To the majority of SEC coaches: We get it. You didn’t want anything to do with satellite camps from the very beginning. Jim Harbaugh ripped his shirt off in Prattville, Alabama, last summer and you screamed bloody murder. You fought to keep camps from happening again this year, pointing out (correctly) that they’re merely recruiting opportunities, and you nearly won the debate. Only the NCAA decided to let them proceed anyway. You were forced into joining this new traveling circus when most of you clearly didn't want to leave the comfort of your own campus.
It makes sense, of course. There’s not a conference in the country that compares to the combined recruiting efforts of the SEC, and it’s been that way for at least a decade. Three teams from the SEC are among the top five in ESPN’s latest class rankings (Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss). So why do something different? Why add to the already incredible workload that recruiting demands when it’s not clear these camps make a difference?
Well, to put it bluntly, it’s because the league’s coaches look a little lackadaisical right now. Rather than face the facts -- that satellite camps are permissible events to evaluate recruits and increase awareness of a program’s brand -- they’d rather go through the motions and pretend to care. A few head coaches have popped in at camps for an hour or so and left, while some haven’t bothered to show up at all. Nick Saban said he won’t go, and more often than not it’s been Alabama staffers who attend camps, not even assistant coaches.
And don’t think for a second that this behavior is going unnoticed. Just look at what Harbaugh said while at a camp in Texas:
“It’s just picking up steam,” he said of his nationwide tour. “Loving every minute of it. I mean, if you don’t like this, coming out coaching and teaching, then you might have gotten into the wrong profession. This profession may not be for you. If you’re tiring of doing this or you think this is a grind or you’re ready for it to be over, you might have picked the wrong profession.”
Yeah, shots fired. And that’s only what Harbaugh told the media, to say nothing of what he and others are whispering to recruits.
The SEC is getting owned on the satellite camp front. It’s as if its coaches are so convinced they don’t work that they aren’t open to the idea that something could be gained from making an actual effort.
In fact, coaches seem to be ignoring the “satellite” part altogether. While schools like Michigan, Ohio State and Oklahoma State are working to create a presence outside their normal recruiting footprint, SEC schools appear to be content just working their own backyards. Ole Miss and Mississippi State participated in a camp in Mississippi, while Georgia worked a camp in Atlanta. Florida, meanwhile, has eyed several camps in their state. It’s all so ... unimaginative.
Why not hit up Ohio? Or Texas? Or, for heaven’s sake, California? There are plenty of talent-rich areas outside the SEC-zone to explore. If it’s one star recruit you’re after, go camping in his hometown. It’s icky, but no one else seems to have a problem doing it these days.
What’s shocking is that the SEC isn’t really trying. The league that’s been seen as willing to push the envelope and exploit recruiting loopholes before (hello, oversigning) is, for some reason, sitting this one out. Working every angle and creating every little advantage possible is what pushed SEC recruiting to the behemoth it is today, yet when it comes to satellite camps it’s somehow not worth it.
The league has taken a strange, subdued, defensive posture when what's called for is going on the offensive.
If the SEC doesn’t like satellite camps, then do something about it: Show that if you want to come into the SEC’s backyard, then be prepared for every one of your recruits to become a target. Find a couple of coaches willing to be the headliners at a camp in Detroit, Columbus or, yeah, Ann Arbor. Why not send a message?
Could it all be for show? Sure. But since when was recruiting about anything other than perception, anyway?
SEC programs better start accepting camps as a reality and make them work to their advantage. It may be too late this year, but it’s not too early to start looking ahead to Spring 2017.
It wasn’t the opportunity the SEC wanted or needed, but it’s here. Time to start viewing it as a weapon instead of a chore.