Coaches aren't thrilled with proposal

After years of wooing and schmoozing, Florida coach Billy Donovan moved to the other side of the coffee table.

He was the one who was wooed and schmoozed as college coaches came to his home to court his eldest son, William, a 6-foot-1 guard with his pop's shooting prowess.

"I wanted to know, 'Are you offering us a scholarship? What's your level of interest in my son?'" Donovan said. "I wanted to know where we stood so we could move forward with a school or cross it off the list. I'm not unusual. Parents want to know. They want the information."

If a new proposal takes root, parents and prospects will be in the dark a little longer.

The Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet has put together a proposal prohibiting coaches in all sports from offering scholarships before July 1 between a recruit's junior and senior years of high school.

Stunningly, coaches aren't thrilled.
"It's like everything else," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "It's a knee-jerk deal. We make rules that affect the multitudes because of what the very few do."

UCLA senior associate athletic director Petrina Long, who chaired the cabinet, said the impetus came from prospects and coaches who complained that the pressure to accept and offer scholarships to younger and younger recruits was spinning out of control.

Two years ago, then-Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie memorably offered Michael Avery a scholarship.

Avery was in the eighth grade.

"When you're in seventh grade, how can you make a commitment for college?" said Long, whose cabinet has been looking at this issue for five years. "You don't know what major you'll want. You don't know whether physically you'll be ready. You can't know."

But basketball coaches -- quick to acknowledge the inanity of offering a middle schooler and appreciating the intent of the proposal -- find a rash of problems with both the impetus and the language of the proposal.

For starters, the idea that a prospect can't be offered a scholarship until he finishes his junior year contradicts the NCAA's very definition of a prospect.

According to Bylaw 13.02.11, "a prospective student-athlete is a student who has started classes for the ninth grade."

So if a prospective student-athlete can't be offered a scholarship, who can?

"I can see how in some sports you aren't physically mature and coaches don't know," Donovan said. "But basketball is different. You mean to tell me if you were recruiting LeBron when he was a freshman or sophomore, you wouldn't know if he was going to be good enough?"

Coaches are disputing the claims that prospects are being pressured to decide before they are ready.

Every kid is different. Some love the attention and the process and wait until the last deadline to announce in spectacular multimedia fashion where they are going to school; others are so sick of the recruiting treadmill they can't wait to put the questions to bed.

But every kid -- according to coaches who are seasoned in the business of recruiting -- wants to know who is offering him a scholarship and who isn't.

"They want to know right off the bat," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "Parents will say to you, 'Are you offering him a scholarship? Because if you're not, we're going to move on to someone who is more serious about our son.'"

Which leads to the second problem.
"If someone asks me if I'm going to offer a kid, how do I answer that question?" Donovan said. "What's the right thing to say?"

Technically, the right answer would be "no," since offering a scholarship would be against NCAA rules.

But like much of the NCAA rulebook, this proposal seems ripe for a loophole-exposing game of semantics.

"We understand that there are some ways around this," Long said. "But we hope that coaches will be on board with the spirit and ethics of this. We're all adults here, and it's time we start honoring the spirit of these ideas."

Which is great in theory, but in practice, there's a reason the NCAA manual is thicker than the Chinese phone book.

"If there's a kid in this state who from his freshman year said he wants to be here, that [as] he's grown up he's always wanted to be part of this program, what am I supposed to say?" Huggins said. "Am I supposed to tell him, 'Talk to me in two or three years'? That's not going to happen."

No, what will happen is a coach will tell a recruit that, per NCAA rule, he can't officially offer a scholarship until July 1 before the recruit's senior year but -- wink, wink -- you have a scholarship waiting for you.

And since nothing really means anything until the letter of intent is signed, what's the difference?

The good news -- nothing is set in stone. The cabinet will meet again in September, and any proposal won't go formally before the membership for a vote until January.

In between, the cabinet members will meet with the various coaches' associations to hear their concerns and issues and also put together a best-practices document -- basically a how-to guide for following this should it become an actual NCAA rule.

"It's not going to be something everyone embraces. I understand that," Long said. "But we are very early in this process. There's a lot more time for people to comment or make alternate proposals."

As coaches dive into the summer recruiting period -- when they will kibbitz and commiserate on bleachers while watching the next best thing -- expect plenty of both.

"I don't know what we're trying to accomplish," said Donovan, whose son ultimately chose Catholic University. "I get that they don't want us going to eighth-grade camps and offering kids scholarships, but what I see is they keep cutting away from communication more and more with people. That's why so many bad decisions are being made. People want information. I know I did."

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.