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October 26, 2011
Six recruiting rules in need of change
Rivals.com analysts each selected an NCAA football recruiting rule most in need of alterations at the very least and, at the most extreme, is worthy of being tossed on the bonfire. Here's an analysis of six rules that need to be changed.
Rule 126.96.36.199: Prior to August 1 of a prospective student-athlete's senior year in high school, an institution shall not provide a written offer of athletically related financial aid or indicate in writing to the prospective student-athlete that an athletically related grant-in-aid will be offered by the institution. On or after August 1 of a prospective student-athlete's senior year in high school, an institution may indicate in writing to a prospective student-athlete that an athletically related grant-in-aid will be offered by the institution; however, the institution may not permit the prospective student-athlete to sign a form indicating his or her acceptance of such an award before the initial signing date in that sport in the National Letter of Intent program.
The NCAA's reasoning here: Over the years, a culture has developed in which prospective student-athletes are receiving letters from coaches at the beginning of their junior year in high school that, essentially, offer scholarships. Although they are not able to sign a National Letter of Intent until their senior year in high school, many prospective student-athletes view the early scholarship offer letters they receive as binding agreements. This proposal will eliminate the confusion such letters create with prospective student-athletes.
Let's be honest, this rule was not put into place to stop the confusion of recruits receiving written offers in September of their junior seasons as it explains in their rationale. In all my years of covering recruiting, I have never had a prospect tell me he received a written offer and deemed it as a binding agreement. This rule was put in place, misguidedly I might add, to slow down the recruiting process.
Starting in the early 2000s, early commitments became more common but it wasn't until 2004-06 when early verbals became as normal as later decisions. And with that, of course, came many de-commitments as players made early decisions, continued to be recruited by other schools, took visits and changed their minds. In an effort to slow the process down and stop as many de-commitments, the NCAA decided to delay written offers from Sept. 1 of a player's junior season to Aug. 1 of his senior year. However, it has clearly been ineffective in slowing things down as early commitments are probably more common than ever, de-commitments are still happening often and teams are already focusing on the next year's class by the time they are sending written offers to their current commitments.
Wayne (N.J.) Wayne Hills head coach Chris Olsen had two sons, Greg Olsen and Christian Olsen, go through the process prior to the new rule and another son, Kevin Olsen, who is a current junior affected by the new rule.
"For me it's not a big deal because I've been around long enough and I know how the process works," he said. "So for Kevin to have just verbal offers right now doesn't bother me because we know the process really well and know schools won't lie to him about verbal offers. But as a coach and if I was a parent going through this the first time, the rule would confuse me and make things much harder. If I had a written offer from a school during the junior year I would feel much more comfortable as a parent and it would allow me to plan accordingly. For example, I'd know which schools were truly interested by the written offer so I could plan unofficial trips there or trips to their camps as opposed to other schools that didn't put it in writing. Now anyone can say 'you have an offer' but it's harder to tell who is serious about it and who isn't. With that piece of paper, even if it wasn't binding until signing day, I would have some proof of true interest.
"I don't think it's a huge deal, but I guess I don't understand what the NCAA is trying to do here. If it's an attempt to make things less confusing I don't think it works and if they are trying to slow things down, that isn't working either. Kevin could commit to any school right now with a verbal offer, he doesn't need a piece of paper and you see early commitments all over the place. I think what really needs to happen is for an early signing period to be put in place. That way if a player knows he wants to commit and sign, he can do so and you won't have to worry about so many de-commitments."
Baltimore (Md.) Gilman head coach Biff Poggi, who also had two sons, Jim Poggi and Sam Poggi, go through the process prior to the new rules and has another son, Henry Poggi, who is a junior, agrees with Olsen.
"I think the new rule is a major disadvantage to parents trying to make one of the biggest decisions in their children's lives," said Poggi. "It's not slowing things down, I think it's just making college coaches more cavalier with their offers. It's made things even more of a feeding frenzy around the process.
"If the rationale is to avoid confusion that comes with early written offers, that's ridiculous. We have sent more than 100 kids to college and not one of them has ever confused a written offer as a binding agreement. The rule was likely put in place to slow the process down and to avoid de-commitments but it hasn't worked. The only thing that will do that is an early signing period."
- Mike Farrell
Rule 13.02.5.2: An evaluation period is a period of time when it is permissible for authorized athletics department staff members to be involved in off-campus activities designed to assess the academic qualifications and playing ability of prospective student-athletes. No in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts shall be made with the prospective student-athlete during an evaluation period.
Rule 13.02.4: A contact is any face-to-face encounter between a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete's parents, relatives or legal guardians and an institutional staff member or athletics representative during which any dialogue occurs in excess of an exchange of a greeting. Any such face-to-face encounter that is prearranged (e.g., staff member positions himself or herself in a location where contact is possible) or that takes place on the grounds of the prospective student-athlete's educational institution or at the site of organized competition or practice involving the prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete's high school, preparatory school, two-year college or all-star team shall be considered a contact, regardless of whether any conversation occurs. ...
