Welcome to budding world of travel football (cont.)
That exception is spelled out in NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 (b), which states: "Contact shall not be made with the prospective student-athlete from the time he or she reports on call (at the direction of his or her coach or comparable authority) and becomes involved in competition related activity (e.g., traveling to an away-from-home game) to the end of the competition even if such competition-related activities are initiated prior to the day or days of competition."
In other words, a team traveling to a competition cannot take unofficial visits, whereas a team traveling home from a competition can take as many visits as it wants. Goetz learned this in a June 29 phone call from Florida State associate athletic director Jody Smith as the bus rolled toward Tallahassee. "The rule is ridiculous," Goetz said. "You can't go before, but you can go after. After we leave, what's the difference? It's the same trip."
Not according to the NCAA. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson wrote in an e-mail last week that the membership didn't want high school athletes to face the added pressure of visits as they prepared for competition. "NCAA members have made it a priority," Christianson wrote, "to preserve the opportunity for prospective student-athletes to participate in high school level competition while having separate, specifically defined opportunities for recruiting visits."
Goetz would learn that, despite weeks of advanced planning, a coach at Florida State had waited until the day of the scheduled visit to run the plan past the compliance office. Compliance officials told the staff to cancel the visit. Someone then contacted the SEC office to ensure that the other schools the Express planned to visit before the tournament (LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State) also followed the rule. Coaches at those schools and Florida received the same e-mail from the SEC office reminding them of the rule.
Goetz quickly called coaches at each school. The coaches confirmed the Express could still receive the same tour that any prospective student would. One school would take advantage of this fact and reap the rewards. Three would not.
After a stop for lunch in Gainesville, Goetz told his players the unofficial visits had been canceled at every stop except Florida. Gators coaches could host the Express because the visit would come after the tournament. In its desire to obey NCAA rules, Florida State had actually given its archrival a significant advantage.
What frustrated Goetz most was that none of the college coaches -- all of whom are required to pass a test on NCAA recruiting rules -- checked on the rule in the weeks leading up to the trip. Had Express coaches known, they would have simply gone to the tournament first and visited all the schools on the way home. "It's just upsetting that we've had this planned for months," Goetz said, "and nobody did their homework."
It was especially upsetting because Goetz estimated the trip would cost from $15,000-$17,000. Goetz spent months raising the funds to pay for a bus, food and hotel rooms for the 33-member Express traveling party. Goetz and his cousin, CPA Brad Sokol, bargained with hotel managers for the best rates. They haggled with all-you-can-eat buffet managers for free sodas. They also secured sponsorships to ensure the bulk of the cost didn't come from their own pockets.
An elite travel basketball team -- especially one loaded with top college prospects -- can count on Nike or adidas to fund much of its travel. That isn't the case with travel football, which is a relatively new phenomenon. Though seven-on-seven tournaments are summertime staples in football hotbeds such as Florida and Texas, they typically feature teams composed of players from the same high school. Traveling all-star teams are common in basketball, baseball, soccer and volleyball, but not in football.
One sponsor was The Garner Foundation, a Miami-based charity that gives primarily to educational causes. Co-director Gerald Moore has given to Goetz's youth football league. Moore, who considers himself more of a basketball fan, saw value in allowing a group of athletes to visit potential college destinations. Plus, Moore believes in Goetz. "I can just tell by being with Brett that his heart and soul is in it," Moore said. "He does it because he loves it -- not because someone is paying him."
Another sponsor was Title Sports Drink, a newcomer to the market dominated by Gatorade and Powerade. On the trip, players wore Title-branded shirts and quenched their thirst with coolers full of Title's product, which tastes a tad sweeter but has fewer calories than regular Gatorade.
Some companies didn't offer sponsorships, but they did offer discounts. Gunther Meyer, the president of Miami-based TravelByBus!, considers himself a hardcore recruitnik. He knew most of the players from reading about them on Rivals.com and Scout.com. So Meyer cut the Express a deal for a bus that featured leather seats, on-board televisions and wireless internet. "These kinds of opportunities," Meyer said, "can open doors for kids."
Or close them.
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