While most people pay attention to college basketball from November through March, those within the game will tell you that a major part of the sport is built by what happens in the offseason. But the offseason, for many, has become this beast that is nearly as busy and time-consuming as the regular season.
Due to the added workload of managing players entering the transfer portal as well as the shock to college athletics brought by name, image and likeness legislation, coaches are working to alleviate some of the stress by restructuring the calendar.
According to more than two dozen coaches interviewed by CBS Sports this summer,— and so significant changes are on the way.
Men's college basketball was recently allowed by the NCAA's Division I Council to be part of a "pilot program" that could, theoretically, empower the sport to govern itself in ways never allowed before. That was overdue. One of the first efforts in this trial period is to overhaul and improve the calendar and how the sport is recruited, mostly from March through August.
"It grew and grew and grew until it became a monster and you couldn't stop it and it became a 365-days-a-year type thing," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said.
This calendar makeover was taken on to modernize it to the cadence of recruiting and cater to the value of prospects being courted. It needs to get to a place where it provides a healthier work/life balance. It needs to give high school prospects and college transfers adequate-but-separate recruitment opportunities.
And where does it all start? The transfer portal. Its open and close dates are pivotal — and the window is due for a contraction.
Here's how the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) hopes to change college basketball starting in 2024.
New portal window for 30 days
The top complaint with the portal is how long it's open. An NCAA-wide policy from last season set it at 60 days. That meant it opened the day after Selection Sunday and seeped into mid-May, complicating the recruiting process more than ever. A change across all NCAA sports to reduce from 60 to 30 will be up for review in October. Eventually, it's expected to pass. In men's college basketball, the halving is enthusiastically backed.
"You can't get 363 coaches to agree on anything, but it's pretty unanimous that everyone wants a 30-day window," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who has been a driving force behind the NABC's proposed changes.
The question becomes: When should the portal open? Many in college hoops believe it was a bad look for the sport to have hundreds of players hopping in mere hours after the reveal of the 2023 NCAA Tournament bracket. The four start dates up for discussion:
• Option 1: Push back the entry date to the Monday after the first weekend of the NCAAs (seven days later than 2023).
• Option 2: Open the Monday after the Elite Eight concludes/week of the Final Four (14 days later than 2023).
• Option 3: Open after the national championship game. Let the postseason standalone, then commence de facto college basketball free agency for almost all of April, with the tail end wrapping up in early May.
• Option 4: There is no universal start date. Rather, the portal opens for every team 1-3 days after its season ends.
Towson coach Pat Skerry said he likes Option 2, but is open to 3.
"(UConn assistant) Luke Murray's a good friend of mine, he's telling me he's doing a recruiting Zoom when he's at the Final Four, that sucks," Skerry said.
Option 2 has the most support as of now, but more discussion awaits with the congress in late August.
"I like after the Final Four," Drew said. "For these teams that play up until the Final Four, they don't have any time to talk to their players, and once the season ends, everyone's pissed. You need time to cool down, but also, if it's open during the Final Four, what coaches are going to want to go to the Final Four? Because you've got to be on campus making Zoom calls, you've got your own players, you're not trying to go into the portal."
Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin believes waiting into deep March or early April disregards the super majority of schools whose seasons end prior to the final 7-10 days of March. He wants Option 4 and would prefer not to hold two-thirds of college basketball hostage for 2-3 weeks because of the NCAA Tournament.
"There's an old saying in recruiting: the best thing you can hear is 'yes,' the next best thing you can hear is 'no,' that way you can move on," Spradlin said. "And that's the same exact thing when it comes to retaining your roster. So if we try to push this portal entry date back to where it's blanket for everybody, that's going to hold way too many people back."
But because of how voting powers break down at the D-I Council level, the power conferences' votes carry more weight. NABC executive director Craig Robinson, a former coach at Oregon State, will be something of a vote-counter this summer, taking in opinions from the coaches' congress, the Ad Hoc Committee on College Basketball Issues (comprised of many of the most well-known coaches), the men's basketball oversight committee (MBOC) and others. Whichever date is determined, approval from the MBOC will come first, in September, then the D-I Council would need to clear it in October for activation in 2024. It would be formally on the books in January, when the Board of Directors convenes at the annual NCAA convention.
What new calendar would look like
On July 21, the NCAA sent out this destined-to-be-erroneous recruiting calendar, which does not match what you'll see below. That prompted a flurry of confused text messages and phone calls across the sport.
