New NCAA Basketball Recruiting Rules Only Hurt The Game

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When news broke last September about an FBI probe involving college basketball’s relationship with shoe companies and agents, the knee-jerk pundits opined that the sky was falling. There was talk about how the sport would be forever changed. That the Final Four would be played under a toxic cloud.

At the risk of being promoted from Captain Obvious to General Obvious … that didn’t happen.

In response to the alleged doomsday scenario, the NCAA does what it always does. Pioneers would circle the wagons when attacked. The NCAA’s version of circling the wagons is appointing a committee; if the subject is exceptionally serious, a commission is commissioned. This time, the suits in Indianapolis appointed former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to chair the Commission on College Basketball. It was charged with finding the solutions to keep the sky over college hoops propped in its proper place.

The Rice Commission turned out to be a waste of time and effort. Plowing resolutely forward, the NCAA appointed eight working groups tasked with acting on the commission’s proposals. Sometime this month, there is expected to be proposals offered to “save” college basketball. Nothing is certain, but the main target appears to be The Summer Game, aka AAU basketball. The July recruiting period that just ended might be forever changed.

If that happens, many college coaches believe that, indeed, the sky is falling.

Instead of events like the Peach Jam in Augusta, Ga., the Great American Shootout in Duncanville, Texas and the numerous events staged in Las Vegas, the NCAA apparently wants to take control of recruiting evaluations. That’s the organization’s answer to the negative PR the FBI probe elicited.

“There is, has been and continues to be extreme overreaction,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli told CBSSports.com about the panic of his fellow coaches. “All the constituents have a say in how this is going to go. The fact that something was leaked and caused all this uproar is really unfortunate. It was not a step forward. There’s not one thing in ink. There’s a lot of things in pencil.”

Some of those pencil-sketch rough-draft proposals have been leaked. Among the rumored changes:

  • High school-based camps in June (which won’t feature tournament play and elite-team assembly) will be run by the NCAA and without any apparel company presence. 
  • The July recruiting calendar will be altered. The NCAA could run regional recruiting camps during three weekends in July with the players selected through nominations by schools and then culled by USA Basketball. There could be as many as four to six regional camps each weekend. 
  • Another proposal involves a national training camp run by USA Basketball in July inviting 80 to 120 of the nation’s top high school players. There was a preview of this concept at the Final Four when the NBA, NCAA and USA Basketball hosted its first “Next Generation” event for two dozen of the top players in the class of 2019. 
  • If events like the Peach Jam, a popular and well-administered event run by Nike, remains in July, college coaches would not be able to attend. If, as rumored, events like the Peach Jam move to August, it’s unclear if the NCAA recruiting calendar would allow coaches to attend.

“What the NCAA is thinking about doing in terms of the July recruiting period is just silly and unnecessary,” Miami (Fla.) coach Jim Larranaga told me at the Great American Shootout tweo weeks ago. “If they go ahead with the regional camps concept, it will just create more controversy.”

One head coach told to 247Sports, “this idea is stupid.”

What appears to be happening is typical for the NCAA and how it solves problems; if it needed to swat a fly, it would use a sledgehammer. Larranaga is one of the few coaches who want to speak on the record. This is a third-rail, hot-button issue. Also, the National Association of Basketball Coaches are working in concert – or, as some would say, cahoots – with the Rice Commission.

One Division I coach I spoke with believes that the gloom and doom regarding what the NCAA might propose is panic via ignorance.

“How do I know?” he asked, repeating a question. “Because I listen. Look, there aren’t any scholarship opportunities being lost. There’s actually going to be more of an opportunity to see kids in what’s closer to a high school environment. I think one thing that everybody wants is for there to be more transparency in terms of where the shoe company money is going.”

The FBI probe – which in nearly a year has yet to prove there’s meat on its bone – connected money from shoe company reps being funneled to coaches to be given to high school prospects in order to help the shoe companies establish relationships with future NBA players. The idea that shoe company money will ever be divorced from grass roots, high school, college or the NBA is naïve.

Those who want to divorce shoe company money from college basketball are like the contestants trying to pull the fictional Excalibur from the fictional stone. Like Camelot, it’s fantasy.

The Washington Post spoke with more than a dozen coaches, officials and players at July events sponsored by Nike and Adidas. This was the main takeaway: The idea that the NCAA somehow will shoulder its way into the hypercompetitive youth basketball market – and potentially box out shoe companies in the process – has been met with a mixture of skepticism, defiance and mockery.

“It makes absolutely no sense to me,” said Andy Borman, team director for Nike-sponsored NY Renaissance, a member of Duke’s 2001 national championship team and Mike Krzyzewski’s nephew told The Post. “What’s happening right now, flat-out, is a media stunt. It’s a PR move by the NCAA … It’s a joke.”

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Mike Kunstadt coached high school basketball in Texas for 26 years. When he retired in 1988, it was just a few years after the state’s high school governing body, the University Interscholastic League, had rescinded draconian rules that had prevented prep basketball players in the Lone Star state from playing in organized summer programs.

