Recruiting a game within a game
by JOHN MARSHALL
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The recruiting section of the massive NCAA manual is 49 pages of do-this-don't-do-that finger wagging at coaches.
Try this translation: You can come face-to-face with a prospective recruit on certain occasions during a timeframe determined by the NCAA — but not during the evaluation period, when unavoidable incidental contact is permitted as long as it involves only normal civility. Or something like that. Oh, and don't use the same door to the gym during summer league games.
Yeah, it's complicated.
Coaches take tests on it and have cram sessions before recruiting trips. Many still end up scratching their heads.
"It's fair to say we have to spend enough time to stay on top of it," Baylor basketball coach Scott Drew said. "And once you learn something, then you've got to be ready to change it."
Competition to land top recruits and advances in technology have turned the recruiting game into an untenable octopus of rule-skirting possibilities. Long gone are the days when a coach could call or visit a recruit anytime he wanted, maybe take him, his family and coach out to dinner.
College basketball is big business with pressure on coaches to land the best players possible or they'll end up on the street.
Talent is identified as early as grade school and coaches began the wooing early, looking to gain an edge. The Internet, text and instant messaging, and social media outlets like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have made the slope even more treacherous, leaving the NCAA scrambling to keep up.
"Any time there's something new that's out there, someone's going to get ahead of it and try to use it to their advantage," said Reggie Minton, deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
"So they're probably looking every day at how the rules should apply, that they're not overly restrictive but at the same token don't allow an unbridled approach to every young person out there."
The rules are often simple on the surface, but full of tiny details.
Take the recruiting periods. There are four: contact, evaluation, quiet and dead. But within those periods are rules governing the type of contact allowed, covering just about everything but Morse code.
There are edicts on funerals (as long as no recruiting occurs), text messaging (prohibited), attachments in e-mails (color is OK, but only non-recruiting information is allowed), even mail service (first class or lower, no certified or delivery confirmation).
"There's a million of them," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "It's all how you look at it. We just keep it simple, check before you do anything."
Universities have compliance officers — sometimes a team of them — whose duty is to interpret rules for recruiting and the rest of the 418-page NCAA manual. Coaches take a test every year to make sure they know the rules — it's open-book — and often hold meetings before recruiting periods to make sure they're straight on current interpretations.
It's all done to keep the NCAA caught up with coaches and universities trying to stay ahead of the curve.
"I think the problem with basketball is that the NCAA doesn't trust the basketball coaches across the board, unfortunately," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "Some of it, we've done to ourselves, and some of it's just, it is what it is."