Everyone remembers way back in October when the Conference Commissioners Association voted to recommend that July basketball recruiting, the last bastion of in-person recruiting at AAU events by Division I men’s basketball coaches, be eliminated? And how the National Association of Basketball Coaches disagreed? And how the NCAA Division I Board of Directors declined to enact or sponsor legislation at that time, but instead ordered the Leadership Council to begin a study of the men’s basketball recruiting model?
Well that study is beginning to bear fruit. Head to the Pac-10 Compliance Corner website and you’ll find the agenda of the NCAA Board of Directors meeting on April 28, 2011. Within that agenda is the report of the Division I Leadership Council. And within that report are two possible alternatives to the NCAA’s current recruiting model. One is primarily championed and developed by the Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-10, ACC, and Big East. The other is an alternate proposal offered by the SEC.
The two plans are more similar than they are different. For starters, both would dramatically deregulate recruiting correspondence. Any form of communication (fax, text, email, phone calls, IM, etc.) would be permissible starting August 1 prior to a prospect’s junior year in high school. And there would be no limits on the frequency of such contact. This would combat the unlimited access to prospects that “third parties” presently enjoy.
Both models would also permit actual tryouts during official visits. Tryouts would be closed to the public, last up to two hours, and include a medical exam before any physical activity. Competition against the current team would be permitted as well. These regulations close track current Division II legislation, which permits tryouts.
Both groups propose a new critical date in the recruiting process: April 15 of a prospect’s junior year in high school. Starting on that date, off-campus contact and official visits would be permitted, currently prohibited prior to July 1 after a prospect’s junior year and the start of a prospect’s senior year respectively. April 15 might strike you as familar: it’s the opening of the football spring evaluation period.
The two plans diverge when it comes to evaluations. As an aside, it’s important to note what is **not** altered, specifically the fundamentals of the basketball recruiting calendar. It’s still 130 recruiting person-days during the academic year, and unless otherwise stated, nonscholastic (a.k.a. AAU) evaluations are prohibited.
Both plans would begin by replacing the two 10-day July evaluation periods with evaluations during the last three weekends in July. The move to weekends is to facilitate Proposal 2010-58-C, which would allow basketball coaches to work student-athletes out during the summer.
The model offered by the Group of Five would return coaches to the stands of AAU events in the spring, specifically during two weekends in late April. As is currently the rule in women’s basketball, if an SAT or ACT testing date fell on one of those weekends, the calendar should shift to accomodate.
The SEC’s model would not provide for April evaluations at all, scholastic or not. The spring evaluation period would be converted into strictly a contact period. One contact would be allowed at a prospect’s school, with another permitted at some other location. This mirrors football’s two permitted evaluations during the spring evaluation period.
While most of this seems major, aside from the SEC’s April contact-only period, much of it has been floated before. The revolutionary concept is the development of evaluation camps. The camps would be operated by USA Basketball and funded (including all participant expenses) by the NCAA and member conferences. Division I coaches would even work the camps, rotating to ensure fairness.
The SEC is bullish on these camps, with the model making them the only permissible nonscholastic evaluation events after a three-year period, eliminating AAU evaluations entirely. The other conferences see them as a pilot program, with no concrete plans to use them as a replacement for the AAU circuit. The NCAA, through iHoops, is already in this business with the Unsigned Prospects Program, but Division I coaches are currently prohibited from attending.
One of my pet peeves is when an NCAA initiative or idea is rejected for not being perfect. Either plan would be a major step forward, especially the deregulation of contacts and allowing official visits during the summer. Increasing the NCAA’s presence in nonscholastic basketball is a plus as well, especially by giving the NCAA and its coaches another role (event funder and camp employee).
Not everything is perfect — I’m not sold on tryouts, for instance — but I would hope the membership does not continue the “buffet” approach when a group offers a cohesive model. Weigh the good, weigh the bad, and take it or leave it. Either model, I would take.
But I disagree with the SEC that we would transition to an evaluation camp model. In fact, I believe either evaluation model should be the transition to something further from the current model. To do that, we need a legitimate competitor to grassroots AAU.
The AAU circuit currently allows a prospect to play year-round basketball. There are events virtually every weekend and during the week when AAU reaches its peak in July. I have trouble seeing how evaluation camps would be more than an addition or supplement to a prospect’s current options rather than a bona fide alternative.
Prospects want to get better. They want to earn a scholarship, make it to the league. That’s one of the reasons the ban on evaluating at AAU tournaments in April has been ineffective. Prospects are getting games in, getting experience. They’re getting better.
There’s a significant amount of debate over how much prospects have to play to get better. Some say any game is better than practice, other philosophies limit competition in favor of training and skill development. Quality vs. quantity of competition will be a never ending debate.
The evaluation camps outlined in the two models include plenty of scrimmages. But scrimmages between teams thrown together in short order, plus the pressure to impress with individual talent heightened by the camp atmosphere is a suspect example of elite competition.
Prospects clearly want year-round competition. To achieve the drastic change necessary in the recruiting environment, an alternative to the current bottom-up, grassroots AAU structure needs to be developed. Simply offering camps or expecting prospects to limit themselves to high school basketball will not be enough.
Building a viable alternative to AAU basketball will be an ambitious effort. It will likely require the input and support of USA Basketball, the NBA, and the NCAA. It will almost certainly be financed by Nike and adidas. And it will require thinking about not just where prospects will play basketball from April to September, but the entire way a prospect progresses, if lucky enough, from middle school basketball to the NBA.
This means what appears to be just a recruiting problem is also something of an amateurism problem. Right now, the NCAA is seen as at best a rest stop and at worst a roadblock on the way to the NBA. Create a path where youth basketball and the NCAA are more landmarks that speed bumps (to keep the road metaphor going) and it will attract prospects.
That doesn’t mean paying players. It means thinking about withdrawal dates. It means encouraging a professional league to invest in the development of its own prospects. And it means figuring out a better way to leverage the NCAA’s greatest strength for professional leagues: the only 18-23 year-old developmental league in the world, provided free of charge. And do it all with as little damage to the NCAA as possible.
The ultimate goal is not to figure out what set of complicated regulations should exist forever in order to keep a rein on a sport. Rather, the end goal is to help move toward a structure where all those rules aren’t needed and basketball could live under the same rules as all the other sports.
The proposals offered by the big conferences are an excellent first step. And something fairly close to one of those models should be implemented with some haste, presented to the membership next year if possible. That would put a new model in place as soon the 2012-2013 academic year.
Because it’s only one step and the clock is ticking. Not so much on basketball. There’s really nowhere to go but up in basketball. But there’s a world of possibilities in football. Someone is going to figure out nonscholastic football. Not 7-on-7. Real football, with pads and helmets, linemen and tackling. The faster the NCAA figures out nonscholastic basketball, the better chance that someone will be the NCAA.
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.