NCAA Legislation Proposing New Recruiting Freedoms Will Create More Inequality

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 28th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Every year the NCAA spends copious amounts of time monitoring secondary recruiting violations and doling out corresponding punishments to guilty programs. There are so many menial rule specifications within the organization’s 400-page rulebook and so many different ways to violate those specifications that recruiting has become a walking-on-eggshells process for most programs, with the fear of breaching protocol clouding every conversation, letter and official visit. This is a huge burden for coaches who, more than anything else, are just trying to run their teams in the most successful way possible without getting hung up in minor NCAA rule violations. When basic conversation between coach and prospect carries punitive repercussions, the formula needs wholesale upgrading. The angst and dismay over minor violations isn’t just a coach-player phenomenon. It affects the NCAA and the considerable investigatory work it must do to ensure its legislative scruples are enforced properly. There is a constant game played between coaches unwittingly violating protocol and the NCAA staff policing and dispensing punishment for those violations. Neither side is happy with their current state and yet the cumbersome violation-punishment cycle continues undeterred.

The proposed rule could radically alter the way major programs recruit players, particularly in football and men’s basketball (Photo credit: Darron Cummings/AP Photo).

The violations come in different forms, from impermissible contact with prospects to an overflow of text messages to providing bagels with cream cheese. Chief among NCAA recruiting no-no’s is the illegal use of program personnel outside of the designated coaching circle to contact prospective recruits. Only head coaches and assistant coaches can seek out, evaluate, and contact prospects. It’s a hard-line rule with severe implications: Very few members of each team’s staff are legally permitted to participate in the year-round recruiting process. As the distinction between coach and staff blurs with growing program personnel groups and the recruiting process demands a larger base of scouting resources, monitoring these sorts of violations has become an extremely frustrating process. The NCAA is downright exhausted, and it’s not hard to see why. A rule change is in the works to relieve the violation police work, according to Steve Yanda of the Washington Post, who on Saturday reported that the NCAA Rules Working Group has endorsed legislation that would eliminate the rule limiting recruiting matters to head and assistant coaches. The rule – which, if voted into approval, could go into effect as early as August 2013 – would allow “staff members now known as directors of operations or directors of player personnel to watch film of a prospect or to contact a prospect’s coach or guardian.” The man-to-man aspect of recruiting – official and unofficial campus visits, attending tournaments and events, and so on – would still be off-limits to anyone not considered by job title a head or assistant coach.

We can only speculate as to how this amendment would affect recruiting and the methods used to pursue prospects. But for me the overriding consequence would be to create greater separation between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in the modern collegiate athletics landscape. The initial takeaway from the proposed legislation is unequivocally positive: Broadening the recruiting process to other staff members and thereby divvying up more slices of the massive prospect-hunting workload would allow coaches and assistants to dedicate more attention to their teams’ performance. The leaders of the coaching food chain would still have the final say in important recruiting decisions like scholarship offers and official visits and class distribution, but the dirty work – scouting high school games, watching hours of game tape, compiling background checks on each prospect – could be handled by the newly empowered personnel assistants. Coaches would appreciate the added time dedicated to coaching and developing their teams, poring over opponents’ game film and driving home the verbal and moral teachings that so often get brushed aside amidst the heat of a packed regular season and recruiting responsibilities. They could continue overseeing the daily workings of the recruiting mill without actually investing the immense time and effort in the specifics involved. And the best part: The NCAA benefits from simplified recruiting guidelines and the decreased enforcement work it would entail. Fewer rule specifications and fewer restrictions means fewer violations. It almost makes too much sense.

From a legislative standpoint, the implications are undeniably rosy. The NCAA can control its grip on recruiting tactics and the resulting methods of enforcement. What it can’t control is how each program will adapt to its new legislation. And therein lies its fundamental flaw. The proposed rule opens up the very real possibility of a professionalized program-prospect relationship. By legislating the expansion of recruiting staffs, the NCAA has opened the door for wealthy and resourceful programs to develop and maintain player personnel staffs to evaluate recruits in the same vein as scouting directors of professional sports franchises surveying minor league talent. Schools with massive athletic budgets and steady flows of monetary assistance from wealthy boosters – schools like Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama and power conference heavyweights on down the line – can enlist dozens of recruiting personnel to oversee the specifics of the process, while schools of limited means will struggle to keep up as they pinch limited resources in an attempt to emulate their financially-dominant peers.

Tilting the competitive balance in favor of moneyed institutions is concerning, no doubt. Even more troubling is the NCAA’s blatant disregard of its own cardinal objective. For years the organization has feverishly protected the recruiting process from agents and third-party influences and for years it has inefficiently patrolled – particularly in the world of college hoops recruiting – their widespread involvement and gradually increasing power at the high school, grassroots and college levels. The new rule would enable programs to tab those very evils for permanent positions on personnel staffs. In essence, it’s sanctioning the double-dealing and impermissible recruiting practices the NCAA works so hard to prevent. The rule may decrease the amount of secondary violations, but the number of serious transgressions could skyrocket. The NCAA would be forced to analyze the employment process and parse out the strategic hires – AAU coaches, agents, runners – within each program’s recruiting personnel department. The same measure designed to reduce NCAA oversight and police work may well engender an entirely new sort of ill-advised recruiting tactic to monitor.

According to Yanda, the NCAA is considering restrictions to the new rule that would limit both the number of recruiting officials and their actions in those positions, but the effects remain fairly straightforward. Authorizing the creation of designated recruiting personnel will indeed reduce ticky-tack secondary violations, which, by all accounts, is a positive development. But the amendment opens up a pandora’s box of recruiting inequality by creating a system whereby well-off programs can flaunt their monetary muscle in a recruiting scene that, in a perfect NCAA-monitored world, does not tolerate financial or any other type of third-party influence. The realm of possibility for an extreme exploitation of the newfound freedom afforded by the proposed legislation is extensive, and powerful programs will pursue every angle in their resource bases and monetary reserves, whether lawful or otherwise, to take advantage.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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