"They do not want to go another year with this calendar," one source told CBS Sports. "We're stuck in this ridiculous legislative cycle the NCAA has us pinned to. Because it falls under recruiting, the pilot program still has to get approved by dad. We get to drive the car but dad still tells us whether we go out tonight or not."
CBS Sports obtained the latest revision of the proposed 2023-24 recruiting calendar, which is nearing completion and subject to minor tweaks. What's detailed below is what's hoped to be next year's calendar. In addition to these changes, a deal was struck to drop a program's total on-the-road recruiting days from 130 to 100. What's more, the ad hoc committee pushed for "dead" days around every April, May, June and July weekend that includes a major holiday, in addition to Juneteenth. Those holidays are: Easter (in years when it falls after the season), Mother's Day, Memorial Day, Father's Day and Fourth of July.
This schedule is not yet official, but here's much of the vision the NABC is hoping will pass come October.
A major change: Because of unlimited official visits for recruits and transfers, the new normal with the portal and appreciable roster turnover expected each April, the fourth month of the year will no longer have live evaluation days for coaches to go and watch high school recruits. This will mark the first time in a generation that April will not have an in-person evaluation period. But as, coaches' lack of attendance was telling.
"I thought it was the least-attended live periods that I've seen, just from a coaching perspective," Duke's Jon Scheyer said, citing the spike in transfer visits in April. "Coaches, we're out all the time. It's taken away from what's most important, which is your current team. We've had to make decisions not to go to everything."
If the '23-24 calendar is approved, April will become a month entirely dedicated to roster retention and recruiting the portal with in-home and/or on-campus visits, save for the weeklong dead period surrounding the Final Four (April 4-11). Because of this, the number of recruiting days jumps in April from 14 to 22.
"Right now, it's all very skewed," Spradlin said. "The transfer portal has just changed the pecking order of who's getting affected right now and the high school players are getting affected by it. … We haven't done much high school recruiting in the spring the past couple of years because it's all been devoted to recruiting transfers via the portal."
Spradlin said Morehead State has started anew with 10 players in each of the past two seasons. There are many other coaches similarly entangled. The portal means open season on seeking the most money for NIL.
"It isn't kiss the babies and impress the mom and dads," Oakland coach Greg Kampe said. "It's negotiating."
April has become the month for visits galore; moving evaluation days to May is pragmatic for many — maybe high school players most of all.
The first four days will be live recruiting periods for visits, then a quiet period will run from May 5-16, with the exception of a dead day on Mother's Day (May 12). (Read here for the differences in live/dead/quiet/recruiting periods.)
The big change: May will have one live evaluation period (May 17-19), marking what's believed to be the first time in many decades that any type of basketball evaluation days have been on the calendar in this month. With April evals gone, that May weekend will be highly anticipated, as the major apparel companies will play their spring competition circuits. For years, grassroots coaches have asked for the live evaluation period to be moved from April to May to put young recruits in a better position to succeed. Now it's in position to happen.
From May 22-June 2, there will be a slightly elongated recruiting dead period, meaning the only permissible contact would be phone calls, texts, written communication or private contact via social media.
Father's Day and Juneteenth would be dead days, while the scholastic-based evaluation period (high school teammates, not AAU; for many a mid-major, it's the most treasured of all the eval periods) would shrink from two weekends to one five-day period (June 20-24). The reasoning: it cuts back on travel, plus would allow different states to schedule different days to hold their scholastic events. One example: Michigan high schools can do Thursday/Friday, then Ohio goes Sunday/Monday.
This also allows wider gaps for team camps on campuses, which are important periods for young coaches to make extra money and stay connected to their communities.
"Monday to Friday you're with your team, and then on the weekends you're gone recruiting, so that's when you really get that fatigue setting in, where you're grinding and you're not fresh or good for your players," Drew said. "You're not around your family in the summer, it's the never-ending cycle we're trying to put an end to."
July would jump from 12 to 23 dead days, while shrinking from 10 to eight eval days, which would be over two four-day stretches on consecutive weekends (July 11-14, 18-21). This calendar adjustment puts coaches on the road, watching high school recruits, or back on campus so they can be around their players amid summer workouts/classes. Zero recruiting visits are permitted.
"May used to be a down time, now it may be the most important month," Kampe said. "For mid-majors like me, July doesn't mean shit anymore. I'm not getting those kids anymore. I'm out there so they see who I am, so when they want to transfer, they'll remember who I am."
The move to two evaluation periods on back-to-back weekends could offer an improved cadence of playing time for recruits. The belief among many coaches is that players are worn out by the end of July, so anything beyond two periods would reduce quality of competition and lead to spottier attendance.
