This weekend, the Division I Leadership Council moved the NCAA one step closer to the modern era.
According to a release from the NCAA Friday, the council "reached consensus on some aspects of a new men's basketball recruiting model." The release cites the following as the issues the Leadership Council, which heard presentations from two subcommittees on all manner of men's basketball issues, was able to agree on:
A start date for official visits beginning after the men’s basketball championship in April of the junior year.
Deregulating the type of communication between coaches and prospects (including text messaging and other forms of electronic communication).
Allowing unlimited communication after Aug. 1 before the junior year in high school.
Permitting evaluations at certified nonscholastic events on two weekends in April, with some restrictions.
Permitting some contact at a prospect’s educational institution in conjunction with an evaluation, with some restrictions and requirements.
The best, or at least most encouraging, of these rules has to do with communication. We've made the arguments for deregulation of text messages and other forms of electronic communication like email and Facebook before, so I won't reprise them here. But the bottom line is that the increase in smartphone use and unlimited text messaging plans has made obsolete the old complaints about coaches deluging recruits with costly texts. Sending a direct message on Twitter, which a recruit is just as likely to see on an alert on his cell phone, is basically the exact same user experience as sending a text. Why regulate one and not the other? Open things up. The kids can handle it, you know?
Individually, each of these rules falls closer to a tweak than a wholesale overhaul. Taken together, though, the direction of these changes is clear. The Leadership Council seems genuinely invested in granting greater access between recruits and coaches. Whether that access comes at AAU tournaments in April -- a time many college coaches have espoused as a potential evaluation addition -- earlier campus visits, greater contact at a prospect's school, or via text-messaging, the general purpose is pretty obvious.
There are still a wide range of issues here. There's the July evaluation period, which the council could not reach consensus on. There's also the idea of NCAA-sponsored summer evaluation camps or tournaments, which it labeled as "aspirational" with "lots to work out." And let's not get into the wide range of problems -- powerful, monied conferences; enforcement changes; cost-of-attendance scholarships, burgeoning fan anger -- facing NCAA president Mark Emmert as he prepares for his president's retreat this week.
The NCAA might not be ready to let coaches talk to recruits year-round. Nor is it ready to totally reconsider its system. But it is beginning to make some serious progress, and that progress continued with the Leadership Council Friday. Incremental though it might be, at least it's a step in the right direction, right?