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The NCAA’s New Recruiting Controls: An In-Depth Analysis

31 Dec, 2012

By: Dr. Arthur G. Ogden

In January 2012, the NCAA’s Board of Directors voted to ban 7-on-7 football games, leagues, camps or other “non-scholastic” sport enterprises on its member campuses. Its singular purpose was to prevent any institution from gaining a recruiting advantage over another member institution by hosting such events.

The effect on recruiting will, perhaps, help to polish the image of the NCAA as the bastion of “integrity” in protecting student-athletes from unscrupulous recruiting practices, and it may very well have achieved at least half of that proposition as the progenitors of the expansion of NCAA Bylaw 13 – which covers recruiting – have patted themselves on their collective backs while passing the can of Brasso and a wiping cloth.

The sad reality is that this new restriction was conceived in knee-jerk reaction, not un-typical of NCAA regulations, in the vain hope of controlling and protecting honorable recruiting practices. Was such a legislative mandate necessary? Were the 7-on-7 football camps that much of an advantage? I am not really certain, and I was involved in collegiate football for over three decades and saw abuses first-hand far more egregious than those which are only implied by the 7-on-7 camps. But, for the moment, keep that designation, “non-scholastic” in the pre-frontal lobe of your brain.

Still, Bylaw13 has been expanded, and with its expansion, we can begin to see an ominous movement which aggrandizes the power and control of the NCAA in not so subtle fashions.

I have spoken with three recruiting coordinators at top BCS institutions. To a man they have told me that this new regulation had no real effect on them since they were not permitted to visit the 7-on-7 camps taking place on their campuses under any circumstances because of prior restrictions even before this recent ban.

That being the case, what possible advantage could be gained? Perhaps the non-scholastic entity, let’s say Nike, may have chosen to hold its camp on one or two specific universities in the same state year after year. Some of the other universities in that state might think that the practice was unfair since potential prospects would be easily influenced by visiting only those two campuses.

The term, 'unfair,' has been the motivation for a significant number of NCAA Bylaws. It reminds me what I learned many years ago as a basketball referee. In my very first year, I became frustrated over coaches and fans yelling that I was 'unfair' in my calls. Being 'unfair' was the last thing I wanted to be, so I asked a veteran referee about it. What he told me has stuck with me ever since, and whenever I hear someone yelling that something is 'unfair,' I reflect on what he said: “Well, you never hear the winners yelling ‘unfair,’ do you? It’s always the whiners and the losers.” After many, many years of sport involvement, and after raising nine children, I cannot find any refutation to his logic.

As I see it, the NCAA is always seeking to create a 'level playing field' in its efforts to eliminate anything considered 'unfair.' And in so doing, the unintended consequence is that they have crafted a system founded entirely on egalitarian principles.

This may seem to be straying from the point, but if you look at some of the ludicrous restrictions the NCAA has placed upon those same student-athletes whom they have vowed to “protect and promote”, the only rubric used in justifying the restrictions is rooted in egalitarianism.

To give you a glaring example of this – one of which I am certain most of the population is ignorant. When I was Assistant Director of Athletics for Student Services at Auburn University, one of my responsibilities was to create and publish a Student-Athlete Handbook. It was an NCAA requirement for each of its member institutions. I reviewed Handbooks from Nebraska to Southern California to Florida to Notre Dame in seeking to publish one which would be informative, concise, and inspire the Auburn Tigers.

My staff and I labored over the final draft and when, at last, we had a good draft, one of which we were all very proud, I took it to my superiors. It was received very well for its information, its originality, and its promotion of such esoteric principles as “The Auburn Creed." Still, it was not acceptable and could not be published as the final draft.

Imagine my shock and surprise. When I asked what the problem was, I was told, “Well, the cover and the pictures are all four-color. The NCAA mandates that the Handbooks must be two-color only.” And here is where the egalitarianism of the NCAA completely exasperated me because the logic of that restriction on four-color photos and covers was based on the principle that “some institutions cannot afford to pay for four-color photos and covers.” Ergo, no NCAA member institution was permitted to publish its own Student-Athlete Handbook in anything other than two-color editions.

Those who want to see an excellent example of egalitarianism gone awry should read Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, Harrison Bergeron. I won’t give you the plot here, just go read it, then, compare its over-riding principles with the motivations of many NCAA regulations and restrictions. Reach your own conclusions.

This same logic has motivated the expansion of Bylaw 13 into regulating 7-on-7 camps on member institution campuses because, “It might give those host institutions an unfair advantage.”

Perhaps this analysis of the rationale behind the expansion of Bylaw 13 has been a bit tedious thus far, but it is important to understand the motivations of regulations which have far-reaching effects.

Thus, what effect will this ban on “non-scholastic” camps have on recruiting in a real sense? Not much, other than the fact that those member institutions who have felt woefully neglected by the organizations which have organized the 7-on-7 football camps and leagues will not be able to go to any “fellow” member institutions in the future. Now, that’s fair!

