Last week’s decision by the NCAA to nix satellite football camps reminded me of something that happened when I was in graduate school.
I arrived in an economics class one day early in the semester to submit a paper and found a particularly industrious (and disturbingly competitive) classmate publicizing that she had gone way above and beyond the parameters of the assignment: Her paper was double the required length and included a series of elaborate graphs and exhibits.
When we received the assignment from the professor, it included a minimum length requirement, but nothing restricting the length of the paper or addenda to it. Everything my classmate did was kosher. In fact, her initiative was commendable.
Nonetheless, she didn’t win many friends that morning. People quickly recognized that if there was no limit to what students could submit, that would up the amount of time and effort necessary for everyone else to be graded on a level playing field.
Of course, the professor didn't want to read her entire paper, either, let alone one like that from multiple students the next time. Not surprisingly, the next assignment included explicit instructions putting a cap on how long the papers could be.
Jim Harbaugh has spent the last 18 or so months writing his recruiting opus.
It’s easy to look at the ass-twitching from the Southeastern Conference in response to his well-publicized flood of satellite camps and just see programs in talent hubs trying to protect their turf from a dogged recruiter. In the end, however, it wasn't just college football's baddest (and whiniest) conference who voted for the ban. It actually drew relatively broad-based support from other conferences, which indicates many feared inciting yet another college football arms race.
Consider what could happen if the growth of satellite camps continued unfettered. Once Harbaugh, Urban Meyer and other high-profile coaches started fanning out for camps in greater numbers across the United States, the pressure for all programs to respond in kind would ratchet up significantly, especially once the SEC got rid of its non-aggression pact.
Now imagine Gus Malzahn trying to explain at a booster luncheon why he and his coaching staff aren’t working as hard on the recruiting trail as Nick Saban’s crew in Tuscaloosa. And how would you like to be an athletic director listening to your head coach bitch about how he needs more resources for camps thousands of miles away from your school?
It’s easy to see programs turning to the same kind of brinkmanship with satellite camps that’s driving up coaching salaries and audacious facility upgrades now. That means ever-escalating time and resources spent just to keep pace with the pack, including even greater compliance and oversight by schools and the NCAA.
And, importantly, once every school begins instituting satellite camps, whatever recruiting edge they currently offer gets dulled fairly quickly. So, from the schools' perspectives, it turns into a higher cost of doing business with fairly little return. At the end of the day, the proliferation of camps would likely just bring the recruiting landscape back to the status quo.
Why would coaches and administrators willingly sign up for that? Viewed through that prism, it does make sense that support for greater regulation would also come from outside the well-known satellite camp opponents in the SEC.
What seems harder to understand is why a full-fledged ban is necessary. Satellite camps have existed for years, and proponents have documented their legitimate benefits for prospects extensively in the days since the NCAA’s announcement.
Harbaugh's WWE-esque promotional tour understandably raised concerns about what could be coming next in an environment that rarely rewards restraint. Yet, a workable medium has to exist somewhere between all satellite camps, all the time and no satellite camps for anyone. Hopefully, some kind of compromise finds its way back into the NCAA sausage-making process in the near future.