Rare or nonexistent is the women's college basketball coach who believes the current system of recruiting is perfect or even works as intended. Sure, prospects get identified and receive scholarships. But there still are far too many transfers, too many club coaches and event operators with their hands out, and a summer circuit badly in need of overhaul.
This was the clear message when, as part of its eight-part discussion of recruiting issues, ESPN HoopGurlz asked more than 20 college head and assistant coaches and recruiting coordinators what one thing they would change in the recruiting process.
No single issue captured the hearts of a clear majority of respondents. Rather, the answers all were related around how well recruiters were able to connect with recruits, either because of timing, number of contacts permitted, flagging efficiency of the summer exposure circuit or what perceived as self-serving interference by club (and sometimes high-school) coaches. The consequence, the coaches said, is too many decisions being made on too little information with the fallout being the rash of transfers that plagues the sport every year.
"Transfers are out of control," one coach said. "Even though some coaches would abuse it, lightening or changing the contact restrictions would allow that relationship to be established more in line with the timeline recruits are making decisions. I also would love to have official visits start in spring of junior year, again to be in line with when kids are committing and to assure the kids without the money have the chance to see what they need to see before the process becomes overwhelming. Too many kids are committing off of a few phone calls or one unofficial visit. I wouldn't care if opening early offers cost the process either the fall or spring viewing periods."
Allowing official visits in the spring of a high-school player's junior year was a fairly common theme. Recruits are committing earlier, the argument goes. Some are able to perform due diligence by taking unofficial visits, but many cannot afford to take such visits and are being pressured anyway to make pledges.
Two assistant coaches favored increasing the number of evaluation days from five to seven during the academic calendar.
Club basketball and the summer circuit received a lot of criticism from coaches.
"Control AAU coaches and the influence they have," one head coach said, echoing a common complaint. "I hate going through them for everything. So many are obviously in it for themselves."
Eliminating or overhauling summer club basketball was high on the list of many college coaches. Several suggested retaining a summer circuit, but having teams run by high school coaches, whom they felt were "less self-serving," as one head coach put it. Others favored placing most or all of the recruiting emphasis on high-school basketball. One mid-major head coach said such a shift would regionalize recruiting, eliminating a common scenario in which smaller schools spent considerable time and expense on wooing a prospect only to have the recruit "stolen away" by a larger school during a single, large exposure event.
Several college coaches were wistful for the days when the Amateur Athletic Association (AAU) provided more structure to the spring and summer with its system of qualifiers and national championships, club registration and a set of rules that made for competition that was far more uniform than the current scene, which seems far more chaotic in comparison. Coaches also liked the structure of AAU events, with multiple games of scheduled pool play that makes a tournament easier to cover and staff.
Some coaches hoped re-framing summer competition also would eliminate what they consider shady practices by some event operators. These include, as one coach put it, "the $600 packets with bad phone numbers and incomplete information." Another complained about favorable seating and pricing for coaches who subscribed to an event operator's scouting service.
One coach said cutting down the number of games permitted during the summer would help decrease injuries and remove a sense of obligation with which she believed many players were performing. Another suggested limiting the summer to three events -- one by Nike, one by the AAU and another by another sneaker company.
In seven previous installments, college coaches and recruiting coordinators discussed topics with ESPN HoopGurlz such as the ideal recruit, early offers and the role of race or sexual orientation in recruiting. Given their responses, plus their professional missions, it's probably no surprise that their ideas about changing the process of wooing players revolves around connecting with them better -- and avoiding the consequences of not doing so.
Though a lot of the discussion centered on preemptive measures such as developing better relationships and offering more information to the recruits, some college coaches advocated changing the rules regarding transferring.
"It's become too easy to transfer and the implications are not what they should be so the attitude is if I get it wrong, so what?" one coach said.
That said, college coaches focused during this discussion on improving connections with recruits. They believe there are too few opportunities to engage. They also believe there are too many layers -- high school coach, club coach, mom, dad, personal trainer -- between them and the players and that, consequently, players take less ownership over their own recruitment.
"As a coach, I'd like to be able to get to know the kids better," one head coach said. "As a Mom, I would like that happening to my kids. They have so many things thrown at them at an age when they don't know the answers."
One coach summarized the disconnect: "Only four percent of [an average Division I player's] hours [at a university] are spent in games. But most recruits decide on what school to go to based on the four percent not the 96. I would try to get recruits, parents, and coaches to care more about most important parts of the college basketball experience. It is like this big mansion that looks amazing on the outside, but is hollow with no furniture, it's cold, and it is lonely once you are inside. I hear that over and over again. The outside of the mansion is the four percent and the games, records or wins. But there are so many levels of this experience. I wish recruits thought through the day to day, how they would be taught, what they would be valued for, how basketball at that school will prepare them for life. I just think it gets turned around in the recruiting process far too often."
Interviewers for ESPN HoopGurlz included Lisa Bodine, Chris Hansen, Kara Howe, Mark Lewis, Glenn Nelson and Kelvin Powell.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A graduate of Seattle University and Columbia University, he formerly coached girls' club basketball, was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of an online sports network, authored a basketball book for kids, has had his photography displayed at the Smithsonian Institute, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.