USC summit takes on 7-on-7 football

The surest route for just about any investigation? Follow the money. When money started flowing in and out of prep 7-on-7 football tournaments, the NCAA raised an eyebrow.

Yet once the NCAA and universities recognized that 7-on-7 tournaments were quickly becoming the football equivalent of the sleaze of AAU basketball, the question became what would everyone do. It hasn't been easy finding answers. For one, these enterprises mostly operate off campuses and away from NCAA jurisdiction.

"It's a pretty complex topic," said Mark Jackson, USC's senior associate athletic director, and one of the hosts of the summit called, "The Impact Of 7-On-7 Organizations On College Football Recruiting" on Tuesday at the Galen Center.

First of all, 7-on-7 football isn't some type of satanic cult. There are positives.

  • It gives players more exposure, which increases scholarship opportunities.

  • If a player's high school team is mostly run-based, it gives quarterbacks and wide receivers a chance to shine in pass-first games.

  • Players who are competing in 7-on-7 football aren't doing other things where they might get in trouble.

  • Many of the coaches and organizers are in it for the right reasons: To help young people.

  • 7-on-7 football is fun.

Of course, the negatives are why athletic directors; compliance officers and head football coaches from the Pac-12 and Big Ten; NCAA enforcement staff; representatives from the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten conference offices; operators of 7-on-7 organizations; and high school coaches gathered for an invitation-only event at USC.

  • 7-on-7 football can marginalize high school coaches.

  • It allows for the insinuation of third parties -- read: "street agents" -- to work themselves into a young athlete's recruiting process.

  • It's become a big-money operation, which creates plenty of opportunities for NCAA rules to be bent, twisted and broken.

"The conversations got heated and spirited but it was good to understand the landscape," Jackson said.

So what ideas came up during this "heated and spirited" discussion? More than a few.

For one, there needs to be communication between the high school coaches and the 7-on-7 coaches. One major problem when a young man becomes a recruit is it seems two separate coaches now speak for the player. Often these coaches are at odds. A 7-on-7 coach might tell a player that he should change high schools. Or a 7-on-7 coach might tell a college team that he represents a young man, not the high school coach.

Further, things get complicated when young men on tour with 7-on-7 teams show up for unofficial visits on campuses. Who pays for these visits? Perhaps it might help to make changes to the official recruiting calendar so these visits fall more under the NCAA rules umbrella.

Finally, as 7-on-7 tournaments get bigger -- and richer -- it makes sense for them to get more organized and standardized. And supervised. Wouldn't it make sense for the NFL to get involved? After all, it is the chief steward of the game.

When it started, 7-on-7 football was small and all the money was coming from grassroots fundraising. Now it's a big business, with companies like Under Armour and IMG involved. Pining for simpler times isn't going to help. So universities and the NCAA are trying to find common ground with organizers, creating rules and oversight that might prevent 7-on-7 football from tumbling into the corrupt morass of AAU basketball.

"These things are not going away," Jackson said. "This is free enterprise."

Free enterprise operating parallel to the complicated and controversial "amateurism" of college sports' cash cow, but that's a topic for another day.