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Senior College Football Columnist

Think recruiting is crazy? Just wait until NCAA lets inmates run asylum

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Claude Felton is one of the most respected men in the industry, that industry being sports information. The Feltons of the world are the unseen guys on college campuses who assist the media with copious, valuable and inside information. They are underpaid and underappreciated. Guys like Claude might as well have their hands in the back working cartoon puppets like Dick Vitale.

Sorry Dickie V, you -- we -- would be nothing without them.

The senior associate athletic director for sports communications at Georgia, Felton, 64, has seen it all -- Herschel, Final Fours, 37 Georgia national championships. He has worked 17 NCAA national championship events and the 1984 Summer Olympics.

Claude Felton is one of those hard-working, unassuming media liaisons who may be adding a new, influential -- and startling -- job description.

"Did you know," Georgia AD Greg McGarity told a visitor recently, "Claude can now recruit?"

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Such is the new recruiting world we live in. Such is a preview of a bold new vision of college athletics many can't comprehend. The NCAA is currently considering a series of proposals that would deregulate recruiting. The stance is that a large portion of the rules are unenforceable, silly even.

The "cream cheese rule" is legend. NCAA rules said you could provide athletes with a snack, like a bagel, but a later interpretation held that toppings were prohibited. There goes the Philadelphia Cream Cheese.

In the future, though, we may be turning 180 degrees without any brakes. More than one coach has used the term to describe that future in football recruiting as "the wild, wild west."

Sports information directors could recruit -- not off campus but enough to call and text prospects similar to assistant coaches. Speaking of which, an unlimited amount of assistants would be able to recruit off campus, all of them given unlimited electronic access to recruits. Text and call as much as you want, or can.

The manpower and forms needed to conform to contact rules now seem to be ignored anyway.

Here's how the nation's No. 1 recruit describes the current climate regulating calls and texting: "All night, every night," Loganville (Ga.) Grayson High's Robert Nkemdiche said. "Sometimes 12:30 at night when you're trying to sleep I got my phone vibrating. People are always texting me."

As for a future vision of recruiting: "It will be a nightmare," according to Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman. "It's going to be crazy."

There is even talk of staffs being able to create what amount to personnel departments similar to the NFL. If the proposals pass, high schoolers will be able to be contacted on July 1 following their sophomore year. Currently, first contact is allowed after July 1 of the junior year.

"Can you imagine if the NFL were coming in and talking to sophomores?" Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That's what's happening here and that's a problem. That's a major, major problem."

But it may not be so much an NCAA problem. In essence, the association has thrown up its hands and said, "You guys figure it out." Many of the old rules are unenforceable. Membership wanted simplicity in the rules. These proposals would reduce the NCAA Manual by 25 pages and eliminate 6,473 secondary violations from the docket. Progress, right?

The NCAA is basically recognizing there is a difference in resources between Alabama and, say, Bowling Green. The shift in enforcement has moved from competitive equity to fair competition. Schools' ability to recruit, to sign, to win varies widely. If Nick Saban has the budget, time and waistband to hang 10 cell phones on his belt, so be it.

Think of it as a nod toward modern technology and some version of common sense. The NCAA is recognizing that in 2013, recruits can choose to put their phones on vibrate, ignore calls and texts. So what, in this new world order, if a kid stages a signing day press conference/party off campus where a college assistant coach could come bearing gear from his new college?

The NCAA was ripped for being too intrusive, too slow. Now the general feeling is that the association has taken the safety off the Glock and made all-out recruiting warfare possible.

"The NCAA is saying, 'Build whatever machine you want,'" said John Infante, author of the popular Bylaw Blog and compliance director at Colorado State.

And that's not the worst thing in the world. The alternative is no NCAA at all, which the NCAA doesn't want to happen. The money has become so big and football so popular, that de facto power long ago transferred to the major schools in the Big 12, ACC, Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. This should not be news, but it is a way to explain why an NCAA push back would be futile.

If the old rules were too restrictive and the new ones are being interpreted as too liberal, it's time to pick a lane, people. There seems to be no happy medium.

"There really is no middle ground," Infante said. "Calling this the wild, wild west is to suggest it's not the wild, wild west already.'

There's no longer a need for that "burner" phone, the personal cellie that can't be traced by the NCAA. Apparently there's an app that allows you (or a coach) to create untraceable numbers. Ole Miss made news last week for its recruiting prowess that included 54 recruiting letters sent to a recruit in one day. All the letters were within the letter of the law.

The NCAA Manual can be shrunk but it can't be "fixed." The association is essentially letting the membership dictate the terms of membership -- at least in terms of recruiting. There really is no other option. The risk is that sooner or later the powerful and monied are going to become pissed off enough to leave and form their own organization.

So why not let the cowboys rule the West?

"The cynical part is, as much as they [coaches] don't like recruiting, they think they have it wired," Infante said. "'I know where the envelope is. I know how much I can push it.'"

To many, a deregulated recruiting landscape looks like an unregulated landscape. A "pro" personnel department may mean less reliance on third-party recruiting services. That takes the likes of Will Lyles out of the equation. But at a place like Alabama, that personnel department is going to be run like the pros.

The Big Ten coaches and ADs on Monday protested the core of those 26 proposals, claiming negative impact on families, players and their high school coaches. Intrusive is a legit concern. These kids will be besieged. The counterargument is that the more coaches can contact recruits, the less likelihood is that the likes of Will Lyles will.

It's just starting to get complicated. These proposals were developed from a group that includes the Big 12 commissioner (Bob Bowlsby), Clemson president (Jim Barker) and SEC associate commissioner (Greg Sankey). How could the Big Ten coaches and ADs not know what was coming? Their own associate commissioner for compliance (Chad Hawley) was on the Rules Working Group.

If it is all deemed to be too much, too fast, an override from Division I schools could be coming. If 75 schools agree, they can override pending legislation. Then if five-eighths of the Division I membership vote against it, the measure is dead.

So could NCAA-sponsored Division I football. There is already a secession symbol, if not a formal plan. The BCS commissioners are in the process of leasing office space in Dallas, out of which a staff would run the coming FBS playoff.

It has long been known that the NCAA holds little power over FBS football except for playing rules and assigning officials to bowl games. Even the National Letter of Intent is handled by a separate entity.

The top football-playing schools could break away. The schools could structure it any way they want: We play our football, keep our money, just don't bother us with your silly rules.

"We can't just sit here on the sideline and say this is OK," Fitzgerald said. "The bottom line is we'd really like to work with the NCAA."

Left unsaid: Or else.


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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