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Somewhere along the way, the two July evaluation periods became the epitome of everything that was wrong with college basketball recruiting. Perhaps it was the anecdotes of coaches signing 11 month leases on apartments and then spending an entire month on the road recruiting. Perhaps it’s the fact that the entire evaluation period is solely focused on AAU basketball, which gets the somewhat negative moniker of “nonscholastic” in the NCAA Manual. Whatever the reason, the popular image of July is that it’s the Wild West, an unregulated feeding frenzy of coaches looking for players and any number of people looking to profit off that fact.
In reality, the July evaluation periods in men’s basketball are the most structured and heavily regulated periods in the entire recruiting landscape. While college coaches may attend open gyms at high schools, the vast majority of evaluation takes place at certified events. Certified events must register with the NCAA and meet the lengthy list of 17 requirements in NCAA Bylaw 13.18 covering topics from the price of event packets to when games can start. Not to mention they are some of the only recruiting periods that is monitored in person by members of the enforcement staff, who are making their presence felt:
“We have the NCAA gestapettes around here like World Cup officials,” one coach said, referring to the NCAA representatives — most of whom are women — who monitor the summer circuit. “You smile at a kid, they give you a yellow card. Do it twice, it’s a red card and you’re off the road.”
While that comment shows that the Basketball Focus Group has a great deal of work to do in their primary goal (building a healthy respect for the enforcement process), it’s a start that would not be possible during any of the other recruiting periods on the men’s basketball calendar.
The impetus behind ending July recruiting has little to do with what actually happens in July (largely a bunch of coaches cordoned off in little pens watching games for 12 hours a day) and more what the rising importance of the July recruiting period represents: the growing influence in the recruiting process of third parties not tied to educational institutions.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to reduce the influence of corrupt AAU coaches, agents, handlers, trainers, runners, and other intermediaries is to provide coaches with more direct access to these events. The best evaluations are ones untainted by someone else’s subjective opinions or underhanded motives. Prevent coaches from evaluating first hand at July events and the events will still go on, the evaluations will just be placed in the hands of the same people above whose power in the recruiting process the Collegiate Commissioners Association is looking to reduce.
The same goes for contacts and communication. I’m not a college basketball recruiting expert but I have to believe that one of the most valuable opportunities a coach can get is a chance to sell a prospect on his program without another voice whispering in the prospect’s ear.
The trouble with the basketball recruiting model as it stands now is that it exists in limbo between the tightly controlled football recruiting rules and the looser rules that apply to other sports. Rather than crafting a new model, the basketball recruiting calendar seems to be an evolution of the other sports, with fewer contact/evaluation periods and a second limit (recruiting person-days) imposed to contain costs. To that was later added a ban on attending nonscholastic events during the academic year.
If you start with the premise that the July recruiting period works rather than fails, the path to a new basketball recruiting model seems clear. Three major evaluation periods (roughly late-September/early-October, mid-April, and July) outside of the basketball season where attendance at nonscholastic events is permitted. A smaller number of evaluation days for use during the season to scout high school games. And removal of off-campus contacts from counting against the use of off-campus recruiting days.
Such a model would move most of the in-person evaluation of prospects to outside of the periods where coaches are needed on campus most (finals and the basketball season). It would provide coaches with increased direct contact with prospects. It would give coaches direct access to cost-effective AAU tournaments that have continued to exist despite the lack of college coaches in attendance. And it would expand the opportunity for in-person monitoring by the Basketball Focus Group during periods of intense recruiting.
While the model proposed by Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating has merit, it would be a large step in the other direction. With expanded evaluation and contact periods and more freedom to use recruiting person-days, it would spread recruiting so wide and far that the ability of institutions and the NCAA to monitor what is happening in gyms would be severely reduced. Not to mention that it would be hurt by the idea floated by the recruiting cabinet in some potential recruiting models (pdf) to abolish the annual limit on evaluations of one prospect. It’s not hard to imagine burnt-out coaches spending a large chunk of their recruiting days evaluating—or more accurately babysitting—committed prospects.
The core of Coach Keating’s plan—evaluation of prospects based on institutional discretion—could be accomplished through a different bit of deregulation, allowing coaches to watch any video of a prospect they can get their hands on. Specifically, changing this interpretation from April 29, 2009:
The academic and membership affairs staff determined that it is not permissible for an institution to obtain video (e.g., live streaming video, recorded video) of any nonscholastic activities, including regular game and all-star competition, or any summer camp or clinic competition, through a subscription fee or other associated fee paid to a recruiting or scouting service. Further, it is not permissible to obtain any nonscholastic video that is available only to a select group of individuals (e.g., coaches), even if there is no charge associated with such individuals accessing the video.
That would open up coaches to view any video of prospects playing in any sort of game at any time. There would be one issue to be sorted out: who would provide the video of prospects? Eliminating or changing this interpretation would create a market for another middleman. If that middleman is a legitimate business providing a needed service, there are few worries. However, if it became another tool for handlers of prospects to charge a price of admission for access to a prospect, it could exacerbate the current problems. Done right thought, it allows for more evaluation of prospects without the costs (both monetary and otherwise) of having coaches on the road throughout the year.
The problem with the July recruiting period has little to do with those 20 days themselves. Rather, the problem is what the focus on those 20 days allows to happen during the other 345. The idea of eliminating the July recruiting period is not without merit, especially as the membership considers the possibility of summer practice in men’s basketball. But it’s just as likely to exacerbate the problems in men’s basketball recruiting as it is to solve any of them.