Senior Writer

Fighting back against creeping menace of 7-on-7s


You don't know if a kid can play until he gets knocked on his butt.

That's the strange thing about evaluating 7-on-7 football for Jay Paterno. Penn State's quarterbacks coach and Joe's son definitely has his problems with the sometimes shady offseason phenomenon that has sprung up in recent years. Beyond that, Jay has a football issue within a recruiting problem.

Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno is looking into ways to help contain the influences in 7-on-7 football. (US Presswire)  
Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno is looking into ways to help contain the influences in 7-on-7 football. (US Presswire)  
"In 7-on-7, you're in shorts," Jay said. "The only thing is, you can see arm strength but ultimately they've got to be hit in the mouth. I want to see a kid get hit in the mouth before I say, 'He's the guy.' "

Filter through all the offseason hand-wringing over third-party influence and that's a bottom-line realization that is lost. Sure, you can see speed, route-running, catching and throwing. But what about doing it in pads, against an opponent trying to take a kid's head off? What about that intangible that only the Jay Paternos of the world can see -- character? Kids are being evaluated, basically, during a game of touch football. Nothing wrong with a game the Kennedys used to play on their front lawn, it's just that slimy adults have found a way to monetize it.

Seven-on-7 football has become an offseason of tournaments, awards, TV, even state championships. Profit made on the backs of teens. That's character of a different kind, from adults who should know better.

"Talking to high school coaches, they're begging us to do something," Jay said. "Now you've got 7-on-7 coaches telling kids, 'You shouldn't be going to that high school. You should be going to this high school. You're going to get better exposure, better chance to get recruited. It's a better system.'

"I had a high school coach in Ohio tell me [his player] had a personal trainer who told the player he had to train with him instead of the team. Finally the coach had enough: 'If he has a team for you to play for, go ahead.' "

Some of what you've read in the last few months is generalizations. Not all 7-on-7 coaches are scheming for a payday. Not all AAU basketball coaches are doing the same. But at least in AAU, it's actual basketball.

"You go in the lane, get knocked down, it's the same as getting knocked down in college basketball," Jay said. "You wear all the same equipment you would wear. It's the same game, same amount of people."

But comparing 7-on-7 football to real football, he said, "It's apples and oranges."

Jay has a lot of his father's practicality in him. Starting his 18th year on the Penn State staff, he has become a next-generation conscience of the game. He writes insightful columns for Going into Saturday's spring game, his name is still being mentioned as a possible replacement for his dad someday.

Jay so reviles the creeping influence of recruiting services, personal trainers and 7-of-7 coaches (sometimes they are all three) that he presented a scenario for Penn State's compliance officer. What if, he theorized, a rich alum with money to burn started a 7-on-7 team? The team "owner" knows all of his school's top recruiting targets. The alum hires a local high school coach for the summer. The coach is also an alum of the same school. Paterno called his hypothetical institution the University of Excess.

The team travels nationally for tournaments. The coach starts up a recruiting service and starts charging college coaches for inside information, much of it from his summer team. The coach also hand picks his team of all-stars and gets the players to call Excess U. assistants. The "owner" becomes a volunteer assistant coach.

Think that gives Excess U. a recruiting advantage?

"I sent it over to our compliance guy and said, 'Is this legal?' " Jay said. "His response was, 'Unfortunately, yes.' It's one of those things. If you have a criminal mind it's easy to devise criminal things."

Paterno isn't alone. I sat in Les Miles' office for an hour last week listening to LSU's coach complain about third parties. Oregon is under NCAA investigation for dealing with the now infamous Willie Lyles. If you look close at a recent NCAA's rules interpretation of traditional recruiting services, the association may be in the early stages of eliminating sketchy recruiting services.

But is it enough? There are 7-on-7 games at Penn State camps, but Jay's dad won't let the phenomenon flourish. No score is kept. There are no tournaments.

"Joe always nixes it," Jay said of his father.

JoePa may be in the winter of his years, but he knows enough to smell cheating.

"We talked about that this morning," Joe said Wednesday. "There is at least a concern on our staff that there are people getting involved in it, a la AAU basketball. Starting them out at 7-on-7 camps, literally putting them up on auction blocks so people can get a look at them. ... Some of the guys on our staff are concerned that we are getting a third guy in there, an in-between guy, a guy who is soliciting kids to go to a camp, who is getting paid for kids to go to camps. You don't want those kinds of people involved in our game."

The NCAA is closing in, you would hope. Oversight of basketball recruiting has long been lost. The enforcement division is likely to decide this year if a college football focus group is needed just to police these matters.

"The basketball coaches are probably laughing, saying, 'You guys think this is tough?' " Jay said. "Their statement is: 'You don't know how easy you have it.' Unfortunately, we're going to find out how hard it is."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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