Reaction Mixed To Recruiting Reforms

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.10, November 2004,

Fresh from a couple of rounds of academic reform, the NCAA is in the midst of undertaking another overhaul. This time, the topic is recruiting, and the changes take aim at a few well-publicized excesses. But some high school coaches wonder if more needs to be done to fix the nuts and bolts of the recruiting process.

Emergency legislation adopted in August by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors 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.

The latter measure has led several universities to abolish special groups that welcomed recruits, fold them into organizations that greet all prospective or new students, or replace them with organizations comprising only current student-athletes, which is allowed. Recruiters cannot provide housing and meals above those normally available to all guests, nor fly prospects in on chartered aircraft.

Institutions must also establish best-practice policies to prohibit the use of alcohol, sex, and gambling in recruiting. Each school’s plan needs 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.

"I’m much more concerned about how early the 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 things 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."

David Wilson, Head Football Coach at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Fla., also believes the NCAA isn’t focusing on the right areas. Specifically, he’d like to see the number of official paid visits a recruit can make cut from five to three.

"I think five visits gives them too many opportunities to play around," Wilson says. "Most kids know they’re going to go to school ‘A’ or ‘B,’ and they’d like to look at ‘C.’ Cutting it to three would make both the kids and coaches focus more on their choices."

Wilson also bemoans the lack of limits on the time of day when college coaches can first phone recruits. "The NCAA says the first time coaches can make phone calls is Sept. 1, which was on a Wednesday this year, and you’ve got colleges calling at 12:01 a.m. on a school night," he says. "I don’t blame the college coaches because they’re trying to be competitive. Every college is going to say to a recruit, ‘We were the first to call you. Remember that!’

"But surely somebody from the NCAA knows that the college coaches would be calling at midnight," he continues. "Obviously, there wasn’t much thought that went into that rule, yet it happens every year."

Wilson suggests more contact between college coaches and high school juniors be allowed in the spring so that coaches have more opportunities to learn about their potential student-athletes’ personalities. He advises his players who are being recruited to look for a good match in the campus, academics, fellow athletes, and coaching staff, even if that staff might be gone after the next season.

Wilson may get his wish—in part. Legislation to be considered in April by the NCAA Management Council and Board of Directors calls for reducing the number of official visits to four. The Association’s Recruiting Task Force noted that most recruits don’t use the full allotment, which seems to bear out Wilson’s contention that student-athletes don’t need a lot of visits to make up their minds. Also up for consideration in 2005 is a proposal to let institutions pay airfare for a parent or legal guardian to accompany a recruit on an official visit.

At least two universities are going further than NCAA rules mandate. Florida Today, reporting on an early draft of the University of Florida’s policy, says the proposed rules require coaches to send a letter to recruits and their families specifying what constitutes acceptable behavior during official visits. Under the policy, prospects and student hosts would have to check in with a full-time staff member, preferably a coach, by 1 a.m., and abstain from drug and alcohol use during the visits. The early draft also requires a letter of recommendation from the prospect’s head coach, principal, or guidance counselor.

The University of Colorado, whose recruiting investigation helped prompt the 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 during official visits, according to The Associated Press.

Baylor University, besieged by a basketball scandal that wasn’t directly tied to recruiting, is adding formal character references to its recruiting process. 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 classmates view the athlete. Transfer prospects will be asked to allow checks of their criminal backgrounds and college disciplinary records.