The interpretation received by schools today that they are no longer permitted to subscribe to Rivals.com seems on the face of it like a relatively minor decision. In the realm of recruiting and scouting services, Rivals and similar services like Scout.com and ESPN are not the giants they may seem. The fact is if even a diehard college football or basketball fan knows about a set of recruiting rankings or analysis, it likely doesn’t move the needle for coaches.
That’s even is you take into account the owners of team-specific sites passing recruiting information to coaching staffs. I was unaware this was widespread, but it is certainly a concern.
The smaller reason this interpretation is important is that a well-intentioned rule has gotten away from the membership and the staff. The original incarnation of the recruiting and scouting services rule was focused on a single contagion in the recruiting process.
In the sport of men’s basketball, coaches and boosters were buying multiple copies of sham recruiting services for thousands of dollars a piece from AAU coaches and handlers. In exchange for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, coaches would get names, height and weight, and generic rankings or ratings like stars or “high major.” And more importantly, they got access to the AAU coach or handler’s prospects.
That rule was then extended to all sports, a notable recent trend in NCAA legislation. Part is the accurate acknowledgement that many sports are seeing the same trends that men’s basketball saw. And part is a dislike of sport specific legislation cluttering a rulebook that could stand to trim some fat.
This pulled in a number of other services in nonrevenue sports that are critical to coaches who do not have the recruiting budgets of major men’s basketball and football programs. Designed to serve the specific needs of the sport, they were held to a set of requirements that was initially tailored to eliminate a certain type of recruiting service in a different sport. That lead to a fan-centric service being evaluated under that same standard.
The minor issue could be solved by expressly prohibiting the undesirable conduct. Institutions should not be permitted to subscribe to recruiting services controlled by individuals associated with a prospect. This prevents the need for distinguishing between a legitimate or illegitimate business, and doesn’t set a set of requirements that could potentially be met by someone still selling access to prospects as the primary product.
But it’s the reason Rivals is not a permissible service that shows the deeper underlying problem with the current recruiting regulations. It is not permissible to subscribe to a recruiting or scouting service that provides videos of prospects in non-scholastic competition, unless the videos are free and available to the general public.
The NCAA and its members have fought the growth of non-scholastic youth sports vigorously. Subscribing to video of non-scholastic contests is prohibited. In basketball, going to watch AAU events is tightly restricted. In football, coaches are prohibited from going to any non-scholastic event.
This has resulted in two things: the steady, continued growth of AAU basketball, 7-on-7 football, and all other club sports, and diminished NCAA influence in this area. By removing college coaches from many AAU gyms and football camps, it has become the lawless wild west that the restrictions sought to avoid.
There is a success story though: the July evaluation periods. With so many coaches in the same gym with NCAA enforcement staff, it has become a structured, almost business-like period. Coaches go and watch games, go back to the hotel and record their evaluations, sleep, and then get up and watch more games. There’s no reason that a summer evaluation period in football couldn’t be similar.
The NCAA should let go of high school athletics as the primary way prospects prepare themselves for intercollegiate competition. The entire of Bylaw 13 should be scrapped and rebuilt, reflecting the new reality that non-scholastic sports have overtaken high school sports in recruiting. This includes rethinking recruiting calendars to the non-scholastic schedule, changing contact rules to counter the influence of third parties, and altering inducement regulations to reflect the payoffs and under the table deals prevalent in club sports.
And by focusing on non-scholastic sports, the NCAA can become a force to improve them. Preference in recruiting calendars could be given to leagues and organizations that operate according to certain standards. iHoops could spawn a rival to the AAU circuit for talent and development that surpasses it in transparency. And 7-on-7 football could be built in the image of what the NCAA would prefer and what college coaches need, not in image of grassroots organizers and investors.
Every Division I institution being banned from using a recruiting service on the tip of every fan’s tongue is a big story. But the bigger story is just how entangled one specific rule was in the philosophy that underpins recruiting. It’s a philosophy that has become an uphill battle, one we should stop fighting before we lose the war.
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.