There are issues with these two similar rules on multiple levels.
For starters, as most coaches and prospects will tell you, recruiting is about relationships. By not allowing a coach who is already on campus (often coming from hours away) to chat with a prospect, even if only for a minute or two, it limits the amount of quality face time for both, something that is key to each in accessing whether or not they might be a good fit.
Another problem is that some college coaches follow the rule and some, shall we say, bend it. Additionally, there are high school coaches who either don't know the rule, understand the rule, or simply don't abide by it. In this day and age, high school coaches are under great pressure to help their athletes land scholarships. Because of that, a high school coach may feel obligated to encourage contact between a college coach and a player in hopes of bettering a prospect's opportunities.
Why not allow brief "contact" during the spring evaluation period? There must be some regulations, however, because prospects shouldn't regularly miss class to chat with college coaches. Perhaps a limited - and specific amount of time - could be set aside to allow for contact.
"We have schools come all the way from the West Coast to get information about kids but they can't talk to them," Todd Wofford, head coach at Lawrencevile (Ga.) Central Gwinnett, said. "It doesn't make sense for a school like Stanford or UCLA to come all the way to Georgia and not be able to talk. Right now, it's just so the kid can see their face. That means a lot, but at the same time the kid would like to talk to the coach."
- Keith Niebuhr
Rule 188.8.131.52: Division I coaches are prohibited from sending text messages to prospects. If a prospect sends a text message to a coach, the coach should not respond. Coaches should educate prospects on the text messaging prohibition to avoid future violations.
On Aug. 1, 2007, the NCAA enacted a ban that eliminated all text messages from coaches to recruits. The primary reason for the creation of the new legislation, as stated by Division I vice president David Berst at the time of the rules creation, was the abuse of the use of texts by coaches urging prospective student-athletes to call coaches.
Some prospects, as well as their parents and coaches, had complained about coaches that abused the use of text messaging but the complaints were far outweighed by the benefits of instant, short communication between prospects and recruiters. Also, in a day and age where unlimited data plans and unlimited text messaging were not prevalent, the use of texting did prove to be a fiscal issue for some.
The rule did not eliminate the ability for a prospect to text a coach, but the coach is not allowed to respond in a text. This has led to instances of secondary violations where coaches responded to texts asking who was sending the text, not realizing they were illegally communicating with a prospective student-athlete. Numerous schools have had to report secondary violations over the past four years involving text messages sent to prospects or their parents. Some of the schools that have violated the rules include Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Texas Tech, to name a few.
Fast forward to present day and the topic of text messaging is once again on the NCAA Rules Committee's agenda. The NCAA is considering a proposal that would again permit coaches to send text messages to recruits or their parents at permitted time periods. The proposal that has been submitted would allow all forms of electronic correspondence, including e-mails and texts, to be sent to recruits or their parents beginning when phone contact is allowed in that sport.
Plain and simple, the rules need to change and text messaging needs to be permitted. Text messaging, and similar forms of correspondence, are how the average high school junior and senior prefers to communicate. Also, it allows for quicker, more efficient communication between the prospective student-athlete and the school pursuing their services. Also, as compared to four years ago, it is far easier to be able to afford to communicate in such a manner as technology has evolved.
As is the case with anything and everything involving the NCAA, rules will likely exist if texting returns. That will prove difficult to enforce depending on the depth of the rules that are cooked up. Ultimately though, the ability for a prospective student-athlete to speak with a coach via text, and to hear from a school via text, is something that should and needs to be allowed.
"We would be able to conversate more and we would be able to do a lot of catching up instead of picking a specific time or day to call them," Howard said.
"If a college was able to text recruits they can keep in touch more instead of waiting for a call or if you call them and don't get an answer," Davis said.
Land O'Lakes (Fla.) tight end Kent Taylor, considered Rivals.com's No. 1 tight end in the nation, also sees the simple benefit to prospects already stretched thin.
"It would make it much easier to communicate quickly," Taylor said.
- Chris Nee
Letter of intent restrictions
Rule 13.9.2: A member institution may not participate in an institutional or conference athletics letter-of-intent program or issue an institutional or conference financial aid agreement that involves a signing date that precedes the initial regular (as opposed to early) signing date for the National Letter of Intent program in the same sport. However, an institution may permit a prospective student-athlete to sign an institutional or conference letter of intent during the National Letter of Intent early signing period in the applicable sport.
Even a decade ago, college football recruiting was seemingly at full throttle for about four or five months while put on the backburner the rest of the year. Recruitniks often suffered withdrawals the day after National Signing Day, knowing they would not have much news to follow for quite some time.