There are two corollary issues I want to consider before I close. One has to do with some observations former Colorado State Assistant Director of Compliance, John Infante, offered on his “Bylaw Blog” back in 2011. Oh, by the way, his affiliation with any NCAA institution is now a separate issue since he has rebirthed his “Bylaw Blog” on the Athnet website, which is dedicated to helping high school athletes find and secure scholarships.

Infante observed that booting these “non-scholastic” entities off the venerable NCAA campuses would ultimately only compound the recruiting issues. Regulating high school recruiting is pretty much fait accompli. Owing to that regulation, the desires of high school athletes to secure scholarships, the limited number of scholarships available, and the proliferation of technology which can introduce prospective scholarship players to college coaches, high school prospects and their parents have turned in droves to the “non-scholastic” recruiting services which have boomed as a cottage industry in spite of NCAA scrutiny.

The NCAA has little to no influence in these services presently yet warns that they may be acting as “agents”. The caveats regarding such recruiting services are covered in NCAA Bylaw 13.14.3 and delineates some very specific definitions of what said services must be and do/not do. The sad truth is that these services are actually doing a better job of helping college coaches find the best athletes.

Infante suggests, “The NCAA should let go of high school athletics as the primary way prospects prepare themselves for intercollegiate competition…Bylaw 13 should be scrapped and rebuilt, reflecting the new reality that non-scholastic sports have overtaken high school sports in recruiting…and by focusing on non-scholastic sports, the NCAA can become a force to improve them.”

I don't think this will negatively affect events which are sponsored by the member institutions themselves. However, permission will be needed if outside organizations, i.e., cheerleading camps, might be involved. But since most of them need high school or State Federation approvals, the institutions are not affected. With my conversations with the alluded to BCS recruiting coordinators, all of them close friends of mine (but I did not want to mention even that since I might be pressed to reveal their names and institutions), they still have their own football and other summer camps. It is only the 'non-scholastic' organizations the NCAA seems to be trying to ice out. In the end, the NCAA will not really win this one since they have taken something away from parents who truly believe that these camps are the best vehicle for their aspiring young athletes.

Infante is now received by the cognoscenti of the NCAA about as well as lepers were in the Old Testament, but his observations have validity and viability. The only thing standing in the way of his suggestions is the old guard of the NCAA, to which I will now turn for scrutiny.

Perplexed by recurrent and blatant violations of recruiting regulations and the problems of enforcement, the NCAA decided a couple of decades ago to hire lawyers to staff their central offices along with former FBI agents to “investigate” and “enforce” the carefully crafted strictures of its member institutions. Things were spiraling out of control. Southern Methodist University was making a mockery of the NCAA. Something had to be done!

Then, in come the FBI agents with all their J. Edgar Hoover training and mentality to save the day! “Due process” became a superfluous concept. The goal was to catch the bad guys and put an end to this lawlessness! Such approaches often have dire unintended consequences.

In preparing for this piece, I came across a PowerPoint presentation for an NCAA Regional Rules Seminar for the “Enforcement Department Football Group”. Sounds serious, doesn’t it? And, sadly it IS.

Let me share a rationale with you from this PowerPoint. Under “Establishment of Football Group”, we see that “It was recognized that the NCAA enforcement staff needed a focused unit in the areas of development and processing cases with a concentrated effort in football and basketball.” Furthermore that, “The climate and trends are fluid and changing constantly in athletics – especially football.” Finally, the justification is, “The need for a focused football group of investigators to concentrate on the football culture, to develop relationships and build contacts was critical.”

I don’t know about you, but these phrases sent a chill up my spine. Further phrasings from this PowerPoint utterly froze my spine. Under “Football Culture and Regions,” we find the following directive: “Our team has divided the nation into six regions covered by our six investigators with the following expectations: investigators will schedule trips in assigned regions, learn about the fluid culture in the three levels of competition, focus on non-scholastic third-party individuals inserting themselves in the recruiting process, intelligence gathering on each trip, developing sources, and develop actionable leads.” I have added the italics to emphasize the presuppositions which exist in this mindset.

Ultimately, whether this new non-scholastic ban on member institution campuses is a cure or just another egalitarian imposition to satisfy those who have never been asked to host a 7-on-7 camp is yet to be seen.

As I see it, the truly frightening consequence is the police-state mentality which has crept into the NCAA with de facto “regional offices” akin to the FBI Field Offices with the intention of “intelligence gathering, developing sources, and to develop actionable leads.”

The real question seems to be whether or not the NCAA, now with assets exceeding $500 million, is behaving like the institution President Theodore Roosevelt imagined in 1906, or has it become an unwieldy cartel with overly zealous enforcement divisions bent more on convicting those who violate its codes and constraints than on protecting student-athletes?
 

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