NCAA Basketball: Should The July Recruiting Period Be Eliminated?

There is a consensus among conference commissioners across most of America that basketball recruiting is broken, and something must be done to fix it.  Their solution is to delete the July recruiting period, two ten-day sessions in July where college coaches attend AAU tournaments (conveniently scheduled around those dates) to evaluate talent.

The two sides shake out like this:  The commissioners are mostly for the elimination of the July period, and the coaches are overwhelmingly against it.  The commissioners believe that the process is broken and that something must be done, and that something is to force coaches to see recruits during the regular season rather than watching them compete against the best talent in the country. 

The coaches, obviously, prefer the approach that places the most talent on the floor at one time so that they can get a true read on how the kid is performing.  There is the added advantage of being to evaluate a number of potential recruits in the same tournament, minimizing the travel necessary to see your target play the same number of games. 

I can see both sides of this argument, but in the end, the coaches are right.  The NCAA and conference commissioners are well-intentioned, hoping to eliminate the motivation for "outside influences" (i.e. agents and runners) from lobbying the coaches as they are wont to do at these events, either directly or indirectly.  The coaches also are forced to pay high prices for tournament information packets, which are little more than the names and addresses of the players on the team, which sell for several hundreds of dollars each, and a seat in the best areas of the arena are reserved for those who buy these overpriced packets.

Look, this is pretty smarmy stuff, but what's going to happen if the recruiting periods are banned is that the videos will be sold at inflated prices, or coaches will have to turn to recruiting gurus not connected directly with the schools to do their evaluations for them.  The tournaments, though, will not go away, just like the April tournaments didn't go away when they banned April recruiting.  There are thousands of ways to get around such a ban, and many of them would just make the NCAA rulebook thicker and thicker.  Before long, it will rival the tax code in complexity.  It has already created the NCAA equivalent of the tax preparer, known as a compliance officer.

In the end, this has the potential for doing more good than harm.  Unintended consequences are always a problem, and this one looks rife with the potential for accidental damage.

The best solution I have seen comes from St. Rita High School and former DePaul assistant coach Gary DeCesare:

"I got a whole different philosophy on it. I don't think there should be a dead period, July period. If you look at the D-I transfers, there's over 360. Obviously, what's in place now is not working. I don't understand why we have all these live and dead periods. I said this when I was in high school coaching nine years ago. I believe they now have 130 days during the high school season and 20 during the summer. That's 150. You don't need that many days. Give them 100 days, and let them go out whenever they want. The dead period should be the national holidays."

This actually seems to be a great idea to me.  Let the coaches have 100 days a year to recruit, and let the coaches choose which 100 days those are.  Forget having to worry about non-contact periods, dead periods, and other nonsense.  Give them 100 calendar days each year to call, watch, or do whatever within the rules.  After they use those up, they are done.  It might not solve the complaints about the Kentuckys of the world, who have huge recruiting budgets, having an unfair advantage, but it would help level the playing field a bit.  Everybody could go to the tournaments of their choice, watch their targets, and figure it all out.

One other proposal I would consider -- make it a rule that a coach can pay no more than, say, $150 for an information packet and a ticket total at any event.  That would force the organizers, who have a vested interest in the coach's attendance, to be able to make a reasonable profit and still not charge the ruinous prices they charge at many events.  That helps level the playing field for the teams that don't have the budgets of Kentucky or Louisville or UConn for recruiting.

In the final analysis, trying to eliminate the AAU isn't the answer, and coaches understand this problem better than anybody.  There are better ways to skin this cat.

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