Senior Writer

Ending summer recruiting won't eliminate seedy side of game


The first thing you need to know is that it's not going to happen.

College basketball's summer recruiting period won't be eliminated, no matter what Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne proposes. In fact, most industry sources believe it's more likely that the April recruiting period is reinstated before the summer recruiting period is eliminated. So even if Osborne broaches the subject again -- and some recent reports have suggested he might, that he wants the Big 12 to support legislation to end the summer recruiting period -- there's no reason for coaches to start planning July vacations because, best I can tell, 20 of the month's 31 days will continue to be spent watching prospects in various gyms across the nation.

Tom Osborne's intentions may be good, but his message is misguided. (US Presswire)  
Tom Osborne's intentions may be good, but his message is misguided. (US Presswire)  
And that's a good thing.

Osborne doesn't think so.

But he's as wrong about this as he was about Lawrence Phillips.

"Summer recruiting really plays into the hands of the AAU guys, and so many of them are in league with the shoe companies," Osborne said, according to a recent article in the Omaha World-Herald. "That's where a lot of the unseemly stuff gets going."

I won't argue that.

It's true that lots of summer coaches are tied to shoe companies, and it's true that that lots of unseemly stuff happens with summer coaches and shoe companies. Osborne is on the mark there. But what he fails to realize is that the elimination of the summer recruiting period won't eliminate summer basketball. Kids would still play in the summer and most would still start to play before they even get to middle school, which means the "AAU guys" Osborne wants to eliminate from the recruiting scene would continue to control the same prospects they control today.

"[Eliminating the summer recruiting period] would do very little to take away the so-called influences of AAU coaches," said VCU coach Shaka Smart. "I was talking to a high school coach about a prospect about a half-hour ago, and I told him, 'Coach, I appreciate your help with this guy. You've been great.' And he said, 'I'll do anything I can for you guys. But you have to realize that I've only been around this kid two years; his AAU coach has been around him since third grade.'

"There's only so much a high school coach can do in that time," Smart added. "So you can get rid of the recruiting period and change the calendar all you want, but it's not going to change those influences."

And are we even sure that putting recruiting "back into the hands of high school coaches" would be a solution to any problem? Again, Osborne believes it would. But which high school coaches does he mean? Hopefully not high school coaches like Maurice Ford in Alabama, who was just last week accused, in a New York Times article, of asking for money to deliver Eric Bledsoe to a specific college.

Osborne isn't talking about that high school coach, is he?

Truth is, illegal benefits run downhill in this sport, and there will always be somebody there to catch them. If it's not an AAU coach, it will be a high school coach. If it's not a high school coach, it will be a mom. Or a dad. Or a brother. Or a cousin. Shoe companies make millions by connecting with the right prospects, so they'll do whatever they can to connect with the right prospects. College coaches make millions by signing the right prospects, so they'll do whatever they can to sign the right prospects. Agents make millions by manufacturing relationships with the right prospects, so they'll do whatever they can to manufacture relationships with the right prospects.

Eliminating the summer recruiting period won't fix any of those issues.

And it probably wouldn't save money either.

That's another thing Osborne believes -- that eliminating the summer recruiting period would save schools money. He bases some of this on the idea that college coaches would no longer have to pay admittedly ridiculous fees to attend summer events, but those fees are just minor expenses in a basketball budget. Osborne also claims eliminating the summer recruiting period would prevent college coaches from subscribing to bogus recruiting services run by summer coaches, but, as I've already pointed out, the summer coaches are going to be involved regardless of whether the summer recruiting period exists. Consequently, bogus services will continue in some form even with the NCAA trying its best to crack down on them.

Which brings me to the actual travel.

Flights and hotels and rental cars and expensed meals.

No question, schools -- particularly the high-majors -- spend lots of money in July on all that stuff. But ... "flying to a big summer event and seeing 100 kids is a cheaper alternative for us than driving to Philadelphia for one day to see one kid," said UMass coach Derek Kellogg. "And for a new coach who takes over a program and has to sign five or six or seven players in that first year, the summer recruiting period is paramount. Without it, I don't know how a new coach builds a program."

Me neither.

Think about it: If a new coach gets hired in April and loses the bulk of the recruiting class the previous staff signed (which is common these days), his first real recruiting class will essentially be a makeup class featuring five or six or seven prospects. Signing day for that class would come in November, seven months after the coach was hired. So to eliminate the summer recruiting period would be to ask a new coach to sign five, six or seven prospects without the benefit of a true evaluation period during which legitimate prospects regularly compete against other legitimate prospects because, perhaps Osborne forgot, high school basketball isn't played between April and November.

Maybe you could do it if you coached at UCLA.

Or St. John's.

Or Memphis.

Or Georgetown.

Or some other school in a metropolitan area filled with prospects. But what do you do if you're the coach at Iowa State or Mississippi State or Kansas State? What do you do if you're not surrounded by prospects? The lack of a summer recruiting period would make it impossible to see groups of prospects at the same time, and your relatively rural location would make it difficult to evaluate during the high school season because it's not like you can just jump in a car and see kids after practice like Ben Howland can do at UCLA. More likely, you would have to take a flight. And who wants to fly across the country during the season to see one kid you may or may not ultimately sign when you could take a flight during the offseason, sit in one gym and see 150 prospects in a 48-hour period?

Answer: Nobody.

Which is just another reason why eliminating the summer recruiting period would do more harm than good. Clearly, Tom Osborne is a smart and accomplished man who has had many great ideas in his life, but this isn't one of them. I admire his desire to clean up college basketball, and I wish more athletic directors took an active role in trying to do it. But the odds of cleaning up college basketball by eliminating the summer recruiting period are lower than Osborne's odds ever were of saving Lawrence Phillips, and we all know how that story ended.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.

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