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Recruiting Grind is Beyond the NCAA’s Control

There are a lot of things the NCAA could do to tweak the July men’s basketball recruiting period. Nonscholastic recruiting generally has been in a flux for years. And that just counts the rules that have actually been passed. Since the men’s basketball recruiting calendar was overhauled in 2004, there has been a constant stream of proposals. Proposals have taken days away, added days back, moved recruiting periods around and altered contact rules during those periods. All the while the NCAA has threatened to do away with nonscholastic recruiting entirely.

Despite all the activity, widespread dissatisfaction still exists because everyone has competing goals. A top 50 prospect holding offers from every blue blood program in the country needs a different July than a fringe Division I player looking for something better than his Division II offers. Established head coaches with families want more structure and less time on the road, while there are hungry, young assistants would would be fine with returning to the days of 11-month leases, putting everything in storage, and not coming back to campus until August 1.

The ideas proposed by Sean Miller and Eric Reveno are good for coaches, but offer little benefit to prospects at best. Miller’s idea for one massive July period just means compressing the existing grind, even if it reduces some of the back-and-forth travel home. And Reveno’s proposal of opening up July but limiting recruiting person-days in April and July is even worse. In that case prospects looking for more offers will have to spend the entire month playing anywhere a coach might be, since the coaches are more spread out.

Another thing the NCAA could do, consistent with some of the previous changes, is to eliminate one of the five-day periods in July and give coaches those days somewhere else. A couple weekends in the fall would give college coaches chances to see lots of prospects throughout the year, rather than just in the spring and summer. Or the NCAA could free up some weekends for nonscholastic recruiting during the traditional basketball season, allowing coaches to evaluate at high school showcase events.

There is no shortage of these ideas, but they ignore the larger issue: the NCAA’s rules have little effect on when or where prospects play. How quickly experienced head coaches like Reveno and Miller forget what happened with April AAU events. The NCAA banned Division I coaches from going, but the NCAA cannot stop the recruiting media from attending. Just because a player cannot be seen by coaches in person does not mean a tournament is not a good place to be seen period. College coaches then complained about having to appease the same third-parties the NCAA wanted to remove from the recruiting process in order to get information about April events.

The NCAA has reached the limit of what it alone can reasonably do to “fix” AAU. As coverage and even broadcasting of nonscholastic basketball expands, the NCAA’s tools of when college coaches can attend events and which events it certifies are getting less and less useful.

Now if something were to come along and replace the top end of AAU, that might help in a meaningful way. An academy league, similar to the US Soccer Development Academy, attacks this issue from almost every angle. It gives college coaches one-stop shopping for all the top prospects. An academy structured similarly to the USSDA includes fewer but higher quality games along with a greater emphasis on training. And it could suck up so much of the recruiting coverage that prospects would feel less pressure to attend other events.

A theoretical schedule might see an academy regular season wrap up in early June, followed by a playoff pool stage and major showcase event in late June or early July. Knockout rounds would be in mid to late July. Another showcase could be held in conjunction with finals, or the rest of the summer could be when most camp attendance occurs. For most Division I prospects, this would be the bulk of their summer competition before the next academy season tips off in October or November.

In theory, this was the dream of iHoops, since to create this type of top-down organization, you would likely need the combined resources and cachet of USA Basketball and the NBA. But even the limited progress iHoops made could be integrated into such a system, especially by expanding the “last chance” basketball camps and opening them up to Division I coaches. The NCAA’s major role would simply be to favor the academy over other types of nonscholastic basketball in its recruiting rules.

But the NCAA working alone is stuck trying to fence in a system whose inherent grassroots nature defies regulation. No one has any appetite for the type of extreme measures the NCAA would need take to make a dent in this problem on its own. Unless you are prepared to watch a kid get suspended or ruled ineligible because he played into too many AAU tournaments while chasing a scholarship, the NCAA needs outside help to fix this problem.

Until then, the ideas tossed out by coaches, while full of good intentions, will do far more to ease the burden on coaches rather than prospects. A burden, by the way, that is scheduled to get worse in July 2014. Next year all four coaches can be out at once, without worrying about burning recruiting person-days during July. So do not expect this to just be the whining of weary coaches midway through a long recruiting stint. This conversation will stick around, however ineffectual it may be. That is until the pendulum swings back around and basketball coaches are complaining about not having enough opportunities to evaluate.

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