Brown saga reveals recruiting holes (cont.)
We shouldn't lay all the blame at the feet of the 17- and 18-year-olds. While some want to stretch their time in the spotlight, others face a genuinely difficult decision. For most, picking a college is the most important choice of their young lives, and the coaches don't make that choice easy. Schools can help themselves and the athletes they hope to attract by encouraging some new NCAA legislation.
First, they can stop fighting an early signing day. The American Football Coaches Association voted overwhelmingly in favor of a December signing period earlier this year, but the measure didn't pass a vote among conference commissioners. Big Ten administrators complained (correctly) that the NCAA needs to allow more communication between coaches and prospects, but other administrators struck it down because such a period would make firing coaches more difficult.
A better idea: a July or August signing period that would allow players who truly have made up their minds to end the process before their senior seasons. If the coach were to get fired, the players would have been warned on the National Letter-of-Intent they signed that they might endure a coaching change.
Also, if coaches want commitments that better resemble engagements, they'd better start holding sizable rocks when they propose. Some coaches pass out written scholarship offers like free hamburger coupons. Some offer more than 200 players for a 25-man class. The NCAA needs a rule that limits schools to 100 scholarship offers per academic year. The NCAA already limits the number of official visits each school can offer. Why not cap the amount of written offers? Then coaches might wait before extending an offer to a player who might leave them at the altar.
Sure, schools might just resort to more wink-wink, nudge-nudge scholarship offers to get around the rule, but consider this scenario. Imagine you're a highly touted recruit from Phoenix and you want to attend college in your home state. Arizona has extended one of its 100 written offers to you, while Arizona State has told you that a written offer is coming, but, for now, an oral offer will have to suffice. Where would you make your reservation? (This is not intended as a slight against Arizona State's staff, by the way. It's just an example. Feel free to substitute Cal and UCLA or Florida and Florida State if you'd like.)
Such a rule might solve some of the problems plaguing the recruiting process, but one issue highlighted during Brown's recruitment isn't going away. Butler, the cell phone company call center manager-turned-trainer who guided Brown through his recruitment, isn't the only handler out there. He's just one of the rare ones who elects to operate in the open. The New York Times has examined Butler and the NCAA has investigated him, but nothing anyone turned up -- not even the fact that Butler planned to charge for updates on Brown's recruitments -- convinced Brown that Butler didn't have his best interests at heart. "Without you," Brown said of Butler on Monday, "none of this would be possible."
Brown had a stable family and a respected high school coach, but he chose to let Butler handle his recruitment anyway. And, to Butler's credit, he has brought exposure to an area not known for producing BCS-level football players. He also has taken some significant lumps during the recruiting process. "It's been somewhat stressful, but I'm just thankful," Butler told SI.com Monday. "The thing that's most important to me is how the parents feel and how the kids feel. I've always had the support of all the parents of the kids I train. ... Nobody wants to hear unflattering things said about them, but I have faith in God. He has my back, and I'll let him judge me."
It will be interesting to see if Butler's Potential Players company has as much luck finding scholarships for players in the post-Brown era. Wichita has one of the best players in the 2010 class (Bishop Carroll quarterback Blake Bell), but Bell's father and his high school coachwill handle Bell's recruitment. Still, Butler said, plenty of parents have called him about training their sons. "It's definitely going up -- not down," Butler said. "I have kids calling me from third grade and up."
Many prospects have unstable families or coaches who aren't helpful, so they gravitate toward street agents or scam artists. Whereas Butler charges for training services, the street agents quietly shop players to colleges, hoping for a payday. The scam artists, meanwhile, soak unwitting parents by promising to publicize players through bogus all-star games or sham Web sites. Compared to those guys, the Brian Butlers of the world don't seem all that bad.
But his commitment process doesn't always have to be such a saga.
A few minutes before Brown revealed his choice, he made an admission. "It was like a roller-coaster ride," he said. "I didn't expect for it turn out like this." Hopefully, it worked out best for Brown. Hopefully, the rest of us learned something, too.
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