However, things have changed drastically. Schools are taking commitments from players that have not even started their junior season. They are also having "junior days" on campus the weekend after signing day and pushing for as many early commitments as possible. What used to happen in January of the players' senior year has now been pushed up to the preceding February. The rules for signing the national letter-of-intent have not changed though.
Whereas basketball recruiting has an early signing period - this year's runs from Nov. 9 to Nov. 16 - football simply has one - always beginning on the first Wednesday in February. With many prospects committed even before their senior season begins, a lot of college coaches, high school coaches and players would like to see football adopt a similar approach.
"We have these kids committed for months and months," one Big 12 assistant coach said. "We have most of our class filled out by September. They know where they want to go. Why can't they sign with us then? Other schools come in late in the process and try to get them on official visits. Sometimes the kids even go but they don't usually switch. It would save us a lot of worry to have an early period.
"The dirty little secret is that it would also cause us a lot less grief by not having to try to sway the kids from other schools. Like I said, they rarely switch but our bosses and the fans want us to go all-out after the top-ranked kids. We spend a lot of time doing that - time that could be better spent on the few remaining uncommitted kids. That should be our focus. We should just let the committed ones sign in September or even early December, right after their seasons."
- Brian Perroni
Rule 184.108.40.206.1: A prospective student-athlete may not be provided an expense-paid visit earlier than the opening day of classes of the prospective student-athlete's senior year in high school.
The NCAA has been slow to react to the changing landscape of the college football recruiting picture. Withholding official visits from recruits until the start of their senior years is one such rule that's time has long since passed.
Consider that by the start of September more than 60 percent of the prospects in the Rivals250 had already made commitments to college programs. That means the majority of the top prospects in the country have already done the research and seen what they needed to on the recruiting trail without the assistance of a single official visit.
There are five months between the start of a prospect's senior season and National Signing Day. Those five months also involve at least nine weeks of weekend football games. If a recruit also plays for his high school basketball, wrestling or hockey teams then they are involved in a sport for the entire duration of the five months they are allowed to take official visits.
Derek Spearman anticipated the burden his son, three-star linebacker Ike Spearman, would have to bear were he to schedule official visits during his high school football season, so Spearman spent the time and money over the summer to travel with his son around to the different college campuses.
"You're talking about a large financial endeavor," Spearman noted. "All of that is coming off the parent's dime until it is time for them to take official visits. It would be a lot easier if I could take a look at, say UCLA, on their dime instead of on my dime."
Spearman and his wife had the means to invest in their son's future, but how many families do not have that luxury? Traveling around the country involves a major expenditure of time and money, but waiting until the fall or winter could mean fewer opportunities.
With the recruiting timeline starting earlier every year, college programs are closing out scholarships before the start of fall. Prospects are in a race to claim a scholarship offer before others at their position, and under the current NCAA rules those without the means to travel extensively pre-senior year are being discriminated against.
- Josh Helmholdt
Scouting of camps
Rule 220.127.116.11.4: In bowl subdivision football, all live athletics evaluations shall be limited to: (a) Regularly scheduled high school, preparatory school and two-year college contests and practices; (b) Regular scholastic activities involving prospective student-athletes enrolled only at the institution at which the regular scholastic activities occur; and (c) Events that are organized and conducted solely by the applicable state high school athletics association, state preparatory school association or state or national junior college athletics association.
Independent football camps commence soon after the high school season is finished and it's an invaluable resource for evaluation but college coaches have been barred from such events for a handful of years.
When the NCAA clamped down on college coaches attending football camps it gave three main reasons - quality of life for coaches, maintaining control of the recruiting process and fair competition - but coaches and others argue that seeing players in camps, combines and even 7-on-7 settings would give them a more thorough analysis of players.
"The best way to evaluate a prospect is to be able to work with them in person at summer camp," said Dave Emerick, Arizona's director of on-campus recruiting.
"Due to financial considerations, it is not always feasible for prospects to attend summer camps at all the schools that are recruiting him. Being able to attend combines would allow college coaches to evaluate a higher number of quality prospects than what they would ordinarily get to at their summer camps."
Allowing coaches back on the road - even during limited windows - would be beneficial because it would give each coach a more thorough understanding of a prospect's ability and also to the player himself, since often prospects fly under the radar unless they actually camp at each school during the summer.
Emerick believes it would be most beneficial to smaller schools with limited budgets in areas that are not easily accessible.
"It would be especially beneficial for schools that are in remote locations to be able to attend combines," Emerick said. "Every year, a higher number of recruits attend camps in cities that are more centrally located than schools in cities that are harder to get to. If everyone were allowed to attend combines this would obviously be of great benefit to schools where it is difficult to get in a large number of summer campers on their campus."
College basketball coaches used to be on the road during the spring and summer. It was cut to just the summer but it still gives the coaches ample time to recruit, evaluate and possibly find a player that had been underappreciated. College football coaches, who deal with so many more prospects, should be afforded the same opportunity.
- Adam Gorney