While it might seem like every coach in college athletics is committing serious recruiting violations, that is not the case. The overwhelming majority of prospects, even in the revenue sports like football and basketball, will not be offered money, gifts, or services to enroll at a certain school. Even if it is common among top prospects in high profile sports, that is still a tiny portion of recruits.
Minor violations are much more common. Due to the nature of the NCAA rule book, coaches are bound to commit a violation every now and again. Generally there is a small penalty, the coach gets a talking to or nasty letter in their personnel file and then everyone moves on.
But what if a coach commits a recruiting violation with you? What sort of stock should you put in it? Should it affect your decision-making? And ultimately, should you play for a coach that is committing violations to recruit you?
Violation or Violations
If a coach commits a violation during your recruitment, the first question to ask yourself is whether it was a one-time deal or part of a pattern. Many violations are innocent mistakes, especially the first time. Perhaps the assistant coach called you at the beginning of the week, and the head coach forgot to check before calling you again at the end of the week.
One violation, especially if the coach acknowledges it to you and tells you what happened, is no big deal and might even be a positive. It tells you the coaches are willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and are more likely to be honest and upfront with athletes.
The only time one violation should give a recruit pause is if the coach refuses to acknowledge it. The penalty for most phone call violations is two weeks of no phone calls to the prospect involved. If a coach who was calling regularly calls twice one week then not at all for the next couple of weeks, being unwilling to say why is cause for concern.
Detecting a Pattern
The challenge for athletes in figuring out if there is a pattern of violations by a coaching staff is knowing NCAA rules and keeping track of contact with coaches. That means keeping basic rules in mind, like one call from coaches per week most of the time and no text messages until you sign. Keeping a log of contact with coaches is good for staying organized in your recruiting, but also can help you determine if a coach is recruiting you a little too hard.
If you discover a pattern of possible violations, either because a coach is constantly being penalized or something in your recruiting does not add up, it could mean a couple of things. First, it could simply mean that the coaching staff is disorganized. Logs might not be kept well, reports might not be double checked, nuanced questions might not be asked. If that seems to be the case, prospects should see if that attitude is prevalent in other places in the team. If the entire program is disorganized, that’s a big red flag.
If it seems like the coaches know what they are doing when committing violations, prospects are faced with a tough choice. Sometimes coaches just do not agree or cannot stick to one rule, but are completely on the straight-and-arrow with everything else. Other times, multiple recruiting violations are a sign that the coaching staff is willing to cut corners to win. That could mean excessive practice, pressure to ignore academics, or the constant danger of losing your scholarship.
If coaches repeatedly violate recruiting rules and get caught, the good news is that in some cases you might have a chance to reconsider. If a coach commits a recruiting violation that requires you to be reinstated (which includes a lot more than you might think), you have the option to void your National Letter of Intent if you have already signed with the school.
With most recruiting violations, it is hard to advise an athlete one way or the other. Even a pattern of violations might be completely innocent. But there is one exception: if a coach ever asks you to help cover a violation up.
The coach’s explanation might sound reasonable, about how it is a minor rule, how it just shows how bad the school wants you, or how the rule is wrong. But if a coach ever asks you to say something that is not true, that is a sign to walk away. At that point, it is no longer about what the coach is doing. The coach is asking you to risk your eligibility for his or her benefit. As long as you do not accept any extra benefits, your ability to play in college is not likely to be affected. Once you agree to go along with a coach’s violations however, that changes quickly.