For all the changes poised to take place, there is an expensive unanswered question: What is going to happen to the NCAA Academy? The NCAA-run recruiting event, which was born out of a suggestion from the oft-criticized Rice Commission, was held this week in Memphis. It debuted in four locations in 2019, but the pandemic forced it into hibernation from 2020-22. Sources told CBS Sports the cost of the Academy is north of $8 million. In order for it to continue, it will need budget approval by NCAA leaders later this year.
"A significant number of commissioners" are still dubious on the concept, one NCAA source told CBS Sports. "There's an uphill battle against it in 2024 and beyond."
That said, reports out of Memphis this week have been quite good. Attendance was better than anticipated. It seems to be a quality recruiting showcase for 16-and-unders and mid-major programs.
"If they wanted to keep it going, it could get better each year," Robinson told CBS Sports. "I was really pleasantly surprised by the names of the teams that were involved in it. There were some big-time Adidas, Nike and Under Armour teams who qualified."
The NCAA will get feedback from coaches on the event in the weeks to come. Many I spoke with said they had no interest in attending, citing the compound crunch of the calendar over the prior three months. That in mind, there is one potential compromise: If the NCAA votes to keep it going, perhaps the second evaluation weekend in July could host the Academy and a variety of grassroots events in one place. The city that makes the most sense? Vegas, baby.
"Let's be honest, there was nothing better than Vegas for five days for all levels," Skerry said. "Loads of events. Hodgepodge of all of it and to get around. Whether you're at Towson or Duke, there were guys for you to see."
Because of travel fatigue, burnout and the relentless nature of recruiting, the calendar here will increase in dead days for the longest stretch of the year: a 14-day period (Aug. 6-20). This is the one part of the calendar revamp that is already official (approved in June). The long-term goal is to keep this dead period in August moving forward, so coaches can either prepare for overseas exhibition trips or be able to decompress after the push of summer recruiting.
The two dead periods in May/August will allow for respites, but they fall short of one bigger action: an outright blackout space. That means no contact whatsoever, be it calls, texts or any signaling through social media. Women's basketball has it. Some men's coaches want it.
"I'm in favor of the dead period being exactly that," Pearl said. "The recruits and their families need a break, we need a break, no one is getting a leg up on anyone else. It would be good for the profession and the recruiting process. I'm not worried about anyone breaking the rules because, if someone is breaking the rules, the family will know the phones have been shut off and the family will know that someone is operating dishonestly."
Skerry also is in favor of a blackout period.
"I think we should," he said. "I think the issue becomes, people have to be willing to pay the price if they violate that and people have to be willing to call them out. What's the saying, there's no honor amongst thieves? That's the concern."
Not doing it means almost zero true days off, and that's not healthy.
"The time and energy that you put in is what you get out of it. That can never change with your job," Scheyer said. "With everything that's on your plate, it takes up mind space. So the biggest challenge — I think I can speak for most coaches — is when I'm with my kids, I want to be with my kids, and not thinking about everything that's going on. Because there hasn't been a day I've been a head coach where 'nothing's going on, everything's good.' There's always something going on that you have to think about."
Opponents point to a blackout being too impractical, given how phones are a part of everyday life. When this rule was in place for decades (it was eliminated in 2012), smartphones didn't exist. Some believe policing it is borderline impossible.
"It's foreign to them and they don't trust themselves," Robinson said.
If coaches truly want a break from the grind, having a blackout period would give many what they're begging for — to save them from themselves. Plenty of recruits aren't wanting to talk or text with coaches every day anyway.
"My assistant was canceling being in a wedding in Mexico and I'm like, 'What the f---, you're not canceling. It's not going to kill us,'" Kampe said. "You have to have time with your kids and watch them grow up, be a human. The problem in our business is, people want to do that, but if someone else is out, they feel they have to be out. They feel they're scrutinized by their bosses."
More than a dozen coaches I spoke with said a brief communication ban in May or August would be best for all.
"My great wife reminds me that I get to do this, I don't have to do this," Skerry said. "The stress, it's real, it's different. We're extremely concerned about the mental health of our student-athletes, but we need to spend more time to think about that for staff. It's tough."
Blackout or no blackout, perfect won't be the villain of progress here. Men's college basketball is on the verge of some of its most substantial offseason changes in a generation. Thanks to Robinson, the NABC has finally helped get the attention of the NCAA in ways that weren't achievable in previous years.
College basketball isn't broken, but behind the scenes its fabric has been fraying. These calendar fixes should be the fibers that can sew it into something stronger and better for almost everyone.