NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- There they were Thursday night, lined up watching 5-star prospects Cade Cunningham and Greg Brown, everybody from Roy Williams to Shaka Smart, Penny Hardaway to Mike Brey, just a who's who of college basketball coaches who travel here to the Riverview Park Activities Center each July for the summer's signature grassroots event that places dozens, if not hundreds, of Division I prospects in competitive team environments under one roof.
That's Peach Jam in a nutshell.
Is it too crowded at times? Yes. Has it become less useful from a media perspective in recent years because of how controlling event officials are as it pertains to nearly every aspect of everything? Yes. But if the goal is to evaluate as many future college players as possible in one place over a span of a few days, there's still no better spot than Peach Jam. So the college coaches in attendance are happy to attend.
They just don't understand why this is basically it for July.
"Can you believe they let Condoleezza Rice tell us how recruiting should work?" one prominent coach asked me this week. "That would be like me telling a dentist how to do a root canal."
That's a colorful way to put it, obviously. But it's also a common opinion among coaches who are currently watching prospects compete in a prominent team-setting for the final time before November's National Signing Period. In previous years, coaches would still have two more five-day periods to evaluate prospects playing for grassroots teams, which, most insist, is the best setting for which to evaluate prospects. But the Commission on College Basketball, led by former Secretary of State Rice, took those days away last August when the NCAA accepted its recommendations for sweeping changes to the recruiting calendar.
"The changes that we've adopted will have a positive impact on college basketball and, more importantly, the student-athletes who compete in college basketball," Georgia Tech president Bud Peterson, who chairs the NCAA Board of Governors that approved the changes, said at the time.
Simply put, he was wrong.
Even though the changes were a direct response to the FBI investigation that exposed issues within the sport, as I and many others predicted at the time, the changes have done nothing to address issues within the sport. Instead, all they've done is drastically decrease the number of times most prospects are able to perform in front of college coaches. They've limited exposure. They've limited opportunities.
"The NCAA felt like they had to do something to make it look like they were doing something," one high-major coach said. "But all they did is make things worse -- for the coaches and the players. It's so stupid."
If you're wondering why I'm not quoting coaches on the record in this column, it's because the National Association of Basketball Coaches sent an email (that was obtained by CBS Sports) to its members just before the changes were implemented and asked them to refrain from publicly criticizing the new recruiting calendar. Consequently, coaches are hesitant to put their names on anything. But when granted anonymity, I literally could not find one coach who had much positive to say about the changes.
In fact, I even asked some coaches late Thursday if they personally knew anybody who is enthusiastic about the changes to the recruiting calendar because, if that person existed, I wanted to find him and let him try to explain. I'd be happy to listen. But no coaches could offer up a name.
"Some coaches don't care much one way or another -- but nobody thinks the system has been improved, or that the changes have accomplished what they set out to accomplish," said a high-major coach. "The NCAA wanted to decrease the role of shoe companies and grassroots coaches in recruiting. But shoe companies and grassroots coaches are just as influential as they've ever been. So none of this did that. All it did is decrease the number of times we can evaluate players. All it did is make it harder for us to determine if somebody is good enough or not. How could anybody think that's a smart thing to do?"
Because of the changes to the recruiting calendar, the only high-level evaluation period left is one centered on a USA Basketball event scheduled for later this month in Colorado Springs that coaches will be allowed to attend. But here's the problem: unless you're recruiting a player competing with USA Basketball -- in other words, unless you're Duke, Kentucky or another program that recruits the best of the best -- it's completely useless. As one mid-major coach put it: "What does that do for me? I'm not recruiting future gold medalists."
Basically, it breaks down like this: before changes were made to the recruiting calendar, college coaches had six days to evaluate prospects in grassroots settings in April, then 15 more in July, for a total of 21 days. Now, there are just 2.5 grassroots days in April, and only four in July. So 14.5 days of valuable recruiting time has been cut (for all prospects who weren't invited to USA Basketball or the annual NBAPA Top 100 Camp) and replaced by high-school-centric events run by state federations that received uneven reviews last month, if they even happened, and regional camps scheduled for later this month that most Division I prospects are expected to skip because, sources said, some of the same grassroots coaches the NCAA were trying to limit but couldn't are now using their influence to convince players to ignore the camps.
"So the camps will just be a bunch of Division II players," predicted Evan Daniels, 247Sports' director of recruiting.
It's such an unnecessary mess.
The good news is that the same people who implemented these changes still have the power, and the time, to undo them, or at least alter them, before the 2020-2021 recruiting calendar is finalized. So they could just admit a mistake, listen to coaches the way I've listened to coaches, and try again with a better grasp for what works and what doesn't. But here's the bad news: the majority of industry sources I've spoken with this week don't expect that to happen, if only because erasing Rice's recommendations so quickly could be seen as a slap in the face to a prominent figure the NCAA would rather not embarrass.
As always, we'll see.
But there's no denying the changes made to the recruiting calendar last August have created an unhappy and frustrated coaching community this July -- not to mention a nation of prospects who will have fewer chances than any group of prospects in recent history to make impressions on men who could change their lives with scholarship offers that otherwise might not exist.
No, the previous recruiting calendar wasn't perfect.
I can admit that.
But, nearly everyone agrees, it was definitely better than this.