By Neil Patrick Healy
Whenever there is a major college athletic event, the NCAA puts out a series of commercials that paint a scene of helping student athletes reach their full potential both on and off the field. It is the farce that the NCAA tries to convince us in order to justify some of the flaws and hypocrisies in its organization. From making over $1 billion in 2014 while still being listed as a nonprofit to making a majority of that money off free labor, the NCAA has been known to have holes in its stance on benefiting student athletes.
In just the latest example of NCAA hypocrisy, on Friday, April 8, it ruled to ban all satellite camps effective immediately. Satellite camps have been a new and controversial trend in the college football recruiting world, and the issue came to a boiling point when Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh first stepped foot on Ann Arbor’s campus.
To understand the effect this ban will have on student athletes, one must know exactly what a satellite camp is. A satellite camp is when coaches from schools can be invited to camps held by other universities as guests. The NCAA prohibits programs from hosting a camp 50 miles from its campus, but the former rule did not specify coaches coming as guests. It is a loophole that allowed Harbaugh and other Power 5 conference schools to basically take over a camp hosted by Georgia State or Stetson. To simplify it, coaches from schools hundreds of miles away can get an easier look at prospects in other areas that aren’t as close to their campus as their traditional recruiting pipelines.
The reason this became such a hot-button topic in recruiting circles is because Harbaugh put the practice on steroids by planning a nine-camp tour spanning seven states. Many of those camps were planned in the talent-rich areas of the southeastern part of the country, where ACC and SEC schools do not want other schools poaching their recruits. For all the negative press that these camps have been getting from SEC and ACC officials, they provide more opportunities for future student athletes to meet coaches and get looks from schools that would normally be out of the question.
With this ban, schools are not allowed to be part of a camp that is not on its own facilities. The obvious winners are the SEC, ACC and other conferences with schools in talent-laden areas. Some losers are schools in the north and Midwest, who are at a disadvantage in accessibility to blue-chip prospects.
The biggest losers are future fringe prospects that won’t get the same looks from schools outside of their area. They also provided hubs for coaches from multiple schools to go, so the players wouldn’t have to go to multiple camps across the country. With summer becoming more of a hit time for recruiting, it is becoming imperative to develop relationships with coaches and players ASAP.
Athletes get five NCAA recruiting visits in the fall of their senior year, but with the stress in recruiting being in the spring and summers of their junior year, camps were a financial and logistical relief. Kids wouldn’t have to travel 1,000 miles and spend the travel money to go to one school’s camp. Satellite camps provided shorter distances and the opportunity to preform in front coaches from multiple programs. With the camps now disbanded, recruits who come from financially disadvantaged areas will either have to put forth the money to travel or not be able to get the same amount of exposure.
Satellite camps provided the opportunities for student athletes to pick the best school and program possible, but the NCAA took them away because the coaches and athletic directors from the SEC and ACC complained. Rather than banning the camps, they could have been regulated. For instance, maybe each school only gets three camps per cycle. Limit the amount of coaches that can be at each camp. Or a one-camp limit in a state. Anything is better than just banning them outright.
Banning the camps is a shortsighted reaction by the NCAA due to some coaches complaining, while other coaches overdo it. Is this ruling in line with the mission of the NCAA? The mission statement reads as follows:
“Our purpose is to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”
How does limiting the amount of exposure and opportunity a recruit can get from schools a paramount experience? This ruling will not affect the big boys of the SEC and ACC, but it will bear consequences for prospects that won’t get looked at by the right schools that want them. It only takes one coach or one scout to see something in a player to change that player’s life. If the NCAA truly cared about the kids, as it desperately tries to claim in its endless string of propaganda, then this ruling wouldn’t have occurred.
I challenge the NCAA to reverse this ruling. The solution is not the banishment of a new and innovative practice that further advances the exposure and opportunities of student athletes. If properly regulated, these camps can serve the function of fulfilling the mission statement by providing a paramount experience for each future student athlete who has to go through the difficult process of recruitment. If the NCAA wants to live by its own words, then satellite camps should be reinstated.
Neil Patrick Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NP_Healy.