Earlier this week, CBSSports.com’s Bryan Fischer had an interview with New Level Athletic’s Baron Flenory. In that interview, Flenory staunchly defended himself against what he called “character assassination” and “speculation” regarding his Badger Sports Elite 7-on-7 camps and the growing problem of AAU-style influence of 7-on-7 coaches in college football recruiting.
Early last month, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples had an in-depth story on the 7-on-7 phenom and explored its impact on the future landscape of football recruiting.
There were several comments in Flenory’s interview with Fischer that I found interesting, but one exchange nearly knocked me for a loop:
Though he denounced the people who tried to take advantage of recruits for profit, Flenory was adamant about continuing to be close to players as a mentor.
"It's not about making a decision for anybody or pushing a kid in a direction, it's about laying down on the table all of the opportunities and sitting down and saying this is one of the best for you," he said. "Whatever that is, you've got to make that decision. I can't live with you for four years. And your $250,000, if that's the going rate, ain't going to last me 40 years and it ain't worth my life."
I called Flenory this week and asked him to clarify this statement. What was he referring to?
“I was referring to the situation down there at Auburn. I don’t know anything about the details of that deal, but that’s not what I’m about. I don’t care what a kid’s ‘asking price’ is,” Flenory told me, “because I’m not there to take advantage of anyone.”
“That’s not what I am and that’s not what my business is about. We’re about giving kids an opportunity to showcase their talent and in some cases, I’m about being the grown-up.”
“But I can’t control what other people do or what other people say. All I can do is help these kids develop and give them an opportunity they may not have had anywhere else. I don’t steer players anywhere.”
Flenory is all business. During the course of a nearly hour-long conversation, he expressed optimism and confidence about his business and insists that he is doing everything above board and transparently. He welcomes NCAA Enforcement scrutiny because he says he’s doing nothing wrong and has always played by the rules. He doesn’t come across to me as anyone other than a small businessman making decisions based on the market and institutional environments he works in. As I wrote in the blog post earlier this week, his story makes sense and it passes the smell test. His 7-on-7 business was growing rapidly and the volume of calls from interested coaches grew too large to handle. He saw a business opportunity in packaging information and selling it, and he took it while staying within NCAA rules. When the NCAA changed the rules, Flenory dropped the recruiting services arm of his enterprise and focused on the core of his business. As long as he played by the rules—at the time the rules were in place—I don’t see where there’s any shady dealings here.
A colleague of mine has a son who has played in New Level Athletics’ system. I also spoke with them this week, and both father and son had nothing but praise for the Badger Sports Elite program and Flenory himself.
That said, the 7-on-7 program’s impact on youth football and college football recruiting is under the scrutiny of the NCAA. The AAU basketball phenomenon has created a nightmare of third party influence and amateurism problems for college basketball, primarily by removing the high school coach from the recruiting process. An elite Division I basketball program now gets more information from a prospect’s AAU coach than he does from the kid’s high school coach. In some cases, a kid might not even play basketball for his high school at all. The AAU system flew under the NCAA’s radar for years and they didn’t realize they had a problem until, well… They had a problem.
That lesson seems to have been well learned and from Staples’ SI piece last month, NCAA Enforcement staff have been attending 7-on-7 tryouts and camps across the country. They don’t want the 7-on-7 system to grow into the nightmare that the AAU travel squads have become in basketball.
In this writer’s humble estimation, men like Baron Flenory aren’t the problem. There are sure to be some individuals who seek to profit from and take advantage of kids, but Flenory vigorously denounces them and says he has nothing to do with them. “I want to make sure there is no misinterpretation. That’s not what I do. I don’t steer players anywhere, and I don’t care what the ‘going rate’ is. I’m not going to risk my business,” he told me.
I believe him.