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.