What you need to know about satellite camps

You can thank Penn State coach James Franklin for introducing the term “satellite camp” into the college football lexicon last year.

And you can probably thank Jim Harbaugh for making satellite camps a national topic of conversation when Michigan upped the ante on the Big Ten and other programs nationally by announcing its seven-state, nine-camp tour set for June. It caused a bit of an uproar among ACC and SEC programs.

Maybe you still don’t understand the source of all this fuss.

Let us explain. There are no actual satellites involved, though Big Ten coaches -- judging by their exuberance to get off campus and visit with potential recruits in the summer months -- would likely journey into orbit if the venue existed for such an event.

Q: What are they?

A: Satellite camps simply allow college coaches to travel long distances to work as guests at camps hosted by other institutions. For instance, Penn State coaches last year were invited to attend camps at Stetson and Georgia State as instructors. Michigan is making stops this year at high schools and small colleges in the South, California and Detroit. Nebraska plans to take its staff to a camp at Georgia State in June.

Q: How are they legal?

A: NCAA rules prohibit colleges from hosting camps outside of a 50-mile radius of their campuses. Nothing, though, stops them from serving as guests at camps staged by other institutions. It’s a loophole, for sure, and likely not the intention of legislators to allow the full staff of a Power 5 program essentially to take over the camp of a smaller school.

Q: Why are they controversial?

A: ACC and SEC rules prohibit their coaches from stepping outside the 50-mile radius, even if invited as guests. You can see the problem. While Michigan coaches can get face to face with prospects at a camp in Prattville, Alabama -- conveniently home to a high school power powerhouse -- coaches from Alabama and Auburn must stay home, because Tuscaloosa sits 90 miles from Prattville, and Auburn is 70 miles away.

Q: Why don’t the ACC and SEC like them?

A: Do you want neighbors picking vegetables, uninvited, out of your garden? The high concentration of top recruits in the South and competitive nature of recruiting lead coaches to take a territorial approach to players near their campuses. It’s in the best interest of Alabama if Florida – or Ohio State, for that matter -- doesn’t set up shop for a day in Birmingham. Same goes for the Gators not wanting someone else hanging out in Orlando or Tampa. Consider it something of a gentleman’s agreement amid leagues in which recruiters rarely act like gentlemen.

Q: Why are they beneficial?

A: The summer has become an increasingly key time in recruiting. As colleges extend scholarship offers regularly to high school sophomores and juniors, prospects are choosing schools earlier and earlier. And with conference commissioners set in June to vote on a proposed early signing period, the recruiting process could accelerate even more. Yet official recruiting visits (paid by the school) are not allowed until the fall of a prospect’s senior year. Many recruits opt to pay their own way to campuses in the summer for official visits. While the guest coaches can't register prospects for satellite camps, through permissible correspondence, a recruit's attendance could be encouraged. The events then allow recruits to meet college coaches in a football environment without traveling long distances and, in some cases, make more educated decisions about investing money in unofficial visits.

Q: Where do other leagues stand?

A: Big 12 programs allow their coaches to participate as guests in far-flung camps, though the league’s programs have been slow to act. The stance of Pac-12 coaches and administrators appears less clear. The vote of the Pac-12, if satellite camps turn into an issue addressed by the Division I autonomy panel, could prove vital.

Q: What comes next?

A: Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany offered a hint, suggesting that the issue of satellite camps could open the door to discussion on numerous recruiting topics. Delany mentioned access to recruits, which could involve earlier official visits, the early signing period and over-signing -- all issues on which the Big Ten finds itself potentially at odds with the ACC and SEC. Is a compromise in order? We’ll ditch satellite camps if you concede on the early signing period and give us summer visits. It’s a provocative idea. The ACC and SEC might resist compromise, instead opting to put satellite camps to a vote if those leagues feel they have support nationally to close the loophole. Expect more debate at conference and national meetings, with possible resolution at the 2016 NCAA convention in January.