For my own personal sanity, thank goodness the NCAA has rescinded its ban on satellite camps.
The original ban might have lasted only a few weeks, but it was also long enough for me to question the NCAA’s sensitivity and foresight with a high-profile issue that ultimately had more flair than substance, more conjecture than facts, more bark than bite.
Seriously, who cares if Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh wants to host a one-day summer camp in various parts of the South? And who cares if some Pac-12 coaches are thinking of setting up one-day shops in the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas?
Would these concepts really be that devastating, recruiting-wise, to SEC programs, or the major schools from the Lone Star State?
I highly doubt it.
Take the bayou area, for example: The NCAA could hypothetically permit head coaches from Power 5 programs to build a wall around the state of Louisiana — for recruiting purposes only — and LSU would still sign the vast majority of blue-chip recruits from the talent-rich state.
And what about the Sunshine State?
The University of Michigan could erect a satellite campus right next to the sprawling digs of the famed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. (hotbed of prep talent) — the same locale of Harbaugh’s “spring break” practices in late February — and the coaches at Florida, Florida State and Miami would still be knee-deep in NFL-caliber prospects.
The southern states are perpetually teeming with college-level talent, and who could blame the other conferences for wanting a piece of that action?
Man its on and popping pic.twitter.com/wUOy3AJo4V
— Coach Smith CGHS (@headbcg) April 29, 2016
SUMMER CAMPS MAKE FOR STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
Kirby Smart warrants praise for his immediate reaction to last week’s reversal ruling:
Instead of doubling down on the SEC’s previous objections over satellite camps in the South or Michigan’s spring-break outings in Florida, the new UGA head coach agreed to co-host a June function with Harbaugh at Cedar Grove High School in Georgia.
It was a master-stroke move on Smart’s part, quickly putting a positive spin on a hot-button issue with football fans in the South.
Plus, by celebrating the camp-ban overturn with Michigan, it’s possible that Harbaugh might subsequently derive less joy with this year’s crop of satellite camps … compared to last summer, when he was rebelling against the machine, angering the nation’s most powerful conference and garnering 100 percent of the media spotlight.
And that’s how every SEC coach should approach the NCAA’s new ruling: They can either maintain a stubborn stance about college football’s latest marketing craze (read: fad), or they can take a page out of the animated movie Frozen and simply “let it go.”
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY
The states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey — all considered Big Ten territories — consistently produce their share of top-notch recruits every year. Stars like Rashan Gary, the mammoth defensive tackle from Paramus, N.J., and a consensus choice as the Class of 2016’s No. 1 recruit.
(Gary would eventually land with Michigan on National Signing Day.)
If the SEC had always permitted satellite camps in other regions, can you imagine the media hype/hysteria behind Alabama coach Nick Saban setting up a one-day camp in nearby Hackensack, followed by a publicity tour that covered every major media conglomerate in New York City?
It would be a home run for Saban and the Alabama brand, so much so that it would probably influence at least one 4- or 5-star recruit from the tri-state area to visit and perhaps sign with the Crimson Tide down the road.
Therein lies the brilliance of momentarily stepping out of a southern-based comfort zone: For the cost of a private-plane trip to the East Coast, plus miscellaneous expenses involving the Crimson Tide coaches, trainers, etc., the satellite-camp experience would have a two-pronged effect of 1) stealing public relations thunder from the Big Ten and 2) adding to Alabama’s dynastic run as college football’s recruiting kings.
(Citing 247Sports.com, Alabama has landed the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class for six consecutive years, an absurd accomplishment in today’s world.)
The same holds true for the likes of Florida, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Arkansas and South Carolina, among others in the conference. And what about Mark Stoops? Do you think the Kentucky coach (excellent recruiting class in 2014) would jump at the chance to host satellite camps in neighboring states where football is king?
Which brings us to this: Assuming the NCAA attaches some regulations to the new ruling — like minimizing the number of satellite camps per school (say, five per year) and honoring a certain coverage radius of other Power 5 programs (say, no closer than 25 miles from a main campus) — then schools should be encouraged to caravan to other regions, if only for a brief window of time.
For me, it’s no different than when Big Ten schools consciously started raiding Florida for prep talent back in the 1970s.
It’s no different than when Colorado built a short-term dynasty from relative scratch in the 1980s and 90s, by hitting the California high schools with full power.
And it’s no different than Alabama accepting invitations to start every season in either Atlanta (Georgia Dome) or Dallas (AT&T Stadium in nearby Arlington), in the form of made-for-TV neutral-field showdowns, even if it means breaking the terms of a home-and-home agreement with Michigan State.
Basically, I’m for anything that exposes the grandeur of college football to a wider base of fans/consumers; and just like the famous book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” … I’d rather embrace change than lament it.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.