More Changes on the Horizon

By Staff

Athletic Management, 16.6, October/November 2004, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1606/wuchanges.htm

Fresh from a couple rounds of academic reform, the NCAA and coaches’ organizations are in the midst of another overhaul. This time, the topic is recruiting. While changes already in place take aim at the well-publicized excesses in football recruiting, looming proposals in men’s and women’s basketball could be considerably more far-reaching.

Emergency legislation adopted in August by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors now prohibits football teams from using personalized recruiting aids such as jerseys with a recruit’s name and custom simulated scoreboard shows. The legislation also forbids the use of special vehicles for transporting prospects on official visits, and athletics-only host or hostess squads may no longer be used to escort and entertain recruits. Recruiters cannot provide housing and meals above those normally available to all guests, nor provide private chartered airplanes for transporting prospects.

Institutions must also establish best-practice policies to prohibit the use of alcohol, sex, and gambling in recruiting. Each school’s plans need to be filed at its respective conference office by early December.

Overall, college coaches have accepted the rules changes without much argument. Some high school coaches, however, feel the NCAA is barking up the wrong tree.

"From a high school standpoint, I’m much more concerned about how early colleges start recruiting than what they do when they take recruits on a visit," says Bill Blankenship, Head Football Coach and Athletic Director at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., who regularly coaches Division I prospects. "The reality is that the recruiting process is a sales process, and these new measures take away some of the fun that seem to me to be fairly harmless.

"I would rather see changes made to when scholarships can be offered," he continues. "There’s no limit on when schools can extend an offer, so a blue-chip player is getting offers very early in his junior year, or even earlier. Once they’ve earned a scholarship, some of them go into protect mode. It’s an issue we’ve seen in basketball for a while. Now I think we’re starting to see it in football."

If there’s a winner in the recruiting reform, it’s coaches with smaller recruiting budgets, who could see the restrictions as leveling the playing field. Such competitive equity is a big part of what will be the next wave in recruiting legislation, which deals with basketball.

Both the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) have introduced extensive recruiting-reform packages. Each has twin themes: Level the playing field among schools, and give coaches greater access to help find prospects who will succeed in college and sports.

The NABC proposals are wide-ranging and include measures such as the NCAA running the National Letter of Intent process, stiffer penalties for recruiting violations, the creation of a clearinghouse for international prospects, and more out-of-season contact and mentoring by coaches. They also ask for loosening of current rules that prohibit paying for meals for an athlete’s family and giving more than one set of complimentary game tickets per athlete per year. The NABC originally proposed a fifth year of student-athlete eligibility but later withdrew the idea for further study.

At the heart of the measures is an attempt to create a flexible recruiting period from Sept. 9-April 30, rather than relying on 40 designated days from fall through spring. Coaches would be permitted 120 recruiting person-days through the period, which would be divided into three parts: Sept. 9-Oct. 5 for contact, Oct. 6-March 31 for evaluation, and April 1-30 for additional contact. There would be seven recruiting opportunities, with no more than three held off-campus, and contact would be permitted only with high school seniors. The maximum number of official visits would be reduced to four for each prospect. In addition, coaches could start calling prospects, with weekly per-player limits, as early as June 21 after their sophomore year, and would be allowed to call twice a week beginning Aug. 21 of their senior year.

Two other points are striking: Coaches could not evaluate players during the academic year at nonscholastic events, and schools could hold tryouts for up to six prospects at a time, but for no more than 18 prospects a year.

The WBCA’s proposals are basically the same but delve a little deeper into competitive equity. The measures would not allow coaches to work, either for pay or as volunteers, at noninstitutional camps or clinics, nor for professional teams. Media guides would be limited to 200 pages, and rules would clarify what materials coaches are permitted to take into prospects’ homes.

At least two universities are going further than either the in-place football restrictions or the proposed basketball reforms. The University of Colorado, whose recruiting scandal helped prompt the football changes, has eliminated player hosts and most game-day visits, cut weekend visits from two nights to one, required adult supervision at all times, and set an 11 p.m. curfew, according to the Associated Press.

Baylor University, also besieged by a scandal that wasn’t directly tied to recruiting, is adding formal character reference to its recruiting. A university-wide task force developed a form that requires prospects to list three character references and asks teachers, coaches, principals, and counselors to assess how students would view the athlete. Transfer prospects will be asked to give permission for a check of their criminal backgrounds and college disciplinary records.

The NABC plan can be downloaded at www.nabc.com. The WBCA’s is in PDF format on its web site, www.wbca.org.