Kunstatdt knew there was untapped talent in the state that would soon start to flourish. When he retired, he established Texas Basketball Review, a scouting service designed to help high school players get more national exposure. He also started the Great American Shootout, an event during the July recruiting period that would provide competitive exposure.

From 41 teams in Year One, last month the GAS featured 450 teams, with approximately 4,500 high school freshmen, sophomores and juniors. It is considered one of the top summer events in the country. His coaching background – he was good friends with John Wooden – and his no-nonsense approach to what can be a silly time of year has earned him the respect of college coaches; approximately 400 schools send coaches each year.

Now, after three decades of success and growth, Kunstadt and his events – the GAS stages three events in the spring and five in the summer around the state – are in limbo, along with all the other summer tournaments that have flourished.

“We plan to continue with our events,” he said. “That’s about all that we know right now. We’re like everyone else, waiting to hear.”

What Kunstadt and others are certain of is the math if the NCAA takes over July. The proposed regional camps could involve 40,000 to 50,000 players. Kunstadt estimates about 100,000 high schoolers compete in the various events currently staged in July. That’s an estimated 50,000 prep players who would lose an opportunity to catch the eye of a Division I coach or assistant.

Two years ago, Zhaire Smith played in the GAS. At the end of the event, he had received one scholarship offer – from Stephen F. Austin.

During his senior season at Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial, he received offers from Texas Tech and Texas, among others. After helping the Red Raiders reach the East Regional final – where they lost to eventual national champion Villanova – Smith had established himself as a potential first-round pick. He declared for the NBA Draft, was the 16th player selected and is now with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“That’s the example I use,” Kunstadt said. “If these proposed (NCAA) regional camps had been in place, Smith wouldn’t have been invited. He would have played in our event. What would have happened to Smith under this proposed scenario?

“That’s an anomaly, but there are hundreds of players in our event and others across the country who wouldn’t have the opportunity to end up with a college scholarship to play ball.”

Ricky Crawford coaches the Houston Cowboys and his son is a rising junior. He’s coached the current starting five since they were in fourth grade. The Cowboys played in the GAS.

“The bottom line is this is all about the kids,” Crawford said. “I hope people understand that. These events is about opportunity. What the NCAA is talking about, not all of these kids will get the chance to go there. We know there are things we need to clean up. This (the GAS) isn’t one of them.

“We’re not a sneaker team. We play our butts off. All the other stuff is happening at the upper level, not with like our little mom and pop shop. We’re not the guys causing the problem. We shouldn’t get kicked the curb.”

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson had just walked into the six-court facility in Duncanville, Texas to check out the Great American Shootout. It has been a regular stop for him from his days as an assistant at Arkansas for Nolan Richardson.

“Look at how many kids are here getting this experience and exposure,” Anderson said, waving his hand toward one of the courts. “The July recruiting period has been improved over the years and know I think it works. The question to me is, if they change and do away with this, what are they replacing it with?”

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Few big-picture questions have yes/no, black/white or right/wrong answers.

About five years ago, Kunstadt was in Indianapolis with a few other summer league organizers to discuss the July recruiting period. When asked for his suggestion, Kunstadt suggested getting the shoe companies out of the picture. “That was met with silence,” he said.

As mentioned above, that solution – getting the shoe companies to disappear from summer hoops – is a non-starter, both practically and legally. In the early 1990s, the NCAA’s ill-fated restricted earnings coach rule was found to be in violation of anti-trust laws and cost the NCAA $67 million in settlement money. If charged with denying opportunities for exposure and potential scholarships, the NCAA would definitely lose in the court of public opinion and perhaps in the courtroom if sued.

“Something needs to be done to change the influence of shoe companies and the influence of a minority of AAU coaches have on their players,” one Division I coach said. “Changes need to be made.”

This coach recommended these minor tweaks:

  • Have the NCAA set up certification of summer/AAU coaches and have them pay a sum ($300?) to take a certification test. 
  • Prohibit summer league coaches for selling scouting reports. He says that some coaches make the purchase part of the “deal” to recruit their top players. These reports are worthless – “Competes hard … can’t go to his left.” 
  • Try and limit the players’ ability to switch summer-league teams so easily. Many “transfer” because of diminished playing time/roles but this coach believes that contributes to the mindset at the college level of transferring when faced with similar displeasure.

“It’s easy to point the finger at summer basketball but I think it’s misdirected,” a Division I coach who asked not to be identified told me. “The problems are way bigger than that. Overreacting and making changes too quickly just to make changes is a mistake.

“We can make a blanket statement that college basketball is completely corrupt. But where’s the evidence? I think that’s where you’ve got to start. When there’s this much money involved, there’s going to be corruption involved on some level. It’s in all walks of life. Greed is the root of all evil.

“The shoe company money is always going to be there. It either needs to be transparent or on the table or it’s going to continue to be there and just go deeper underground. I don’t know how you can change one thing that you think will stop all of the corruption – you’re plugging one hole in the dyke while there are still plenty of other leaks.”