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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The NCAA is at it Again -- More of a Plantation Mentality for Football

The NCAA has banned satellite football camps.  This august body made this ruling in response to numerous protests about Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was holding football camps for high schoolers outside Ann Arbor, in essence going where groups of talented players live.  Many of the major conferences supported this rule, if only to protect their home turf and to get some version of exclusivity over their own backyards.  Hugh Freeze, the Ole Miss coach, got lambasted on "Mike & Mike" on ESPN Radio this morning for allegedly having said that his life is exhausting as it is, and by passing this rule the NCAA helps him sleep in his own bed at night during the off-season because he won't have to hold camps on the road.  Or something like that. 

Another part of the ban on satellite camps is the prohibition on permitting other coaches from other teams attend your camp.  So, for example, every year Ohio State holds a camp for high school players, and that camp has many sessions.  The custom has been for OSU to permit coaches from other colleges -- including the Mid-American Conference, FCS schools and in all likelihood DIII schools -- to attend the camps.  Why?  Because mostly all of the kids at Ohio State's camp will not get a chance to play in Columbus.  As a result, the Ohio State camp would turn into a showcase camp of sorts to give prospects the opportunity to prove to some coach that they were worthy of a full ride, a partial scholarship or even a preferred chance at admission to a college.  That seemed to make sense.  After all, the time parents have to allot to driving their kids from camp to camp is limited, and, in this fashion, the undersized offensive lineman who shows well in Columbus but is not on Ohio State's list might end up with a scholarship, say, to Akron, or getting preferred admission to Kenyon.  Right now, that will not happen any more. 

The sad thing about this is that at a time when college football has had many controversies and problems -- from concussions to scandals to problems with one-year non-renewable scholarships to overly lavish facilities to the unionization attempt by Northwestern players to the fact that most FCS programs lose money -- the NCAA just pours gasoline onto the fire and draws attention to an area that it should have left alone for a while.  As Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic argued eloquently this morning, the NCAA should be about protecting the kids and offering them the most opportunities to shine.  Instead, it opted to protect the oligarchy of programs that wants to protect their own turfs and grossly overpaid coaches who seemingly care much more about perpetuating their own glory and records and job tenure than doing the right thing.  That's the tragedy in all of this.

There are showcase tournaments in other sports.  For example, if your daughter is a great softball player, she'll find her way onto an elite travel team (the very tough if not awful part here is that for the privilege the parents might have to pay $15,000 a year) and end up playing in showcase tournaments in the summer where all of the college coaching staffs attend.  Those tournaments guarantee that your kid will get a chance, in essence, to audition for college coaches around the country.  And, yes, it does involve, in most circumstances, traveling from place to place to hit a good number of tournaments.  The question is, why can't football players go to say a handful of camps to get showcased and then take the rest of the summer to be, well, teenagers.

I was talking with an FCS coach a few years ago about quarterback prospects around the country.  He relayed to me the story of one kid who showed very well at his camp, and he was hoping that he would have an in because of some loose family connections to the school and because his camp was the last camp the kid attended.  Now, mind you, this was a rising high school senior, and he attended about 16 camps in one summer.  The coach marveled that this quarterback prospect's arm was not about to fall off.  I secretly wondered about the toll on the family and the cost to the parents -- in terms of money and family togetherness time.  And for what, really? 

Maybe the kid gets a free ride, but, if he does, the coaching staff will own this kid forever, because that free ride can be yanked year to year.  Or, suppose the kid gets romanced and then the reality of the school differs from what he was shown.  Then what?  Or suppose he gets beaten out?  He could end up transferring.  At some point, when does this kid get off the treadmill that his gifts and his parents and he himself have put him on and start figuring out what he's going to do with this life?  Never mind the possible long-term effects of too many jarring hits to his body and frequent hits to his head.  All so that he can put that he played college football on his resume or because his parents have perhaps something more interesting to talk about at the market than the parents whose kid works twenty hours a week at the market and commutes to school? 

But back to the ruling.  It does not make any sense, and it only hurts the kids, both in terms of their choices and their ability to showcase themselves for coaches at all levels without incurring a huge expense in the summer time.  Is there anything wrong with that? 

The conventional wisdom is that you are supposed to build a house according to its blueprints so that you'll know what it looks like when it is finished and that you'll be able to have a decent handle on your costs and the timeline for completion.  I wonder if the NCAA has any blueprints that its building off of, because it's hard to see a pretty end result coming from a ruling like this. 

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