The new NCAA rules to deter third party involvement in recruiting are already being felt: changes to summer camps and analyst hirings/concomitant recruitment are making their mark.
First, we begin with the IAWP rule (Individual Associated with Prospective athlete.) Let’s call it the Gus Malzahn rule. And, in an ironic twist, it is Auburn who is first affected by the IAWP. Auburn, which hired Coach Blackmon from Opelika as an analyst, is now unable to recruit at the powerhouse for two years, barring applying for, and receiving, a waiver. That is a pipeline school for the Tigers, one routinely filled with blue chippers and 13 miles from Jordan-Hare stadium. Alabama has even reached into West Georgia to recruit Opelika prospects.
For once, you feel bad if not for Auburn then Gus Malzahn. He’s never hired a coach from a school where he has a recruit signing. That’s a matter of public record, and it is one that should be emphasized (by him, at the least.) The abiding majority of high school hirings are being done based upon identifiable coaching talent or potential to help the college team win as a coach. It is a profession, and all indication is that these personnel decisions are being treated by the involved parties like professionals.
Malzahn may be the highest profile coach to arise from the high school ranks, but he is in no way alone:
Eliah Drinkwitz isn’t sure where he’d be now if he hadn’t been plucked a few years back from the high school ranks.
“Somewhere in Arkansas trying to coach a little football,” he said.
Instead, a job at Auburn — offensive analyst, $16,000 a year without benefits — became his entrée to college football, leading eventually to his current position as North Carolina State’s offensive coordinator.
This is a vicious rule.
On the other end of the professionalism spectrum are changes to camp rules that stick it not just coaches, but to high school students and the wider development of the sport at the high school level — NCAA restrictions upon high school coaches working camps. And, man, does this one have Alabama coaches mad as hell.
Well, that rule has also now drawn its first blood, this time upon another team with whom Alabama has passing familiarity. At Clemson, Dabo Swinney’s camps have traditionally relied heavily upon high school coaches work them. However, since prospective recruits may be attending, the Tigers are now having to rely upon lower level coaches and even players to staff the clinics.
This is a likewise terrible rule. As pointed out by members of the profession, it constrains the evaluation of high school coaches as much as it hamstrings their ability to receive hands-on professional development. Moreover, it restricts the affordability of many student-athletes to attend camp. Finally, as Coach Pruitt has noted, many students are just more comfortable if they know they have an ally, a friendly face attending a camp with hundreds of strangers from across the country. They are, as he must remind us, still kids with kid anxieties and concerns and needs.
I’m struggling to see how the IAWP rule, much less the camp rule, was even promulgated or who voted for them. We are assured they were passed by “a spirited majority” in a closed door session of the AFCA annual meeting. A meeting, I add, that neither Dabo Swinney nor Nick Saban were able to attend -- the AFCA scheduled them during the CFB Playoffs.
Besides Todd Berry, executive director of the AFCA, I don’t recall seeing any present or former coach who has publicly supported either measure. Nick Saban has been vocal in his criticism. So too has Gus Malzahn, particularly regarding the IAWP. Chad Morriss, Hugh Freeze, Dabo Swinney, active coaches all are in vehement and public disagreement. So, who’s actually supporting these? We don’t know; but, we do know they are as harmful and far-reaching as they are of merely superficial benefit to the problem they are alleged to solve.
And, these rules are ultimately detrimental to the game. The collateral damage is too high; they do nothing to constrain the alleged staff sizes issue that everyone so complains of lately; nor do they solve a problem of 3rd party corruption that allegedly exists among high school coaches with blue chip athletes. It casts aspersions upon an entire class of coaches and implies that they cannot obtain a job without the benefit of horse-trading for a commitment. That’s an insinuation as patronizing as it is disgusting. Make no mistake, for the third-party contact that these rules purport to prohibit, as Berry himself admits there is not even a problem. Nevertheless, as handed up, the NCAA is trying to fix a potential issue of third parties at the margins and screwing everyone else over in between: Rashan Gary and Mitch Mustain are the exceptions, not the rule.
High school coaches hate these rules; college coaches hate these rules; high school players hate these rules. How long, then, can these measures survive; measures that harm everyone and benefit no one, save those that want to bask in self-congratulatory PR opportunities? Because, at the end of the day, these are hollow gestures that do not deter the intervention by or influence of third parties. But, the AFCA does not want to address the 7-on-7 camps, the football-only faux high schools like IMG, JUCO eligibility mills, the street agents, the family member with a hand out, or any of other countless practices and institutions that truly make recruiting a cesspool ‘supped with unsavory characters and practices.
It is far easier for administrators to cut off avenues of employment for high school coaches, developmental opportunities for high school players, and to do so in the most insulting manner imaginable.
In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. But no kings emerge from this benighted land — all are blind with both eyes firmly and willfully shut to the greater causes of third-party involvement.