One of the changes being considered for college basketball is the repeal of the early signing period for recruits. The latest to weigh in is ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb. I’ve known Doug for quite a while; in fact, I used to be on his show, albeit when he was doing radio in Oklahoma. His reasoning for a change represents those who see the problems and complaints that have arisen since its implementation. The comments these critics make are certainly valid. Some may even wonder, “How could anyone approve such a flawed idea?”
For anybody who objects to the people who legislated such an apparently bad rule, I’m one of the culprits. I was assistant chairman of the Recruiting Committee of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) when we recommended adding the opportunity for prospective student-athletes to sign during an eight-day period in early November (the first Wednesday through the second). If anyone is interested in how a bunch of allegedly sane people came up with such an obviously flawed rule, read on.
One of the reason new rules come into existence is because coaches’ abuse of the current ones. Abuse might be a little harsh in this case. Rather, coaches were guilty of working too hard. As stated in yesterday’s blog, “early morning” coaches, in an effort to be the first friendly voice of a prospect’s day, would often call at 6:00am. Others felt being the last voice in their heads was the better strategy and would call circa midnight. Let’s not forget the polite coaches, those who’d call in between those hours. The kids who were polled told us of the many interruptions they experienced - when they were with friends, male and female, at meals or worse, during study times. A significant number of prospective basketball players needed then (as many do now) to do well in their senior classes if they wanted to qualify academically for a scholarship.
Even more awkward, our committee members heard from some prospects that they would get called at home (remember, this was prior to cell phones) as they were leaving for their games. It seems rather simple that kids should have the courage, or sense, to tell a coach something so obvious as having to leave to play a game. If you feel that way, chances are you’ve never been on the receiving end of a recruiter’s phone call. Some of them are so intent on selling their school, they never give a prospect a chance to say anything! Believe it or not, some kids are intimidated when talking to a coach, especially one that works for a school where they really are considering spending the next four years of their lives.
The message we kept hearing was that prospects wanted a means to be free from the constant stress of recruiting. Our committee reasoned that these boys would be able to make their campus visits in the fall instead of the spring (as most did when their seasons ended) and make their decision following those visits (as they were currently doing). This scenario would give them a chance to enjoy their senior year.
The story that clinched it, in terms of understanding that a change was necessary, came from a big-time recruit from the Midwest who verbally committed to his state university, the school he’d dreamed of playing for as a young boy. Verbal commitments, then as now, aren’t binding. The earliest a prospect could actually sign was the first Wednesday in April.
At that time I was working at Tennessee. A colleague of mine in the SEC once said to me, “I love when a kid commits. Then, we only have one school to beat.” Apparently, this was the philosophy some other schools employed with the Midwesterner. Any time something negative happened at the school he committed to, rival assistants would call him and say, “Did you hear that . . . ?” Then, after a couple losses, his next year’s coach’s job security was questioned. On occasion, the “did you hear?” might not have even occurred (yes, recruiting is a dirty business). He acted exactly the way those other schools had hoped. He, or his concerned parents, would call his future coaches just to “clear things up.” This went on throughout his senior season. He began to question his decision; they wondered, “Who is this kid that we have to continually justify our program?”
Relations became strained and when another school that had “stayed on him” offered an official visit, he took it. Not only did he take it, but he changed his mind and signed with them.
Full disclosure: our NABC Recruiting Committee didn’t make any rules. We only gave suggestions, based on a good deal of background work, to the NCAA Recruiting Committee. This young man told that group that, one day during the first week of his freshman year he woke up in his dorm room and said to himself, “What am I doing here? I always wanted to go to my dream school!”
Should a repeal of the early signing period occur, history will merely be undone. I’m not sure why, but the following line seems appropriate to me:
“You can complain because thorns have roses or you can rejoice because roses have thorns.”