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Restricting the Madness After March

August 7, 2008

When the college basketball season ends, another whole season begins, and the action is arguably just as competitive and vital to the success of a team as its play on the court. Now, recent rules changes stipulating what coaches can and cannot do during this period are up for review, and disagreement reigns among the ranks of those in the college basketball world. As is often the case in college sports, principle and money are clashing.

As many male high school and junior college players enter their off-season training schedules and some consider the possibility of playing at the next level, college coaches often trek great distances around the country to check out athletes they might want to recruit to play on their teams. The recruiting season typically peaks in April, just after the nationally televised excitement of March Madness and the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Men’s Basketball Championship game.

During this period, there are a number of school- and non-school-related tournaments and games at which the best and brightest high school, preparatory school, and junior college talents gather to expose themselves to potential recruiters. Still, in recent years, there has been such a growth in the number of non-school-related events that the NCAA decided to take action to block coaches from attending.

In April, the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors adopted a new rule altering its recruiting legislation, explicitly prohibiting men’s basketball coaches from attending what it termed “nonscholastic” events. The rule, which took effect August 1, limits coaches to evaluating prospective athletes only at regularly scheduled practices, games, tournaments and other “scholastic” events associated with the prospective athlete's school.

The rationale for this rule change, according to those who recommended it to the board, was to address concern that some athletes were missing significant amounts of class time, putting their academic careers in jeopardy, so that they could travel to these popular “nonscholastic” recruiting events. Additionally, the Division I Men’s Basketball Issues Committee also said that these April events put a strain on the coaches and their own athletes during the stress of final exams and the end of the academic year.

The Issues Committee’s rationale, as published in their support of the April rule change, notes that the extension of the official April recruiting period, in length and in the types of restricted events, was originally meant to make room for now-defunct rules governing the recruitment of high school juniors. Now that such off-campus and in-person contact with juniors has been rescinded, it argued that the April rule change would return official recruitment period restrictions to their rightful prior state.

When the board adopted the rule change in April, however, there was still disagreement. There is a two-month period during which Division I member institutions can submit “override requests” to the board, said Erik Christianson, the NCAA's director of public and media relations. He added that at least 30 requests automatically trigger a board review of the rule change, and at least 100 requests suspend the legislation. This period of open comment is an integral part of the multistep Division I legislative process. As of June 23, the official end of the “override period,” 62 requests had been submitted, meaning that the board must review this recruiting rule change at its next meeting, which is today.

Arguably this change affects coaches the most, as it limits their recruiting activity during a crucial time of the year. The National Association of Basketball Coaches, which represents the almost 330 Division I men’s basketball head coaches and their assistants, conducted a survey last year when the rule change was being debated and 61 percent of its members favored it, said Jim Haney, the group’s executive director.

The annual survey, which takes the pulse of head coaches on any number of NCAA measures being considered, usually has a participation rate of “a little more than 50 percent,” he said, noting that it is generally reflective of the feelings of the whole coaching population. The NABC, Haney said, typically does not champion causes unless there is at least an expressed opinion of at least two-thirds of its member coaches. Because support for this matter fell short of that threshold, the association did not articulate an official position.

Haney acknowledged, though, that money was a factor in the diverging views about the proposal. Although coaches in some of the country's richest sports programs also are reluctant to limit recruiting, Haney said, much of the opposition comes from coaches of programs that are outside the major conferences, who argue that the change could increase the cost of recruiting by limiting the ability for them to attend “nonscholastic” events that typically gather top basketball talent together at a central location.

“Some schools can’t afford for their head coach to -- nor should their head coach -- be away every night to see one or two prospects,” Phil Martelli, head men's basketball coach at Saint Joseph's University, told The NCAA News. “To me, the gathering of a number of teams at one location certainly helps some schools financially. They can see 20 games over the course of a weekend as opposed to going to one high school and seeing six or seven kids.”

Today, at its meeting, the Division I Board of Directors will reconsider this recruiting rule change and has three courses of action, according to Christianson. It can overturn the legislation, amend the legislation (sending it back for another “override period”) or defer a decision until the 2009 NCAA convention, at which all Division I members present can vote on the matter.

 

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