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The First Change the NCAA Should Make to July Recruiting

For something that seems to work so well and that coaches were so desperate to keep alive, there sure are a lot of complaints about the July evaluation periods. Complaining about recruiting calendars and rules is nothing new, but complaints about men’s basketball recruiting in July are constant and varied. This year was no different, with the concern in a couple general categories:

  • The grind of travel and games on both coaches and prospects;
  • How spread out the games are, both generally (around the country) and even in one tournament; and
  • Vegas.

To fix these problems and combat the other longstanding problems with AAU basketball, the NCAA’s primary tools are the recruiting calendar and event certification. The NCAA can say when college coaches can be out evaluating prospects and at which tournaments. The NCAA can also extract from tournaments certain concessions that tie in other NCAA rules in order to get the event certified so coaches can attend.

The loophole is that if an event can attract prospects some other way, then it is beyond the NCAA’s reach. The only surefire way to dictate where prospects play is to use their eligibility as the stick. But that is definitely a “nuclear option” for which no one has the appetite. So we’re left with a situation where the NCAA needs to make its certification rules and sanctioned events more attractive to prospects, AAU coaches, event operators, and the recruiting media.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman proposed that the NCAA get involved($) by hosting their own tournament:

I’d love to see the NCAA actually fork over some money, build a facility, hire a bunch of former college coaches who would be willing to give back to the game and tutor these kids.

Goodman’s proposed gym would have 20-25 courts all in one place. The NCAA, through its iHoops partnership with the NBA and USA Basketball, has run its own basketball camps. They were “last chance” champs for senior prospects, held in April or May. The catch was that the NCAA’s own rules prevented Division I coaches from attending the event. Such a camp could work, although competing with entrenched AAU tournaments and the influence of sponsors, especially shoe companies, would be tough.

Goodman’s mythical super facility actually exists. Not under one roof, but close enough. Between athletics and recreational sport facilities, many Division I campuses have 15, 20, even 30 basketball courts. Not to mention they are often in safer, quieter towns without the baggage of Vegas and with hotels and restaurants that are eager for the business in summer.

The catch is that the NCAA has banned AAU events from Division I campuses since 2011 after a protracted legislative battle that lasted almost two years. The reasoning was two fold. First, with much more stringent rules and penalties about the funneling of money and discounts to AAU event operators, simply banning the events from campus was seen as easier on Division I coaches and compliance offices. Second, some Division I schools saw events on other DI campuses as an unfair advantage.

While it may have stopped some money funneling, this move was misguided. By the time the NCAA finally passed Proposal 2009-100-A, shady third-parties had already moved on to the next scam. Even if this was a rampant and effective trick, at the very least it is one that involves people the NCAA can actually catch (member institutions and their employees).

The NCAA should do a complete 180 here. Not only should AAU events be allowed back on college campuses, but the NCAA should only certify and allow college coaches to attend events held exclusively at NCAA member institutions. Institutions that want to host events would have to open their books to the NCAA as part of the event certification process. If concentrating events is unfair, the NCAA could have a system that moves events around to different campuses (say the NCAA will only certify an event on a campus every other year or once every four years).

This downside is that breaking up a big center of multiple events like Las Vegas could contribute to the travel woes. But once a coach is at a site of a major tournament on a Division I campus, he can at the very least not be driving all around town for 16 hours. Prospects would also get a bit more of a taste of college life as well, staying in dorms and eating at cafeterias rather than spending the night in a casino hotel.

Short of the NCAA taking over youth basketball (which is impossible without the buy-in of many other parties), it cannot solve every problem with AAU. What it can do is use the tools it has to try and nudge AAU tournaments into becoming events that are more useful in the recruiting process. Reversing the decision to drive those events from Division I campuses would be a good start.

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