The Army football team wooed recruits this year with an alcohol-fueled party, a dinner date with female cadets, cash from boosters and VIP treatment on a party bus complete with cheerleaders and a police escort, documents obtained by The Gazette show.
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which acknowledged the misconduct to The Gazette, disciplined 20 cadets for promoting underage drinking and other misdeeds and self-reported a recruiting violation to the NCAA. Two officers were reprimanded along with a pair of coaches. Those involved, though, avoided more serious punishments, including dismissal from the academy for cadets and courts-martial for officers.
The football players involved, including Army starting quarterback Angel Santiago, are expected to be on the field at West Point's Michie Stadium when Army takes on the Air Force Academy on Nov. 1.
The nation's oldest military academy said that it dealt with the cadets involved harshly.
"Although seen as a minor infraction by the NCAA, the U.S. Military Academy takes this very seriously and adjudicated this at the highest level of the disciplinary code," West Point said in a statement. "We adjudicated this under Article 10 of the Cadet Disciplinary Code and all cadets appeared before the Commandant's Disciplinary Board."
One critic of West Point athletics says the secrecy surrounding the incident and apparent lack of severe discipline is nothing new.
"That's not shocking, considering in the past the academy has basically waived its own administrative procedures to keep players on the field," said retired Army Maj. Dwight Mears, a West Point graduate and former history professor at the academy.
West Point spokeswoman Theresa Brinkerhoff said the school didn't disclose the misconduct to the public because it was handled "administratively."
She said the administrative punishments involved didn't impact athletic eligibility.
The Pentagon had no immediate comment on the West Point incident.
The revelations out of West Point come as military academy athletic programs, including at the Air Force Academy, face increasing scrutiny for player misconduct. An August Gazette investigation into athlete conduct at Air Force found that a core group of football players had engaged in drug use, binge drinking, sexual assault and academic cheating.
Air Force Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson reacted to the player misconduct by launching a review of athletic programs and cracking down on player behavior.
Colorado Springs Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn said the revelations at Army show a need for that school to have a wider review of its athletic department culture.
"It could potentially be helpful if each service academy followed the proactive leadership steps taken by General Johnson at the Air Force Academy," Lamborn, who serves on the Air Force Academy Board of Visitors, said in a statement. "It is important that our service academies continue to focus on providing world class educations and developing the next generation of elite military leaders."
West Point began investigating recruiting misdeeds in March, more than a month after the incidents took place. The report found that football coaches, including first-year coach Jeff Monken, knew of the incidents within days but didn't tell West Point leaders or the NCAA about the misconduct.
"Coach Monken decided to punish the cadets that were involved and pulled them from the spring (practice) game," a report written by Lt. Col. Shannon Miller says. Miller is an aviator assigned to West Point who was ordered to investigate the recruiting allegations by the school's commandant of cadets, Brig. Gen. Richard Clarke.
Fourteen football recruits arrived at West Point on Jan. 24 and were feted with dinners and tours. They got a trip to the Palisades Mall, 27 miles down the Hudson River from the campus, where they were escorted by members of the football team designated as "cadet hosts" and two "Rabble Rouser" cheerleaders. No West Point officers went on the trip.
The recruits headed to the mall on a chartered bus with a full police escort from West Point and wound up at a bowling alley known for turning a blind eye to underage drinking, the report said. West Point justified the MP escort because the bus would have had difficulty in traffic without cops to clear a path. The report said the escort stayed with the bus but doesn't say whether the military police followed the cadets and recruits into the bar.
Booster money allocated for the evening was handed across the bar and alcohol came back. Cadets said they ordered "beer towers" containing quarts of the beverage and allowed recruits - high school athletes - to drink their fill.
Some cadets reported having as many as seven drinks in 90 minutes before a wild bus ride home. Some of the hosts handed leftover booster money to the recruits, the report found. West Point said it has no accounting of how much money was spent or how it was spent that night.
The ride home was raucous.
"The trip consisted of the (charter) bus driver allowing the music to play very loudly, dancing in the aisles, strobe lights flashing iPhones to reflect the club-like atmosphere," Miller wrote.
The investigator also found that two female cheerleaders began making out amid the bus party, adding a sexual charge to the scene. The cheerleaders also kissed a football player and a recruit.
Miller found that Army football recruiters use female cadets to help sell West Point.
In February, West Point's director of football operations, Lt. Col. Chad Davis, recruited cheerleaders and members of the academy's women's basketball and volleyball teams to act as dinner dates for recruits, Miller's report said.
Miller wrote that Davis, who still works for the team, told the women, "We want recruits to see that there are pretty girls that go here," and "There are not just masculine women that attend West Point."
The report doesn't say how many women were asked to attend the annual dinner at West Point's "Firstie Club," a hangout for upperclassmen.
The recruiting incidents earned West Point a warning from the NCAA this month. While the governing body did not issue sanctions, the academy was told Monken will face suspension if a similar violation occurs, according to a letter sent to West Point from the NCAA.
West Point told the NCAA that it suspended two members of the football staff from team activities for a week and admonished two others. In a memo sent to the governing body, the academy didn't tell the NCAA about the delay in investigating the incident because of the football team cover-up, as documented in its internal investigation.
In September, West Point issued new guidelines for recruit visits, including a requirement that an officer be in attendance at all times.
But, the report found, the trip to the mall with police escort was far from an isolated incident.
The outing for recruits with full police escort started more than a decade ago under former Army coach Bobby Ross, the report said.
It has been a night with few rules.
"The Palisades mall trip has been in place for many years," the report said. "Additionally no officer-in-charge attends the trip to the Palisades, cadets do not sign out and there is no clearly understood cadet in charge."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240