The NCAA has taken a few steps toward basic decency regarding athletes in recent years, adding cost-of-attendance dollars to scholarships and approving four-year guaranteed scholarships.
Schools can still restrict players’ transfer options while coaches enjoy unfettered freedom of movement, an unconscionable policy. But the NCAA deserves a little credit for incremental adjustments to benefit the labor.
However, its true nature always lurks close to the surface. We saw just how ugly, petty, short-sighted and self-centered the organization can be last week when it banned satellite football camps, effective immediately.
A proposal approved by the Division I Council – at the behest of the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference – requires FBS schools to “conduct camps and clinics at their school’s facilities or at facilities regularly used for practice or competition,” the NCAA said. “Additionally, FBS coaches and non-coaching staff members with responsibilities specific to football may be employed only at their school’s camps or clinics.”
Call it the “Jim Harbaugh Rule,” a measure in response to the Michigan coach’s unprecedented swing in June, when he and his staff attended nine different football camps in seven states. Stops included California, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Pennsylvania.
That didn’t sit well with coaches in the SEC and ACC, who didn’t appreciate an outsider invading “their turf.”
Never mind that camps allow lesser-recruited prep players to be seen my multiple schools and land scholarships. Never mind that camps employ coaches from the “Group of 5” conferences, coaches who earn a fraction of the salaries paid in “Power 5” conferences. Never mind that smaller schools benefitted most by signing players who can’t make big-school rosters. Never mind that any concerns about camps could’ve been addressed by regulating them opposed to killing them altogether.
“The sad part is the NCAA pretty much used a shotgun instead of a flyswatter,” Central Michigan coach John Bonamego told The Morning Sun.
Harbaugh put it more bluntly: “The incompetence of the NCAA has reared its ugly head yet again,” he told Sports Illustrated.
The NCAA has unleashed a host of unintended consequences by outlawing the victimless “crime” perpetrated by Harbaugh – and Penn State’s James Franklin in 2014. Sadly, Power 5 schools will be affected the least by eliminating satellite camps.
Louisiana Tech, Western Kentucky, Southern Miss, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, South Alabama, Tulane, Arkansas State and Troy planned to be in attendance for a camp at Samford University on June 11. Those one-stop-shopping experiences are manna for 2- and 3-star recruits still seeking scholarship offers.
Troy had been invited to evaluate prospects at camps hosted by Alabama and Georgia. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart can sign only 25 players; the leftovers can propel smaller schools toward conference championships.
“The biggest thing that I didn’t realize was part of it is that now the MAC (Mid-American Conference) schools can’t come here,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told Cleveland.com. “Probably hundreds of scholarships have come out of here to those young players.”
Now, under-the-radar players have to make a dozen trips in order to be seen in person by a dozen schools. For poor kids and kids in rural areas, paying for two trips can be difficult.
But who cares about them, right?
As long as the Alabamas, LSUs and Florida States can continue to gorge on top recruits at home while luring a few blue-chippers from elsewhere, too, the system works fine. Besides, not every coach wants to work as hard as Harbaugh did last summer.
“I’m selfish with my time,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze told The Clarion Ledger after the measure passed. “I’m away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go. I was ready to. We would’ve jumped in with the rest of them and gone to work. But I’m glad we can have a camp and I can sleep at home.”
Probably a very nice one, befitting a man who makes $5 million a year. Of course, coaches weren’t forced to leave their comfortable beds if satellite camps were still allowed. But stay-at-home coaches are the rule now.
For most, that means no more attendance at programs such as Sound Mind Sound Body Football Academy in Detroit. SI reports that the two-day camp with life-skills workshops attracted more than 30 head coaches last year, including Harbaugh, Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and three from Pac-12 schools.
Such events can do wonders for prep athletes, who are encouraged to work hard, keep up their grades and stay out of trouble. If the NCAA cared anything at all about young people, it wouldn’t discontinue these valuable opportunities.
But like yours truly and many others observers, Harbaugh sees the organization as the epitome of hypocrisy.
“During the NCAA basketball tournament we discuss the term ‘student-athlete’ ad nauseam in promoting our governing institution and our member institutions,” he told SI. “Then, when we have an opportunity to truly promote the ‘student-athlete’ with a concept shared by educators and football men from all backgrounds, our leadership goes into hiding.
“I suggest we drop the term ‘student-athlete’ for consistency.”
The feeling is mutual. That would be the most transparent act ever by the NCAA.