The game of basketball has issues at every level of play. From a grassroots perspective, life certainly could be better and there are many who would be amenable to some form of change.
If the conference commissioners have it their way, not a single college basketball coach will be on the road evaluating players for the month of July, beginning in 2012. (Read Andy Katz’s report by clicking here).
This rash move affects coaches, players and everyone in between. Canceling the July recruiting period would not be well-received by the majority of college programs.
In order to appreciate this reaction from the commissioners, one must understand that this drastic measure is aimed at reducing "third-party influences.” Translation: limiting the power of AAU coaches.
Forget the fact that before there were corrupt AAU coaches (and lumping every AAU coach into this category is wrong), there were high school coaches who could be “influenced” (not all high school coaches are corrupt either). If someone, a school or prospect, wants to skirt the rules, there will always be a vehicle to do so.
If the powers-that-be think taking coaches off the road in July is the answer, they are incorrect. If coaches can't be on the road for 20 days in July, how are they going to make competent evaluations for their program? The NABC relayed to its members "the fact that 40 percent of our incoming freshmen leave the institution they signed to attend by the end of their sophomore year." Imagine if the colleges had less time in key settings to evaluate the players?
What is an evaluation anyway? A true evaluation is watching a player react to different situations, studying his behavior in relation to teammates, coaches and officials. These things take time, and in a perfect world, seeing a young man in multiple settings allows him to make a mistake, atone and demonstrate not only his talents but his character (and improvements, or a lack thereof). Suits in the offices have to understand that "evaluation" isn't just about how a kid plays.
Let them evaluate in the spring, you say? Wrong. The way the rules are written now, college coaches aren't able to attend spring traveling team events and have not since 2009. You know why it’s hard for college coaches to see players in the spring? Because the kids are playing in AAU events, which coaches can't attend.
One school of thought is to allow the coaches more time to go out recruiting during the year. On the surface, this might sound like a good idea. However, run this idea past the assistant coach who has to miss team practice (again) or drive through the night to get back in time for a conference game the next day.
Plus, have you ever tried convincing your head coach to miss valuable practice time, maybe once a week, to see a high school basketball player during the season? It's not an easy chore. Schools might as well designate one assistant to be the recruiter.
Is that what's best for the development of the current players as well as the professional development of the coach? Not a chance.
Think about it this way. You're a head coach getting paid $2 million a year. By January, your team is in the tank and you know you're getting fired. How many players are you going to see during the season?
Fast-forward a few months in the same program when there's a new coach. He gets the job in April and rushes out to see as many kids as possible. Maybe he's able to sign a senior late and lay eyes on a few key underclassmen. If he can't evaluate in July, that means he didn't see the prospect play in May, June, July or August. It's now September and official visits begin. Try taking over a program where the coach has been fired and you need a major talent infusion. When are you going to see the prospects play?
Then there's the argument that the best programs already know who they are recruiting. Really? Exactly when would they have deduced their final list? During the season? During the spring? Late in the summer? Do we ask college students to attend the first day of class and then immediately take the final the next week? No, you take mid-terms and study in between exams.
Consider the summer evaluation the final exam for identifying college prospects after a semester of evaluation and relationship building.
"Look, I don't like it but we have to have it," one high-major head coach said.
"Because of [our location], this rule would be DEVASTATING," another texted.
Speaking of devastating, has anyone bothered to put themselves in the shoes of a mid-major coach? Let's say you work reasonably hard during an AAU weekend and see 25 teams play over the course of three days. Your flight, hotel, rental car and meals cost you $1,000, but you evaluated 50 players.
Try doing that during the season, in this economy, when administrators are slashing budgets at the non-BCS level. Not everyone has a private plane with a school emblem, a pilot and a booster willing to foot the bill for multiple recruiting trips each month. In the real word, outside of the 10 biggest conferences, coaches use a Garmin, eat at Subway and actually check the Internet for the best hotel rates.
Forget the 25 or even the 100 best kids in the country. Leave it to the recruiting services to figure that out. What about a kid who simply wants a chance to play college basketball and knows that traveling team ball in the summer is his ticket?
That same kid who plays for a small high school team in the middle of nowhere, during July, has the chance to latch on with a traveling team and play for his scholarship. Whether he plays for a shoe-sponsored traveling team or one that does a raffle to pay for their flights, the point is he's playing in front of decision-makers and it's his chance for his one shining moment.
The NABC touts that July is the most-regulated period of any by the NCAA. You have to be stupid to walk up to a kid during a July AAU event and speak with him or his parents. Now, during the spring when you're at his high school and no one is around, what do you think is going to happen? That's right, there's going to be what amounts to a home visit right there, in plain sight, after a workout.
Let's not be naive, it happens. Do that at a sanctioned AAU event and it’s called a secondary violation. Do it at a high school, with the prospect or his coach around, and it's called working.
Just because one kid in the family misbehaves doesn't mean mom and dad cancel Christmas. Leave July to the coaches who want to work and build their programs. Those who oppose evaluating in July can stay home.
Those who want to work and see players need a window before the start of a prospect's senior year to see him in action, preferably against players of the same skill level.
Our suggestion: Snip 10 days off the July period, give the coaches two weekends to watch traveling team ball in the spring and let's see what happens.
It's a fair compromise.