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July 20, 2008
Wake me up in August
Opinion piece from UGASports.com publisher Steve Patterson
It is a miracle that more colleges are not on probation for recruiting violations. The problem is not the coaches knowingly violating the rules, but rather the seeming inability for coaches and athletic associations to interpret the myriad of NCAA rules. The coaches know what they can and cannot do, but what about all the other "representatives of athletic interest" who have contact with prospects? Also, did you hear about Friday Night Lights?
There is a clear winner in the "most media coverage" category for university summer camps. While Georgia held Dawg Night, and Florida State held Seminole Showtime, Florida's Friday Night Lights far and away had the most media coverage.
Not only was it the only event mentioned on the front page of Rivals.com, it had its own subheading with links to several features covering the Gator's glitz. In fact, most of the coverage of the event was from national writers as opposed to the staff at Rivals.com's Florida site GatorBait.net.
All three team sites offered readers live updates during the camp on their premium message boards, but as of the time this is being written, the Georgia and Florida State sites had more than twice the coverage of the camps in their towns.
Granted, the Georgia coaches only started their event this year while FNL has been popular the past few years, but it is going to take a while for either camp to catch up to the swamp soiree.
Lastly, Sunshine State recruiting fans have it made if they visit FlaVarsity.com. Michael Langston and his crew managed to cover both the Florida State and Florida events, and provided live updates from both to boot. It is no wonder that Langston was honored recently at the Rivals.com Publishers Convention for his contributions to the network. Georgia fans will recall that Langston provided live updates from the Aron Murray commitment on UGASports.com recruiting board The Vault last spring.
You can tell that football season is right around the corner. Fans are hypersensitive on message boards, writers are clamoring for content, and editors are nervously hoping the coverage plan can keep up with the Joneses in the Internet arms race.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced another round of cuts last week due in part to falling circulation, the gradual decrease in print advertising and circulation, and the rising gas prices that are only reddening an already crimson bottom line. The AJC's UGA beat writer has left the paper to pursue another career, taking the Macon Telegraph's UGA beat along for the ride, and the Columbus Ledger's Georgia guy has been switched to covering Auburn.
I am sure the editors at the Athens Banner-Herald are giddy knowing that they return a solid staff of writers and will likely be the top paper covering the team this year.
Meanwhile, on the message boards, fans are starting to put the arrest season behind them as we transition into the football season. Part of this ritual is to start pointing fingers at their rivals' weaknesses real or perceived.
Even the coaches are getting into it.
Gator coach Urban Meyer is quoted in an new book about Urban Meyer's view of the celebration in last year's Georgia-Florida game. Urban Meyer said that Urban Meyer considers it a big deal, and that Urban Meyer will never forget that moment: "That wasn't right. It was a bad deal. And it will forever be in the mind of Urban Meyer and in the mind of our football team. ... So we'll handle it. And it's going to be a big deal."
We can only only wait for Mark Richt to tell us what Mark Richt thinks about the issue. However, he is probably stealing away the last few sane moments with his family before fall camp starts or perhaps game planning with his coaches as opposed to filling out his wish list at partycity.com.
Speaking of Florida, of the many stories to come out of Friday Night Lights, one had an interesting quote from a prospect that sent non-Gator fans crying negative recruiting.
Ian Silberman, a prospect for the class of 2010 who committed to Florida this weekend, said the following when asked by GatorBait.net about the Gator coaches' reaction: "They were ecstatic because I was the first one to commit from 2010. They said pretty much that I'm going to do what Tim Tebow did in recruiting in his class and what the Pouncey Twins [sic.] did in their class. I'm hoping to start out in (helping) recruiting."
He added that he has already started: "I talked to Trent Richardson. He's unreal. He said he's a soft commitment to Alabama. I was telling him that Nick Saban won't be there that long. He needs go ahead and commit to the Gators."
The ethics of a high school junior engaging in such activity is a legitimate question, but there is really no way to prove if that was he was up to, and there does not appear to be an NCAA rule against such behavior. How much could a 16-year-old who lives 500 miles away, in another state, possibly know about the job security of the University of Alabama's head coach? The argument could be made that he was referring to the fact that Saban left the Miami Dolphins' job abruptly, and since that was news in his area, that Silberman was making a joke.
Regardless, it is negative recruiting. Nevermind the fact that his earlier statement about the Florida coaches comments on his impact on recruiting could be interpreted that he was asked to help recruit.
To be fair, the UF coaches exuberance could also just be knowing that his commitment in and of itself could prompt others to commit. That was the case with Tebow, but not so much with the Pouncey twins. When Tebow was asked about this topic in 2006, he said nothing to suggest that he had been prompted by coaches, and neither Michael Pouncey or Maurkice Pouncey said anything about being asked to contact recruits.
