Why college basketball coaches' deepest fears on recruiting changes may be premature

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- There is mounting concern from college basketball coaches that this Peach Jam will be the last they're allowed to attend for the foreseeable future.

And there's a fear of helplessness to stop that from happening. 

CBS Sports spoke on background with about 20 coaches at the Nike event, a key high school basketball summer showcase, about the impending vote in August that will determine the future of the July recruiting period. The universal takeaway: These coaches disagree with any rule that would prevent them from attending and scouting events such as the Peach Jam and dozens of other annual July tournaments that are run by or in conjunction with major apparel companies. 

Some form of action is inevitable because the Commission on College Basketball's report from April explicitly tasked NCAA members with a modified approach to the recruiting model and, as byproduct, its calendar. This was in response to the FBI's years-long probe into nefarious college basketball recruiting, which shook the sport upon its first wave of arrests last year. Its aftereffects promise to alter the foundation of how college basketball operates. 

Many coaches, expressing an uneasiness about speaking skeptically about the NCAA and/or members of the Rice Commission, declined to comment on the record to CBS Sports. But according to one important coach involved in the in process, alarmist mentality and widespread assumptions have taken a stranglehold on the coaching fraternity. 

"There is, has been and continues to be extreme overreaction," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "All the constituents have a say in how this is going to go. The fact that something was leaked and caused all this uproar is really unfortunate. It was not a step forward."

Martelli -- a past president and still-board member of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) -- is also one of two active coaches on two of the eight designated "working groups" that were formed following the FBI investigation coming to light. Martelli is a part of the nonscholastic basketball working group and the recruiting working group, both of which have significant pull in how much recruiting rules will change. 

"There's not one thing in ink," Martelli said. "There's a lot of things in pencil."

Still, there is concern, fear, cynicism -- you name it -- from college coaches over this potential scenario: 

  • Beginning in June of 2019, high school-based camps (which won't feature tournament play and elite-team assembly) will be run by the NCAA and without any apparel company presence.
  • Because of the introduction of camps in June, the July calendar for recruiting will be altered and/or pared. (For the past decade, coaches have been on the road for 15 days every July in three five-day periods. June has been a quiet period.)
  • July will then bring about more camps, these ones affiliated with USA Basketball. Because these camps would take place in July, they might run simultaneously to apparel companies' signature summer tournaments. The fallout from this would be legislation from the NCAA that prevented coaches from attending said tournaments, the most notable of which is Nike's annual Peach Jam.
  • If apparel companies opted to move their tournaments out of July and into August, there is no promise or inclination that a change in the recruiting calendar would allow for coaches to attend those events at that point anyway. And as is, adding more days to being on the road is not something a lot of coaches want. 

As CBS Sports' Gary Parrish laid out in this column, these types of changes would hinder coaches' ability to identify and recruit players efficiently.

"No one is there yet," Martelli said on Thursday. "There's been an overreaction to a set of ideas -- that weren't the only ideas."

Despite the fretting from the coaching fraternity, the reality is this: All details and alterations regarding July recruiting are still to be determined. Martelli isn't the only one speaking to this. Many athletic directors and conference commissioners who serve on the NCAA's working groups have hit the road and are attending these tournaments, which seems to be a first. 

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione was taking in the first two days of the Peach Jam this year. Also on hand in North Augusta: Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Penn AD Grace Calhoun and Conference USA commissioner Judy MacLeod. Supposedly, many others are planning to be at events throughout July. CBS Sports reached out to the Rice Commission to determine if anyone from that committee was on the road this week or plans to travel to events later in July. As of this story's publication, there was no response. 

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Joe Castiglione was impressed by Peach Jam's organization. USATSI

Castiglione's working group -- the apparel companies working group -- is specifically looking at how shoe companies' relationships with non-scholastic basketball impacts NCAA basketball and to better understand the environment of July recruiting.

"First impressions are: well-run, well-organized, obviously high-level games," he said. "The setup seems to be very functional." 

Castiglione -- a former chair of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, and one of those more respected ADs in the business -- did briefly meet with Nike officials and EYBL staff on Wednesday afternoon, prior to the Peach Jam starting to get a grasp on how an event like this is run. 

Like Martelli, he cautioned against assumption that coaches are going to be pulled out of Peach Jam and all July tournament events. 

