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One Proposal Left Behind

On Saturday the NCAA Division I Board of Directors passed 25 proposals that deregulated a number of areas including staff responsibilities, expenses for competition, recruiting phone calls and text messages in addition to a smattering of other rules. All told most of these rules were low-hanging fruit, frustrations that many coaches, administrators, athletes and prospects would agree are more trouble than they are worth.

But there were 26 proposals in the package that the Rules Working Group sent to the Board of Directors. One was tabled until April. Proposal 13–2 would have done the following:

To specify that off-campus contact shall not be made with an individual (or his or her relatives or legal guardians) before the opening day of classes of his or her junior year in high school; further, to specify that communication (e.g., telephone calls, electronic communication) shall not be made with an individual before July 1 following the completion of his or her sophomore year in high school or the opening day of classes of his or her junior year in high school (as designated by the high school), whichever is earlier.

Not listed but included in the proposal was changing the start date for printed recruiting materials from September 1 to July 1, like all other contact.

This would create one uniform start date for all sports for all activities except official visits and prospect-initiated activities like calls from a prospect to a college coach and unofficial visits, which have no start date. Currently there are

General date for off-campus contact

  • Men’s basketball exception

General date for phone calls

  • Football exception
  • Men’s basketball exception
  • Women’s basketball exception
  • Men’s ice hockey exception
  • Women’s ice hockey exception

General date for recruiting materials

  • Men’s basketball exception

If you select a recruiting activity and sport at random, there are ten different dates that activity could start. Not to mention that in those phone call exceptions, the pattern is to allow some limited number of phone calls during specific dates prior to the general start date.

The justification for this is often about a graduated recruiting process. In general, there is a time when prospects have to recruit themselves, a time for coaches to begin showing interest in prospects, and a period of more frequent communication and selling leading to a decision and commitment by the prospect. This should, in theory, lead to athletes considering a broad swath of schools at first which is narrowed down during the junior and senior year to the school they ultimately attend.

Proposal 13–2 would have ended that graduated approach. There would be a time when athletes initiate the recruiting and a time when coaches take the reins. This is not the first uniform start date. As recently as 2009, the concern was early recruiting. That lead to the SEC’s proposal to start all recruiting activities in women’s soccer, including unofficial visits and calls from a prospect on August 1 before a prospect’s senior year in high school. The Ivy League added their own version of that proposal, expanding it to all sports but dropping the limits on unofficial visits and prospect initiated phone calls.

In 2011, the issue looked like it was headed to a conclusion. The Big East offered Proposal 2011–30, which did almost exactly what RWG Proposals 13–2 and 13–3 did: move the start date for phone calls, texts, and recruiting materials to June 15 (instead of July 1) after the sophomore year, and have no limits after that date. The Recruiting Cabinet countered with two proposals, 2011–31 which set a start date of July 1 after the sophomore year, with unlimited calls after that, and 2011–37, a separate proposal regarding text messaging and recruiting materials.

The 2010 women’s soccer proposal was a thinly-disguised attempted by the SEC (which sponsored it) to set up a recruiting environment that favored SEC institutions. The Ivy League’s alternative took too much away from sports like football and men’s basketball and still had all the frequency limits. The 2011 proposals died on the vine when the Board of Directors announced after the Presidential Retreat that they would not consider legislation that was not related to the Presidential Retreat initiatives.

At this point there appears to be some consensus building around the idea of a uniform start date for recruiting activities, at least surrounding different forms of communication. For example, if a coach can email but not call, then he can always send an email asking the prospect to call him back. It makes the limit not just unenforceable but also meaningless.

There is also a growing sense that July 1 before a prospect’s senior year is too late to start off-campus contact and phone calls. For sports with an early signing period, that means about 10–12 weeks of phone calls. Under the current rules, that means a limited number of chances to talk to a coach. After the passage of RWG Proposal 13–3, it increases the likelihood of a sustained all-out blitz by coaches that disrupts prospect’s lives.

It is inevitable at this point that recruiting materials, electronic communication, phone calls, and off-campus contact will start at the same time, and that time will be before or during the junior year. Perhaps one single uniform start date for all sports is the wrong approach. Alternatives include group sports by signing date (i.e. one start date for basketball, volleyball, and baseball, with another, later date for football, soccer, and track); allowing sports, through their coaches associations, to pick from a menu of dates; or setting the dates by developing more comprehensive models for each sport that address other issues like the recruiting calendar, official visits, and tryouts. The latter process has been completed in men’s and women’s basketball and is starting in football.

But it cannot be overlooked that the NCAA has made the strong opening bid here. It has offered to free coaches of the need to track phone calls, given them back text messages, and allowed them to build stronger relationships with prospects by opening up communication during the junior year. If these rules are successfully opposed and coaches continue to get in trouble for petty recruiting violations and retention-related APR penalties, they have no one to blame but themselves.

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