For 20 angst-ridden April days, satellite camps -- freakin’ satellite camps! -- filled the college football news cycle. Digest that for a moment.
We now await the satellite camp miniseries starring Bill Paxton as Jim Harbaugh and Christopher Meloni as Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.
Early Thursday afternoon, the NCAA Division I Board briefly diverted attention from the NFL draft by rescinding a ban on satellite camps. The NCAA’s Division I Council had imposed the ban on April 8 following a highly controversial vote. The ban led to widespread outcry, Scott’s stunning public rebuke of UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, and a report that the U.S. Department of Justice would open an informal inquiry into the decision.
It’s hard to find a less significant issue generating so much interest, even in college football’s offseason Sahara. But because of the characters, politics and commentary, satellite camps were the talk of spring football.
Here are five takeaways from the saga:
1. This was all about Jim Harbaugh: Satellite camps aren’t new. They’ve been around for years in various forms, unnoticed by non-recruitniks other than the occasional awkward picture of Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke eating chicken together at a camp. The camps connected coaches and recruits, but not in large numbers and rarely at elite levels. Only after Harbaugh completed his summer swarm tour in 2015, mainly through the recruit-rich South, did anxiety begin to build, particularly in SEC circles. The belief around college football is if not for Harbaugh satellite camps never would have been banned and then unbanned. By exploiting a rare SEC recruiting weakness (an inability to hold such camps) right in the SEC’s backyard, Harbaugh put the league on the defensive.
2. Voting reform is needed in the NCAA’s new governance structure: Satellite camps aren’t a seismic issue, but the April 8 vote provided the first wide-angle view of the NCAA’s new governance structure, designed to streamline and speed up the legislative process. Instead, the vote featured Guerrero, the Pac-12 representative, choosing to ban camps even though every other school in the league supported their continuation. Sun Belt representative Larry Teis of Texas State also voted for the ban even though most league schools (and Texas State coach Everett Withers) approved of the camps. Although Scott went too far in calling out Guerrero, he was right in saying the representatives are supposed to reflect their leagues’ wishes, not make their own judgment calls. The bungled vote raises concern about the council and its approach as much more important recruiting items, like an early signing period, will be considered in the coming months.
3. The Pac-12’s internal strife is bubbling: The satellite camp silliness provided a window into the Pac-12’s inner workings. There had been whispers about tension between Scott and some athletic directors, but nothing had entered the public sphere until last week. Scott, attending the College Football Playoff meetings, ripped Guerrero for not voting “the way he was supposed to vote.” Commissioners rarely call out schools or individuals, and Scott isn’t known for headline-making statements. His rebuke drew a strong response within the league. Scott retains support among Pac-12 presidents, but he’s no longer the golden boy commissioner, especially with the Pac-12 Network's distribution struggles and other issues. It’s worth monitoring where this goes, especially with the Pac-12 holding its spring meetings next week in Arizona.
4. The SEC can’t control every element of the recruiting process: Satellite camps should never have been on the voting agenda this spring. The Power-5 leagues had agreed to a comprehensive review of all recruiting-related issues, rather than a series of “one-off” votes. The review would conclude with a series of reforms in January at the NCAA Convention. But because the summer is approaching, the SEC led the charge for an earlier ruling, using sanctimonious arguments about recruiting, a soiled industry where every league looks for advantages. The SEC deserves credit for pushing its agenda and, ultimately, a vote on the camps, but other conferences should have pushed harder for patience. Ultimately, it took the NCAA board to make the right call and force the SEC to join the other leagues in holding satellite camps (which its coaches already were prepared to do).
5. This is a win for the Group of 5: Nevada’s Brian Polian was among the first coaches to celebrate the rescinding of the satellite camp ban.
Viva Las Vegas - Friday Night Lights is back on! The Pack will be hosting a 1-day camp in Las Vegas on June 24th! pic.twitter.com/UX9dAfD3QI— Brian Polian (@BrianPolian) April 28, 2016
The April 8 vote might have been a dig at Harbaugh, but it hurt Group of 5 programs like Nevada’s much more. The absolute ban prevented Group of 5 coaches from working remote camps, where they often find prospects they wouldn’t have otherwise. Even SEC coaches like Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze called for an amendment to the ban, which would allow Group of 5 coaches to attend camps on Power-5 campuses. The ban hurt the little guys way more than the name-brand programs. Fortunately, it’s no longer in place.