"Our charge is to be, first and foremost, as open-minded as possible and to consider the best means to address the issues are within our control," Castiglione said. "Some are obviously more complicated than others. ... Let's face it: You can learn a lot by observing, and there are good things about this, too. Very much so. We're trying to be as sensible and inclusive as possible." 

April also annually provides a live period of tournament play at shoe-company events. The theoretical plan is still to allow coaches to scout at Nike, Under Armour and Adidas events in April. However, July is the considered the crowned jewel for recruiting, and many coaches rejected the idea of bringing back camps because of the logistical issues surrounding them and an inferior scouting model. 

Also, it's a multimillion-dollar endeavor that the NCAA has never tried before. Some believe it's doomed to fail. 

But Martelli called what's percolated here at the Peach Jam a "false narrative" and said that multiple detailed options have been discussed via teleconference in recent months and weeks. Camps are probably happening in some capacity, but to what extent still isn't determined. Plus, big-time apparel companies are still in communication with the NCAA over how to make everybody happy.

"The sneaker companies have been engaged in the conversations," Martelli said. "If the regional camps or the USA Basketball camp are going to come, Nike, Adidas, Under Armour -- and watch, Puma -- their needs need to be considered. Was it discussed to go head-to-head? Yeah. This is not everybody pointing a finger and saying, 'Sneaker companies are lousy,' because they're good not just for college basketball, they're good for college athletics."

As an athletic director, Castiglione is aware of how important to business apparel companies have become to building up college programs in the 21st century. In 2017, Oklahoma agreed to a new deal to be a Jordan Brand school, in association with Nike. These types of contracts afford schools tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars provided by apparel corporations. 

"We need to be a little bit patient," Castiglione said. "There could be some radical ideas floated out. You're getting some feedback that might bring some attention to the idea, and it might create a better solution. And by the way, we all have relationships with these companies, great relationships, that are based on the right values. We need to better understand this. I hope people see it as a sincere effort to think all of this through as well as we possibly can." 

Part of the anxiety within college basketball stems from the accelerated timeline. Conferences faced a deadline on Friday to submit feedback to the Division I Council regarding what coaches did or didn't like with potential proposals being discussed. From there, the Division I Council has until Aug. 1 to assemble its proposals for changes to the recruiting model (and other rule changes in the sport). The Board of Directors (dealing only with Division I rulebook) and the Board of Governors (oversees all levels of NCAA) will convene on Aug. 7 and make its final decisions by Aug. 8. 

Why so soon on Aug. 8? That date has long been set in place by the Board of Directors and the Board of Governors. The timeline of action worked backward from that. 

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Phil Martelli is respected throughout the coaching world. USATSI

"There's no seeds already planted," Martelli said. "There's none. So there's still work. And there's going to be as much work on Aug. 9 as there is on Aug. 7."

So there is a squeeze now with what decisions will be made. Martelli said "many follow-up conversations" will be had by his and other working groups, and the NABC, prior to Aug. 1. This week and next are most critical because coaches, athletic directors, conference commissioners and others are gathering opinions and intel from the road. 

"I would caution people to (not) assume anything,"  Castiglione said. "Obviously we're moving with purpose. We all want to find the right way to to do the right things, but we need to let the process play out a little bit more. Even when some of the proposals get discussed openly or publicly or someone mentions an idea that is making its way through the system, I'm not troubled by that because if it gets discussion focused around the pros and cons of an idea, then maybe it provides additional feedback a working group might not get otherwise."

As for the Rice Commission, its suggestions and presence hover over college basketball still, but it's no longer a part of the process at this stage. The NCAA is on a manhunt for transparency -- to the extent it can achieve it -- in college recruiting. But apparel companies are going to continue to hold these events with or without coaches in attendance. They'll continue hold influence over players, as players will still value playing the most competitive basketball possible on the biggest stages in the spring and summer. 

And coaches believe taking them away Peach Jam or any other legitimate tournament event in July doesn't actually solve the problem.

"Strengthening the rules themselves won't stop people who lack integrity," Castiglione said.  "Whether college coaches are present or not, there are tournaments going on. Apparel companies decide whether or not those are events they want to associate with, and for whatever reason. Hard to imagine how much control we would have over that." 

CBS Sports Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his eighth season covering college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics,... Full Bio

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