LAS VEGAS -- The final five-day evaluation period of July ends Sunday afternoon, at which point college coaches who have spent most of this month on the recruiting trail will head home for what should, relatively speaking, be a quiet few weeks. Meantime, tournament organizers will walk away with piles of cash.
Just like always.
-- Steve Forbes (@ForbesETSUhoops) July 16, 2016
As East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes' tweet from earlier this month shows, what happens on the summer circuit is often described as a "racket" because of how it turns amateur basketball into a money-making machine when event organizers force coaches to buy packets that often cost several hundred dollars each. And, yes, force is the right word to use. Because, in many cases, coaches are denied entry to events until they purchase what amounts to a small book of rosters that sometimes fails to even have accurate information.
It really is bananas.
A comprehensive list of what events charge coaches can be found here.
Many prominent events charge between $250 and $400 for a packet. But, according to that list that's assembled by the NCAA, there is a man named Edward Butler who planned to charge Division I coaches $1,000 each to attend something called the League of Stars Pro Am at G.W. Carver High School in Birmingham, Ala., this month.
One. Thousand. Dollars. Each.
Just to watch high school kids hoop.
(FYI: You can attend the Final Four -- all three games -- for less than half of that.)
To be clear, none of this is to suggest you should feel sorry for the Ohio States and North Carolinas of the world because athletic departments like those spend incredible amounts of money on all sorts of possibly unnecessary things, and the amount they spend on July packets is relative pennies. But I did ask 10 different coaches on Thursday and Friday what they estimated their staffs had already spent on packets just this month, and the answers I got ranged from $4,000 to $7,000. Again, that's $4,000 to $7,000 basically just to gain entry into events supposedly designed to create college opportunities for young people, which, of course, they do. But they also create impressive bank accounts for the men who have figured out how to exploit the system. And though, like I said, this isn't a big deal to Ohio State, North Carolina and similarly funded programs, it can be a crippling cost to low-major and mid-major programs like the ones Forbes now leads.
"I've been on both sides of this dilemma," said Forbes, who was an assistant at Texas A&M, Tennessee and Wichita State before becoming East Tennessee State's head coach last year. "At the high-major level, money is not an issue during the July recruiting period. But, for those with limited money, it's a major issue. A year ago, we spent nearly $1,500 more for July packets than we did for subscriptions to yearly scouting services. We spent 35 percent of our total recruiting budget in July."
Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, the issue of July packets ranks fairly low on the totem pole of what's wrong with college basketball. But it's still fascinating and representative of almost everything else attached to amateur athletics, and a reminder of this: if there's a way to get rich doing something, somebody will.
FIVE OTHER THINGS ON GP'S MIND
1. One of the neatest things about the summer events here in Las Vegas is how NBA players are consistently popping into various gyms, interacting with high school players and just generally being visible. I've seen everybody from Russell Westbrook to Chris Paul to Damian Lillard to Jabari Parker (and countless others), and that has to be thrilling for prospects, right? I mean, I wasn't a high school basketball player. But I was a high school baseball player. And I can't imagine how cool it would've been to look up while playing a summer game and see Greg Maddux or Mike Piazza or Ken Griffey Jr. just hanging out.
2. Though Washington's hiring of Michael Porter Sr. -- that led to Michael Porter Jr. committing to the Huskies last week -- is a topic of conversation among college coaches, literally no coach I've spoken with in Las Vegas has a problem with it, which is an indication that such deals are generally deemed as acceptable behavior these days. Obviously, that hasn't always been the case. So-called package deals used to garner serious criticism. But that's just not so anymore. And I think that's a positive development, if only because I've forever believed coaches would be foolish to not use any technically legal tactic they can to lure elite-level players.
3. I can't say for certain that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski finally speaking out against North Carolina's House Bill 2 led to the NCAA suggesting Friday that it might not hold events in that state unless the law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is amended, but it could not have hurt. Krzyzewski is, after all, the most powerful voice in college basketball -- and arguably college athletics in general. What he says matters. So he should, I think, be commended for saying what he said because it's reasonable to suggest his words weren't popular with everybody he calls a friend given that Krzyzewski is a longtime Republican donor. Regardless, he still spoke up. And that's decent of him to do.
4. Count me among those on board with Penn State reportedly planning to use the Palestra as its home court for January's game against Michigan State. Simply put, the more games in that historic building, the better. And this decision will add an interesting element to a game that would otherwise be just another game.
5. If you read this column weekly, and you recognized the name Tyrek Coger when it became part of tragic headline Thursday, it might be because I mentioned the Oklahoma State forward last month while explaining why he wasn't going to be allowed to enroll at Ole Miss as previously planned. It was ultimately an SEC rule that kept him from Oxford and led him to Stillwater. And his sudden death that followed a team workout Thursday is just a heartbreaking deal for a program that has endured too many heartbreaking deals -- most notably a 2001 plane crash that took the lives of members of the Oklahoma State basketball program.
FINAL THOUGHT: The Big 12's announcement this week that it is likely to expand by two or four schools is obviously big news in college athletics, and it has universities scrambling damn-near from coast to coast. Anybody telling you they know exactly how this will unfold is lying because the Big 12 doesn't even know exactly how this will unfold. But after talking to several sources over several days, here's one man's best guess at what will ultimately happen:
1) The Big 12 will invite four schools.
2) The four schools will be BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Memphis.