Want to see summer basketball coaches squirm?
Just pepper them about Elite Camps.
Once you do it, the same guys who will gladly spend hours telling you how they have the next Michael Beasley will grow more uncomfortable than Mark McGwire on Capitol Hill. That's what the topic of Elite Camps seems to do to most people. It makes them nervous. And for good reason.
|Michigan's John Beilein says he is unfamiliar with the Elite Camps practice. (Getty Images)|
It's an on-campus event run by a college program, usually reserved for about the best 10 or 20 prospects that particular program is recruiting. More to the point, it's a fine way for a school to exploit a loophole in the NCAA rulebook and funnel money to summer coaches who in turn use some of that money to pay for their best prospects to attend the Elite Camp of the school supplying the money. Schools are essentially paying summer coaches to gain influence and get prospects on campus in an unofficial capacity.
Right, John Beilein?
"I'm naive to that and how it happens," said the Michigan coach. "But people say it apparently happens."
Oh yes, Coach Beilein, it absolutely happens.
It's the scam of all scams.
Here's how it works: Let's pretend State U is recruiting two prospects from an AAU team in California, a couple of high-level prospects capable of someday winning a league title. Now let's pretend I'm the coach of that AAU team. What State U would do is hire me to be a "counselor" or "speaker" at its Elite Camp. My pay might be $2,500 and my job might be to talk about free throw shooting for, say, 30 minutes one afternoon. That's it. It's a great gig.
But the implied tradeoff is that I must use some of the money I'm receiving to pay for the flights of my two prospects so they can attend the Elite Camp because how else could they possibly afford to fly across the country in the middle of June?
And that's pretty much the deal.
It's a three-step process:
1. The school pays the summer coach to work its Elite Camp.
2. The summer coach pays for his players to attend the school's Elite Camp.
3. The school gets a summer coach and his prospects on its campus for its Elite Camp.
Yes, it's that simple.
And yes, it's totally legal.
Which is how it's justified across the board.
"The biggest thing is that everybody is working inside the rules," said Florida coach Billy Donovan. "If the rules change, everybody will change what they're doing. But right now people are working inside the framework of the rules."
Credit Donovan for not shying away from the subject or pleading ignorance to how it works. He's the highest-paid coach in college basketball, a future Hall of Famer with more national titles than Def Leppard's drummer has arms. You don't become that successful in this business without understanding how to create technically legal ways to gain advantages in recruiting.
Rest assured, Donovan knows how to create advantages. Hell, he might be the best at it, which is why it should come as no surprise Florida is the school most often credited with developing the Elite Camp concept, though it's important to note practically every high-level program -- Texas, Connecticut, Memphis, Kentucky, damn near all of them -- conducts Elite Camps or something similar these days.
"You say, 'Listen, what are some creative ways to get some guys on campus?'" Donovan said while explaining the thought process. "Either you are allowed to do something or you are not allowed to do something, and if you are allowed to do it then it just comes down to your own personal judgment of whether you want to do it or not. But it's all just people trying to be creative."
Asked whether he agrees that college coaches seem to be among the most creative men in the world, Donovan smiled before answering, "I think we have to be."
Now I know what you're thinking: How exactly is this legal?
Should schools be allowed to pay AAU coaches?
Total Votes: 2,014
Answer: It's legal because the NCAA does not regulate who universities hire to work summer camps, meaning Oklahoma State's Travis Ford could hire my uncle or John Wall's AAU coach to work his camp, and there's no NCAA guideline preventing him from doing it.
Furthermore, the NCAA can't regulate how much AAU coaches can be paid for working a camp any more than it can regulate how much Louisville pays Rick Pitino for doing a radio show or how much Washington spends on pregame meals. Everything is OK as long as the pay is consistent -- meaning Oklahoma State is in the clear provided it pays every AAU coach who works a camp roughly the same amount, regardless of whether the pay is $500, $2,500 or $5,000.
(It's also worth noting there is nothing preventing a school from hiring the same AAU coach to work five different camps in one summer. In that case, a $5,000 payday for one afternoon of talking could turn into a $25,000 windfall for five afternoons of talking, and do you see how this is a slippery slope?)
"Five thousand dollars? I haven't hit that number yet," said Omhar Carter, the coach of the MBA Hoops team featuring Class of 2011 star LaQuinton Ross. "I haven't hit those numbers you're saying. But LaQuinton is only a sophomore. So maybe my day is coming."
Trust me, Omar, your day is indeed coming.
And when it does, whatever you do with the money is none of the NCAA's business. You can take your $5,000 and buy a suit or a watch or a vacation (or perhaps all three!), or you can use it to offset the expense it took to fly your best player across the country to attend the Elite Camp. Either way, the NCAA can't do anything because the NCAA can't do anything about an AAU coach providing for his players.
So what we have is a -- here comes that word Donovan used again -- creative (and legal) way for coaches to get money into the hands of the people with influence over the top prospects in the country, which is why the fans constantly accusing college programs of "cheating" are the ones who don't understand how the sport really works.
Sure, people still cheat.
You'd be naive to think it doesn't happen.
But hardcore cheating like cash delivered in a shoebox is almost unnecessary these days given all the "legal" ways to get money into the right hands. You hire an AAU coach to work camps or to be a video coordinator, or you subscribe to his ridiculous scouting service and easily put thousands of dollars into his pocket.
Consequently, the actual breaking of major NCAA rules is now mostly reserved for the stupid coaches. The smart coaches can basically get the same things accomplished just by being, you know, a little creative.