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The revised July recruiting proposal will shift power from shady AAU coaches to shady high school coaches

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The looming changes to the college basketball’s offseason recruiting calendar has been the single biggest topic of discussion in the sport over the course of the last six weeks, as college coaches, AAU programs and NCAA enforcement staff all try to figure out what, exactly, the lay of the land is going to look like come the spring of 2019.

And it looks like we now have an answer: The NCAA will be eliminating one of the live periods from July entirely and restructuring the month so that there is one five-day period where coaches are allowed to be on the road evaluating players at non-scholastic events — read that as shoe company-sponsored AAU tournaments — and another where they will be allowed to evaluate at regional and national camps.

In essence, the updated proposal is the same as the proposal that was leaked in June, with coaches now being allowed to attend Peach Jam and the other events that would be held that weekend.

So I don’t think I really need to go into detail about what is wrong with this. I wrote a column on it earlier this month. I recorded a podcast on it a week before that. The issues are more or less still the same, and the idea is still a bad one.

Eliminating a Las Vegas recruiting weekend isn’t going to solve any of the problems currently facing the sport, but it may just make it more profitable to turn your AAU program into a prep school that takes classes online or at a local private school.

And it may shift the balance of power from shady AAU coaches to shady high school coaches, all while making it more difficult for fringe Division I prospects to earn a scholarship and taxing the budget and resources or low- and mid-major programs even more.

Let me explain.

The overwhelming majority of college basketball coaches are against these new rules, but that doesn’t mean that they all hate what the outcome will end up being.

“I don’t care about the changes. It’s going to work itself out just fine,” one coach, who works at a high-major school, said. “I’m happy these scamming AAU motherf—ers are about to stop getting money. Exploiting these kids. Playing in multiple tournaments in one city at a time.”

The amount of money that is generated at these events would boggle your mind. There are hundreds — if not thousands — of teams that are paying entry fees to play in many of these tournaments, and those entry fees are typically more than $500 — and can approach $1,000 — per team. Then there are the coaches packets that cost a few hundred bucks a pop and are required to be purchased to gain entry to the event. The organizers of these events know that the coaches will show up where the most talent is, which is why you’ll hear about AAU coaches, and sometimes the players themselves, getting kickbacks as well as travel and hotels covered to bring their teams to a certain event.

It’s gotten to the point that the AAU coaches themselves are cashing in. They’ve seen how live period events have turned into cash-cows for the tournament operators, so multiple grassroots programs have turned to hosting their own showcase combines and selling coaches packets for them. One eight-hour camp on a Sunday that brings in a couple hundred coaches at $300 a packet is a nice little infusion of cash into that program, and that program director’s bank account.

“I’d guess maybe 25 percent of the people that buy a packet even show up to those combines,” one high-major assistant coach said.

“Do you think I’ll be able to recruit a player off of that team if I don’t pay for their packet?” another added.

And that’s to say nothing of the deals that get down off the court in Las Vegas. One of the places that the FBI caught all of these coaches was when they were summoned up to a suite at a Las Vegas hotel where Christian Dawkins and undercover FBI agents were allegedly handing out cash to assistant coaches, bribing them in exchange for influence a player’s future. That wasn’t an isolated event, which is why it’s worth noting that the new changes essentially eliminated the third July live period, which is when everyone heads to Vegas.

In its place, the NCAA will be hosting those regional and national camps, a flawed idea in its own right. No one — not coaches, not players, not evaluators — enjoys camp settings.

What’s more interesting, however, is that the newest proposals will essentially trade the second July live period for a pair of three-day live periods in June that will involve scholastic teams.

And this is where things get really tricky, and where the logic going into the latest proposal really falls apart.

Let us, for the sake of this argument, ignore some of the logistical issues involved with “scholastic” events, things as simple and basic as high schools lacking the funding to send their basketball teams away for a weekend, or the limitations that some states have on the access a high school coach has to his team in the offseason.

Instead, I want to focus on the term “scholastic”. In 2012, the NCAA made the decision that they were going to make the standards for being deemed eligible to play collegiately more difficult, effective in 2016. One of the by-products of this decision has been that we’ve seen more prep school pop-up around the country, schools with names like Aspire Academy, or Prolific Prep, or Findlay Prep, or Hillcrest Prep.

Those are high school teams, but they are not traditional high school teams with traditional high school coaches.

“Pop up schools are just a cover for the word ‘scholastic’, which is what the NCAA said you had to be in order to be evaluated from September-though-March,” one source with an intimate knowledge of the shadowy world of prep school hoops said. “So AAU teams became ‘scholastic’ by adding online classes.”

These changes will be giving more influence over players to the people that run those programs.

How are they any different than AAU coaches?

And do you think that the NCAA decision-makers realize that shoe companies sponsor high school teams as well?

I say all that to say this: What these working groups and commissions — and the people in charge NCAA in general — fail to grasp here is that the core issue here isn’t with AAU coaches or tournament organizers or shoe companies individually. The core issue is that all of those people are working in a financial ecosystem where millions of dollars are changing hands, and the athletes are not allowed to see any of it because it would jeopardize their collegiate eligibility.

That is why the FBI is investigating college basketball.

That is why Condoleeza Rice was tasked with cleaning up the game.

I applaud the effort, I really do.

But these “solutions” simply miss the mark.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.