prospects on official visits are handed off to their player hosts.
"If it was a night game, it'd be an all-day tour," Eikmeier said. "If it was an afternoon game, typically we would be responsible for the time before the game and not always after the game. It just depended on the schedule and what the football [office] has planned for them, because they have player hosts as well. Sometimes the player host would take over responsibilities after the game."
How do players get matched up with specific hostesses?
Sometimes high-profile players will request specific hostesses, as former blue-chip running back Bryce Brown did with Earps, according to Benedict and Keteyian. But that's largely out of the hands of the hosts and hostesses.
"That was all decided by people above me," said Eikmeier. "The coordinators for the football department would figure out who's coming in, organize the tour and who were the hosts for those recruits and set up all of the specific stops along the tour."
At Rutgers, according to Donohue, hosts and hostesses are in charge of different areas and show recruits around based on when they arrive on campus. Some hostesses escorted players through Scarlet Walk, others pointed out other traditions around the school, while others waited at will call to make sure that each visitor gets the appropriate number of tickets and sideline passes.
In fact, hosts and hostesses sometimes serve a greater purpose for the parents or guardians of the prospect, rather than the prospect himself.
"Everybody thinks we're trying to do it for the 17- or 18-year-old young man, but it's that parent who can ask a question to another student that they'd never ask a full-time employee or a coach," Bielema said. "We'd get better feedback from our hosts because those hosts are not viewed as a coach or an employee."
It's a system that's mutually beneficial for the player and host. Prospects get an in-depth tour of the school, and hostesses get to meet prospects and families from various backgrounds, each with different goals for themselves and their families.
"The same thing applies in the workplace," Martin said. "You're going to be put in all different kinds of situations and meet different people constantly, and it's important to be able to communicate and relate to them."
For some, it's also a chance to give back to the school they love and be part of the team.
Martin comes from a Georgia family that bleeds red and black. Her role as a hostess added extra meaning to national signing day and games that involved players who she hosted.
"My parents are big fans and season-ticket holders, and follow [recruiting] very well," she said. "So they'd be really excited for me when players I knew committed, and made national signing day very special.
"It’s really exciting knowing that you had a tiny little part in making their experience a good one, and if they end up coming to the school that you want to do well. It’s exciting and a proud moment knowing that you had a part in that."
Had a part in it, even if it comes with a negative perception that isn't reality.
"Think of the young lady that wants to be a host," Bielema said. "She doesn't want that image out there. She's doing it for the love of her school and maybe [to] put it on her resume."
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.