This week, the NCAA proved once more that the people whom they are supposed to be advocating for and protecting, “student-athletes”, are not a priority.
The Division I council voted to prohibit Football Bowl Subdivision schools (the highest level of competition for football within the NCAA and, by far, its biggest money maker) from holding camps and clinics away from their regular practice and competition facilities. Here’s the amount of space the NCAA devoted to it in a press release related to a proposal on academic integrity that was adopted: “The Council approved a proposal applicable to the Football Bowl Subdivision that would require those schools to conduct camps and clinics at their school’s facilities or at facilities regularly used for practice or competition. Additionally, FBS coaches and noncoaching staff members with responsibilities specific to football may be employed only at their school’s camps or clinics. This rule change is effective immediately.”
What was the problem trying to be solved?
Football coaches from FBS universities, some of the most qualified people in the world to run football camps and clinics, were putting on football camps and clinics for high school students all over the country, even away from where their universities are located.
Why was that a problem?
It allowed college coaches to meet talented high school football players from around the country, including areas away from their universities, allowing the coaches to build personal relationships and tell the students about the positive aspect of their schools.
Really? That was the problem?
Well, you see, some areas of the country are more fertile than others in terms of having talented football recruits. The South, including Texas and Florida for these purposes, has lots of great recruits. Schools in the South, which primarily belong to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), don’t want other schools competing for “their” recruits. Recruiting is all about building relationships, and meeting and coaching a young player is a good way to build one.
Are recruits that big of a deal in college football?
Yes. Study after study shows that teams with better recruits perform better, which means more money for schools and for coaches. Less rigorous study also indicates this. Just look up Alabama’s actual record and recruiting record over the last decade.
So why was this passed now?
Last year, the University of Michigan hired the always entertaining Jim Harbaugh to be its head coach. Shortly after being hired, he announced a countrywide camps and clinics tour, including stops in Texas, Florida, and Alabama. This was contrary to convention, whereby coaches typically held clinics at their school or at least within their region. The response from the South was not a happy one. At the time, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, perhaps the best current head coach and biggest whiner about perceived unfairness to his teams being able to win even more, called the camps “ridiculous.” The head coach for Clemson (which is also in the ACC and lost to Alabama in this year’s national championship game), Dabo Swinney, also complained about them. So the SEC and ACC lobbied to get the rule change they desired, which protects their recruiting turf.
But who cares? Can’t the recruits still interact with coaches from whatever school they’d like?
Yes and no. NCAA recruiting rules are complicated. College coaches are only allowed to contact recruits in person after July 1st of their junior year in high school. But many recruits have either committed to a school before then or have significantly pared down their list of schools.
Schools can pay for the recruits to visit (an “official visit), but only during the recruit’s senior year and only after having an official ACT or SAT score. Plus, each recruit is only allowed five official visits and schools are limited to the number of official visits they can provide, so much of the recruiting for a particular recruit happens well before an official visit would occur.
This means that recruits often visit the schools they end up choosing first on unofficial visits, which must be paid for by them and their parents. Many recruits, especially those from rural areas of the South, aren’t particularly rich and their parents can’t afford to pay for them go on college tours around the country. So visiting the University of Michigan, or any other number of highly rated universities, is very unlikely for many top prospects from the South.
Isn’t the University of Michigan a really good school?
So Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney and other coaches got a rule changed that will limit school choice and football instruction for high school players?
But isn’t this bad for students?
And shouldn’t they care about the students?
Maybe, but they care about money a lot more.
Money? I thought the NCAA was an amateur organization. What’s this about money?
Oh, only the players don’t get paid with money. The coaches get lots and lots of money. Nick Saban made over $7,000,000 in 2015. Dabo Swinney’s contract guaranteed him nearly $2,000,000 in 2014 and has incentives for each of Clemson’s wins, if Clemson wins a conference title, and various levels of bowl performance, among other things.
So really highly paid old men fought to limit the educational opportunities of poorer young men, many of whom happy to be black? This sounds familiar…
But isn’t this against what the NCAA is supposed to be about?
Yes, indeed it is.
This makes me feel gross. Is the NCAA always this bad?
Is there any silver lining to this story?
I wrote about sports due to a request from one of my many ones of readers. Feel free to make requests in the comments (or when you see me if we’re friends IRL).