Breakthrough or more of the same in recruiting?

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By Joe Henricksen

If you talk to any college basketball coach, he will tell you “something needs to be changed.” And anyone listening knows exactly what he’s talking about without anything else being said: recruiting.

What those “changes” are depends on what coach you talk to. They all have different opinions (those will be shared in a future blog).

The current setup of rules and practices in recruiting basketball prospects can boggle the mind. For starters, the lack of contact and the ability college coaches currently have to evaluate and, more importantly, communicate with prospects (at least legally) is ludicrous.

Coaches desperately want more direct access to prospects and their coaches, parents and guardians. The inability to truly get to know a potential player — both his strengths and weaknesses as a player and what makes him tick — has led to pitfalls for everyone. It’s a big reason why the Division I transfer count keeps climbing after every basketball season. In many cases, there are missed evaluations when it comes to the process, whether that’s how much upside the prospect has or who that player is as a person.

As it stands now, college coaches have to keep a long checklist of do’s and don’ts when it comes to the rules and regulations of recruiting a student-athlete. The basics are:

… There are 130 “man days” from Sept. 9 to April 20 where coaches can be off-campus, with various “dead periods” mixed in that really squeeze the college coach’s time. As an example, if a head coach and assistant coach were to both go and watch a prospect on the same day, it counts as two “man days” towards the 130.

… A coaching staff can evaluate an unsigned player seven times off campus during the “man days”, three of which can be contact and four strictly for evaluation purposes.

… While a prospect or their parent can make contact with a coaching staff at any time, college coaches can’t call a prospect until just after their sophomore year — June 15 — and can then only call once a month over the next 14 months. On Aug. 1, just prior to the player’s senior year, coaches can begin calling twice a week. However, by that time many prospects have already committed and will sign in three months.

There are a number of associations and committees banging their heads in an attempt to come up with solutions. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors started up a Leadership Council to study the men’s basketball recruiting practices. A recent report of the Division I Leadership Council shows some alternatives, some of which are drastically different, to the current recruiting model. Some have been done in the past but with a twist.

A big potential change would be the amount of personal contact between college coaches and prospects. Currently, the amount of contact (phone, text, etc.) is controlled and limited, which has led to several NCAA infractions by coaches in recent years (i.e. Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma and Indiana). A new proposal would allow unlimited communication, starting August 1 just prior to a prospect’s junior year in high school. The rule is intended to eliminate the go-between people, or “third parties,” that are so heavily involved in a player’s recruitment.

The early thought here is that, in the end, we will never get to the point of free communication between college coach and high school prospect. The negative, of course, is simple to figure out: basketball playing teen is bombarded by phone calls and texts from college coaches.

There is also a model being floated around that increases the emphasis of on-campus access with recruits. How about tryouts on campus, which would be similar to the current Division II model? There is a suggestion that would allow actual tryouts during official visits, with those official paid visits being bumped up to April 15 of the player’s junior year instead of waiting until the fall of their senior year.

So in theory, a prospect or two could visit campus in the summer, play with the current players in the program with the college coaching staff looking on. The rule would be that a pre-tryout physical is required and the tryouts must be closed to the public and unpublicized. But this certainly brings a more hands-on opportunity for college coaching staffs.

Also, the proposed alternative would not only allow for a school to pay for the prospect’s official visit, but also pay for two parents/legal guardians to accompany the prospect on the official visit.

And there are recommendations to alter the recruiting calendar, specifically the July evaluation period. Currently, there are two 10-day evaluation periods in July — 10 days on, 5 days off, 10 days on. The problem, however, is that in those 20 days there are wasted evaluation opportunities.

For starters, college coaches are criss-crossing the country trying to hit as many of the events and see as many players as possible. And that includes players of all different ages, including young freshmen, which is significantly different than even 10 years ago.

Also, anyone who has really covered the July AAU circuit knows the final two or three days of the second July evaluation period can be dreadful, with players dead tired and college coaches with one eye on the clock and the other on the door waiting to get home after a grueling stretch.

When you combine the hectic travel and the poor basketball often played over the final two or three days of July, it could be argued the 20 days in July are actually 15 or 16 “true, quality evaluation days.”

There are a pair of recruiting calendar alternatives that are being presented by a group of conference office administrators with NCAA rules compliance and basketball backgrounds from the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC.

Five of the six conferences (excluding the SEC) reached a general consensus that reduces the summer evaluation while also reinstating a brief evaluation period for non-scholastic events held during two weekends in April. An April evaluation period for certified non-scholastic events would be held on Saturday and Sunday for two weeks beginning two weekends after the Final Four. If those two weekends conflict with ACT/SAT national testing dates, evaluations would be permitted during an alternate weekend in April or May.

The two 10-day evaluation periods in July would be replaced by three weekend evaluations (Friday-Sunday) in July. Limiting the summer evaluation period to weekends would allow college coaches to remain on-campus with their team members during the week and provide greater interaction between coaches and student-athletes.

The SEC proposes something entirely different, with a model that doesn’t allow for any April evaluations of any kind. Instead, this model focuses on contact and opens up April as strictly a contact period for college coaches.

When it comes to the different models and suggestions, all agree that the creation of some form of evaluation camps could be a valuable tool in the recruiting process. The logistics, such as sites, total number of players and ages, format, cost and college coaches’ ability to work the camps, are all to be determined. The belief is to somehow get USA Basketball-styles involved in the setup of these specific evaluation camps.

The SEC model states that after a three-year period of non-scholastic events during a nine-day period in July (i.e. AAU events), there is a transition to evaluation camps only in July. Thus, the AAU circuit would be entirely eliminated in their evaluation process.

Someone could find faults with just about any of the suggestions listed. As an example, the Hoops Report can’t imagine a July evaluation period strictly made up of “evaluation camps” as the SEC model suggests. Having players go through organized drills and skill tests would be valuable, but throwing together 10 players that have never played with one another to evaluate them is never ideal.

The options are endless. Finding the one that suits everyone, players and college coaches included, is the challenge.

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