My initial reaction to the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors' recent approval of changes for its member institutions and how they are able to recruit and serve scholarship student-athletes is a mixed bag. From the obvious changes that were a long-time coming to the quick fixes you’d expect from a successful, image-conscience organization, the NCAA is making a solid attempt to reduce its disconnect with the student-athletes at its member institutions but still has some ways to go.
The changes include:
•Increasing academic minimum requirements
•Invoking multi-year scholarships
•Giving coaches the ability to send unlimited texts and make phone calls to potential recruits after June 15 of their sophomore season beginning on that date next year.
•Giving conferences the ability to vote on an additional $2,000 stipend to each individual scholarship.
Academics: Early Emphasis Necessary
The new eligibility standards increase the minimum G.P.A. for incoming freshmen from 2.0 to 2.3. The new minimum requirements will only increase the potential pool of players, parents and high school coaches that might circumvent rules in order to ensure a recruit’s eligibility. A difference of .3 to a student-athlete's high school GPA is not a powerful indicator of his or her education level or an accurate predictor of one's ability to successfully handle a normal college curriculum.
An emphasis on taking academics seriously needs to be instilled in high school athletes right away so the many instances we've seen in recent years of potential recruits trying to circumvent the process on the back end of their prep careers is reduced.
Why do you think so many basketball players transfer late in their high school careers or take a post-graduate year? You don't think they would rather be in college? It's because they didn't take care of their business academically in ninth and 10th grade.
Colleges: Do The Right Thing
When ESPNHS.com asks current and former scholarship student-athletes to give advice to youngsters hoping to earn one, one of the first points usually mentioned is the terms of their own scholarship agreement. They want high school-aged athletes to know their scholarship is renewable year-to-year and how you perform on the field is critical in the college experience.
Let's hope colleges choose to award multi-year scholarships so student-athletes can spend more time focusing on the primary reason they are supposed to be on campus for: to receive an education.
Taking advantage of a free education is the prerogative of each player, but the majority of scholarship athletes in revenue-generating sports still believe education takes a back seat to making money for the university and their coaches. Many coaches' salaries are in the high six or even seven figures.
Evaluation Period: Student-Athletes First
Re-opening the April evaluation period is a no-brainer, but cutting back the live July period means college staffs just lost four evaluation days. The jury is still out if that change will hurt colleges’ recruiting efforts. Regardless of colleges’ concerns, what is best for the student-athlete should come first.
We’d like to see basketball players compete in a few less games in the spring and summer, not only to avoid injury and burnout, but to spend more time understanding what it takes to earn a scholarship academically and make sure they are on track to meet the new, tougher minimum requirements.
Today’s Student-Athletes: Tech Savvy
Since coaches will be able to make unlimited calls or send unlimited texts to high school recruits after June 15 of their sophomore year, the first thing college coaches should realize is high school student-athletes are more tech savvy than they are. The smart phone of a hotshot recruit is an effective tool for building a closer relationship. If the technology is abused or overused, it can easily become a recruiting hinderance.
In light of these new contact rules, the high-major boys' basketball recruits of recent seasons all have tales of random people calling their contact number and the annoying assistant coach that painted his school in a bad light. High school students are smarter and more mature than ever, so recruiters have to conform to the times (which I think they are) or quickly find themselves out of a job.
Stipend: Quick Fix To Huge Problem
The $2,000 stipend is not mandatory and non-BCS conferences are more likely to opt out of its approval compared to the power conferences, further increasing the disparity between the "haves" and "have-nots."
Title IX also must be taken into consideration if the stipend is approved and, let's be honest, $2,000 to student-athletes in the revenue-generating sports of football and men's basketball will not be a major deterrent from the temptations of agents, their runners and other hangers-on looking to make money off student-athletes' future potential earnings.
The stipend opportunity comes off as the NCAA's quick fix to recent scandals at high-profile universities, which involved high-profile recruits. Plenty of student-athletes should benefit from its implementation, but what about those who have more to gain (or lose) than $2,000?
What Can Stop These Incidents?
The recent Washington Post article detailing agent Joel Bell's wrongful termination lawsuit against current Minnesota Timberwolves forward and former client Michael Beasley and his countersuit, is only surprising in its timing. Unfortunately, I expected something of this nature to involve Beasley before the eve of his fourth NBA season.
The high school Class of 2007, in which Beasley was part of as a post-graduate from Notre Dame Prep (Fitchburg Mass.) via Frederick, Md., is easily one of the best of all-time in regards to program-altering recruits. Beasley developed into a national recruit and a consensus college All-American in his only season at Kansas State, all while, according to Beasley’s countersuit, his AAU coach and father figure, Curtis Malone of the D.C. Assault, steered him to a particular agent -- in this case Bell.
Beasley's countersuit contends he felt "betrayed" by Malone and Bell when he found out his mother, Fatima Smith, was financially aided by Bell when she moved to Manhattan, Kan., with her immediate family. That feeling of betrayal is the same one described by Kevin Love, now Beasley’s NBA teammate, about his former AAU coach Pat Barrett, in this March 2009 article.
Another player in the conversation as 2007's best, Eric Gordon of North Central (Indianapolis), was involved in a messy recruitment by the University of Illinois and Indiana University. Gordon eventually signed with the Hoosiers after changing his original commitment. Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson was criticized for what was viewed by some as unethical recruiting.
In May 2008, after one season at the University of Southern California, explosive allegations were made on ESPN's Outside the Lines by former Long Beach, Calif., prep sportswriter Louis Johnson about his former associate, Los Angeles-based events promoter Rodney Guillory, lavishing 2007 ESPNHS Mr. Basketball USA O.J. Mayo with cash and gifts while he was an amateur player in order to steer him to agent Calvin Andrews of Bill Duffy Associates. Before the 2008 NBA Draft in which Mayo was selected No. 3 behind Beasley, Mayo parted ways with BDA.
The top pick of that NBA Draft was Derrick Rose, the former Simeon (Chicago) standout who was also in the conversations for national player of the year honors in 2006-07 with Love and Mayo. Rose spent one season at Memphis, helping the Tigers to the 2008 NCAA title game, before the NCAA vacated Memphis' entire season because of Rose's invalidated standardized test score.
There was also a separate investigation by the Chicago Public Schools District Board of Education involving grade changing of four students at Simeon, including Rose and two of his teammates. If the grade-changing is indeed true in Rose's case, do you think for a minute a grade change from a "D" to a "C" grade wouldn't have happened if it meant the difference between a qualifying 2.3 GPA (instead of a 2.2) or a 2.0 (instead of the dreaded 1.9)?
All the top recruits from the '07 class were involved in incidents relating to early agent infiltration, under-the-table college recruiting, or unethical educational practices. And that's just a snap shot of what's been going on.
Granted, not all student-athletes will one day earn millions of dollars like the above-mentioned players have. But even with a second-round NBA Draft pick, dealing in five and six figure amounts as it pertains to contracts and agents’ retainer fees is commonplace.
There has to be a more practical, thought-out solution than a $2,000 stipend that might or might not be awarded.
The recent approval of changes is a step in the right direction, but it won’t stop instances similar to the ones described above because today's student-athletes understand their earning potential and exercise the power it possesses better than any generation in the history of intercollegiate athletics.