Jay Paterno: NCAA, High School Football Transformed by Seven-on-Seven Teams
Recently there’s been a lot of discussion on the state of big-time college football, which is rife with illicit recruiting payments, cover-ups and major violations. The recruiting landscape is shifting under the feet of college coaches, high school coaches, the NCAA and parents.
The following fictional scenario is purely hypothetical, but it may already be playing out somewhere.
Thanks to the public nature of recruiting and due to his connections at The University of Excess (UE), alumnus Freddie Warbucks knows his school’s top football recruiting targets.
Warbucks, a high-net-worth guy with an annual seven-figure income, decides he needs a new hobby—one that will help his beloved UE football program. He and a few other alums decide to invest $250,000 a year in this new hobby, starting the East Coast All-Stars seven-on-seven off-season Football Team.
He hires Coach Fast Frankie Streets. Fast Frankie is a former star player at UE and coaches at the most successful high school in UE’s home state. He’s also gained a national reputation for his connections to a national high school all-star game.
Fast Frankie doesn’t need to give up his high school job. For a $70,000 annual salary paid by Warbucks he’ll coach the East Coast All-Stars in the off-season. He gets a couple of volunteers to help coach—including Freddie Warbucks.
The team is open to anyone on the East Coast—the prime recruiting area for UE. Warbucks makes sure the top players on the UE recruiting wish list are personally invited to try out.
Fast Frankie also starts and runs a recruiting service. With access to the top-flight recruits on his team and in his tryout, he can charge schools for his “service.” He sells performance data and contact information to the schools paying him thousands of dollars for information and inside access. All he has to do is rate the players’ abilities and send his clients information four times a year.
Frankie picks his team, the top 20 or 30 guys that UE is recruiting. In the summer the team travels the country playing in seven-on-seven tournaments as far away as Oregon, Alabama, Florida and Texas. Warbucks covers the team members’ flights, meals and hotels, and travels to every tournament along with Fast Frankie.
They talk to the players and gather information. They learn the players’ favorite schools, visits they want to take, and where UE stands with each recruit. They also discuss how well the recruits would fit into the UE program.
Most important, UE now has a direct pipeline of information from Fast Frankie and Warbucks. On each trip one of the team’s assistant coaches gets the recruits to call UE coaches during a time when NCAA coaches are not allowed to call the recruits.
This arrangement gives UE an advantage of access, influence and information over their recruiting rivals.
The best part? UE has not violated NCAA rules, and is compliant with current NCAA regulations. Potentially, seven-on-seven football will grow to rival the often-sleazy world of AAU basketball recruiting. I say potentially, but some will tell you that the horse is already out of the barn.
In a recent New York Times article, writer Pete Thamel shed light on the summer tournament game. With the street agents/third parties, the shady selling of access to prospects appears to have already made a big splash. Unless the rules change it is likely to escalate.
The current reality and the hypothetical situation I created make it vital this off-season for the NCAA to seriously address the latest football recruiting developments.
The seven-on-seven coaches are outsiders, unaffiliated with any high school and are gaining influence. Some have advised young men to switch to different high schools to get better recruiting exposure or to a high school with an offense or defense that better showcases their talents.
The system has introduced outside people and recruits “mentors” for the high school coach and families to deal with. The danger for the parents is that someone with ulterior (read: financial) motives suddenly is injecting himself into a son’s college decision process after he has become a star athlete.
Most parents and high school coaches have been there for that young man long before he became a star or was recognized as having pro potential. With the “third party” people around, a lot of money is trading hands and a lot of influence peddling is going on. Most of it is done regardless of what may be best for the recruit’s future.
Years ago while working at another school, I was in an NCAA compliance meeting and the head basketball coach asked a question. He asked if the rulebook forbid him from flying a plane over his recruit’s football game with a banner telling him to come to our school.
When he was told that it didn’t forbid him from doing so, he replied: “If it doesn’t say that I can’t do it, then I can.”
In the NCAA many coaches and people in the recruiting process take the same line—if it doesn’t say I can’t, then I can.
It’s time for high school and college coaches to get together with the NCAA and spell out rules that eliminate the loopholes.