Another topic that comes up a lot this time of year is that of committed prospects recruiting other prospects, a practice that has been around for a long time.
"When you are going out on all the recruiting visits, you end up running into the same guys time and time again," said former UGA quarterback Eric Zeier. "There is absolutely a bond that is created, and it is created relatively early on. Part of the discussion that you have with people is where they are going, and how it would make sense for a group to go together. I know that it was my decision with a group of offensive linemen that were coming through at the time. Guys like Mike Fredenburg, Steve Gates, Paul Taylor, and a handful of others; we all sat down and said, 'Hey, let's all go to the same spot and see if we can make an impact together'."
The day current Georgia quarterback commitment Aron Murray cast his lot with the Bulldogs he let it be known he would do the same: "Now, I have a new job, and that is to be a recruiter. I am going to call the players Georgia wants and try to help the coaches get the top players up there. I am going to try to find out every number I can and start calling them soon."
The NCAA's view on this is pretty cut and dry. Prospects that do this on their own accord are fine, but coaches are not allowed to ask prospects to recruit other players. If they do, then they just converted their new recruiter into a "representative of athletic interest".
NCAA bylaw 13.02.13 defines the term as: "A 'representative of the institution's athletics interests' is an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g., apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have been known) by a member of the institution's executive or athletics administration to…."
At this point, the definition includes five scenarios, one of which is: "Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes."
Once a person is deemed a representative of athletic interest, the NCAA has clear rules on what they can and cannot do.
Bylaw 13.01.4 reads: "Representatives of an institution's athletics interests are prohibited from making in-person, on- or off-campus recruiting contacts, or written or telephonic communications with a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete's relatives or legal guardians."
To illustrate how confusing and muddled these mandates are, another bylaw reads that only coaches can recruit players. If that is the case, why are there other bylaws forbidding representatives of athletic interest from recruiting? Of course they can't, only coaches can?
The Good, The Bad, and The Gray
Another area that is interpreted in different ways is encounters between a university's current student athletes and prospects.
There are several stories about current players and a prospect running into each other at off-campus training facilities, but in a conversation with Georgia's compliance office recently, the ruling was that these were inappropriate contacts.
This illustrates my earlier reference to interpretations of the bylaws, but in this case it may have been more of being overly cautious.
On this matter, bylaw 220.127.116.11 reads: "Off-campus, in-person recruiting contacts that are unavoidable incidental contacts between enrolled student-athletes (or other enrolled students) and a prospective student-athlete are permissible if such contacts do not occur at the direction of a coaching staff member."
Thus, so long as the encounter is not pre-arranged by the coaching staff, the NCAA has no problem with this chance meeting.
Still, there remains the question as to whether such a meeting is essentially between a "representative of athletic" interest and a prospective athlete. If so, is that okay under the rules since it was not "at the direction of a coaching staff member"?
A year ago, while visiting a prospect's high school, Nick Saban allegedly "bumped" into the prospect in the hall. Under NCAA rules, coaches can not initiate contact with the prospects while on such visits, but nothing prevents the prospect from prompting a conversation.
That controversy led to the NCAA passing legislation this past spring that prohibits head coaches from visiting high schools, a mandate that is referred to as "the Saban rule". The decree was widely criticized by head coaches; Illinois coach Ron Zook suggested that it took much of the evaluation process out of the coaches' hands and into "so called recruiting gurus", which in turn brought out a rare opinion piece from Rivals.com editor-in-chief Bobby Burton.
Coaches quickly found a way around that rule by turning to webcams, and thus far we have not seen any NCAA legislation on that nifty use of technology.
As stated, coaches know what they can and cannot do, but there seems to be an awful lot of gray areas around what everyone else can do, and if persuading a prospect to help recruit is the answer, who can blame them.
I think we need a new bylaw to clear this all up.
All of this will fade like the summer sun soon as fans and the media turn their attention this week to the SEC Media Days in Birmingham. Nobody will care about Friday Night Lights and those other two events, prospects recruiting prospects will be a shelved topic until recruiting season (which is sandwiched in-between the football and arrest seasons), and all eyes will be on the college football coaches as they head into another year of the best sport in the land.
Rivals.com will be covering media days, and UGASports.com plans to send three staffers to bring the news back to Bulldog fans. Media outlets from far and wide will descend upon the Wynfrey Hotel to broadcast to the world the comments of the twelve league coaches. Of course, the crowd will slowly drop off after the first speaker--1 p.m. Wednesday is when Urban Meyer is going to tell us what Urban Meyer thinks of his 2008 Gators.