College Recruitment Has Changed Since The Days Of Steve Prefontaine And Bill Bowerman

Nearly fifty years ago, University of Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman sent a recruitment letter to Steve Prefontaine, the then-national high school record holder in the two-mile (8:41.5) and two-time state cross country champion from Coos Bay, Ore.


October 30, 1967

Mr. Steve Prefontaine
Marshfield High School
Coos Bay, Oregon

Dear Steve:

Bill Dellinger and I have watched the newspaper with interest this fall in your cross-country races. We congratulate you on your steady improvement. 

On the afternoon of October 27, I was laying out the cross-country course for the meet with Oregon State, while Bill Dellinger was out to watch the District Championship. Bill reports, as do Roscoe Divine and Dave Wilborn, a couple of Oregon sub-four-minute milers, that you look like a real champion.

Congratulations, hit the books and if we can be of help to you here at the University of Oregon, we would be more than pleased to do so.


W.J. Bowerman
Professor of Physical Education
Track Coach

cc: Walt McClure


The letter resurfaced from the archives yesterday when the Oregon Track Club posted it on their facebook page.


The letter stands out in history not only because Prefontaine would go on to become one of the most revered figures in track and field history under Bowerman's tutelage, but because Bowerman famously did not recruit.

In Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, former Duck Kenny Moore writes, "He scorned recruiting and almost never gave full scholarships. 'Anyone can be taught,' he said, 'those who don't expect a handout best of all. I'd sure rather be teaching than blowing smoke up some spoiled brat's [redacted].'"

The truth is, that was not quite so, as Bowerman certainly recruited athletes who he warranted deserved his attention, including Prefontaine. Assistant Coach Bill Dellinger also did much of the recruiting for the program.

However much Bowerman did or  not recruit, his simple handwritten note from 1967 is lightyears away from the circus that college recruitment has become in 2016.

This year alone, the NCAA has seen Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh sleepover at recruits' houses, as high school seniors make competition of one-upping each other to make the most elaborate college announcements possible -- including shooting guns at balloons and a sky-diving video produced by Bleacher Report.

In 1967, all it took for Prefontaine to commit to Oregon was a simple handwritten note.

11 Steve Prefontaine Quotes That Every Runner Should Know
Read articles in the College Signings 2015-2016 archive here.
Check out all the college commitments for the Class of 2016 here.