Dear NCAA Board of Directors:
On April 28, you will decide whether to approve a proposal passed late last week by the Division-I Council that bans FBS football coaches from conducting or working at camps and clinics outside of their program's regular facilities -- a.k.a. satellite camps. I realize that in most instances your role is primarily to rubber-stamp legislation, but in this instance, I'd urge you to rescind this ill-conceived measure.
It badly fails the one constituency your organization purports to protect -- the athletes themselves.
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A little background if you're not aware: Satellite camps in football became a polarizing issue last summer when then-first-year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh barnstormed the country putting on camps for high school players in places like Alabama, Texas and Florida in a brazen recruiting play. Coaches in the SEC and ACC in particular did not take kindly to a school from the north invading their turf, especially since their own leagues had rules prohibiting them from doing the same. But rather than change their own rules, they asked that the NCAA membership as a whole conform to their practices.
On Friday, four of the five power conferences (or as you refer to them, "autonomous conferences") and six of the 10 FBS conferences voted for just such a ban. Which may seem on the surface like a simple "will of the people" directive. Here's the problem: The administrators who passed the rule either did not consider or did not grasp the unintended consequences of their action.
Long before Harbaugh, other schools had been conducting similar events with nary a hint of outrage. In doing so, they allowed an untold number of under-the-radar high-school players the opportunity to showcase themselves to college coaches from other parts of the country, and in doing so, land valuable scholarship offers.
Furthermore, it's been common practice for some time that smaller-conference coaches work as guests at larger program's camps. Say, for example, Ohio State holds a camp for 200 high-school players. There may be only two at the whole camp good enough to garner a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes. But often the coaches at Toledo or Bowling Green are there, too. There may be other players on hand that those coaches deem worthy of a MAC offer.
But in one fell swoop, the Council squashed those opportunities because the head coach at Michigan had the audacity to hold some camps in the backyards of Southern football powerhouses. And it's going to affect those Toledo and Bowling Green recruits far more than Michigan's.
This past weekend provided a telling window into the disconnect between those enacting the rules and those actually affected by the rules. Speaking with reporters that cover their teams, coaches like Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze, Tennessee's Butch Jones, Georgia's Kirby Smart -- all of whom were preparing to hold their own satellite camps if the vote went the other way -- lauded the Council's decision.
"I'm selfish with my time," said Freeze. "I'm away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go."
To be clear, there was no rule on the books requiring coaches to hold satellite camps, but you'd never know it from some of their comments.
But while those coaches rejoice, current and prospective college football players are up in arms. Many come from underprivileged families that cannot afford to send them to far-away college camps, but suddenly their closer-to-home options are now forbidden because Hugh Freeze -- who makes nearly $5 million a year -- wants to spend time with his family.
Here are a few of the many angry player/recruit reactions.
Idk how how the NCAA can stop coaches from attending sound mind sound body camps... camps where players go to become better players.— Arjen Colquhoun (@thecanuck36) April 10, 2016
NCAA satellite camp ban is stupid. Those camps are effective in building relationships and the players that get you guys paid #ChangeNCAA— Michael Onwenu (@_MXKEY) April 10, 2016
The NCAA is taking away the only opportunity for some kids to receive a college degree just so they can make more $$ https://t.co/CH0BfTM6ln— Allen Lazard (@AllenLazard) April 10, 2016
A hashtag even began circulating Sunday -- #ChangeNCAA. That's where you, dear board members, come in.
Ask yourselves: Why would we pass a rule that only hurts, not helps, prospective athletes? In fact, how did it even get this far?
It seems to me that the camp ban exposed a flaw in the entire rules-making process. Clearly, Harbaugh's camp tour rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But did it really necessitate such an alarmist reaction? Do the majority of FBS schools share the same doomsday vision as Alabama coach Nick Saban, who half-jokingly predicted that if left unfettered, we'll eventually have "113 [schools'] camps in Atlanta, 113 in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Dallas, Houston.
Never mind that only a small fraction of that amount even have the recruiting budgets to blanket the country with camps. Let's go ahead and give credence to Saban's theory. There are any number of ways you could regulate satellite camps -- limit the number a school can hold, or how often it can hold one in the same area -- without banning them like they're some evil plight.
Because the reality is, they're the exact opposite. They give the non-Alabamas of the world a chance to promote their programs to a wider net of players, and they allow a wider net of players to showcase themselves to said programs. We're not talking about performance-enhancing drugs, fraudulent classes or any number of other things you'd more commonly think to ban.
End of day, we're talking about football camps.
So please, dear board members, put an end to this madness. Your organization has taken admirable strides the past few years to be more responsive to athletes' interests. Approving this senseless rule would be a step in the wrong direction.