Have you ever heard the saying from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?” Eight words loaded with wisdom that likely went unheeded two weeks ago. In the recently concluded annual spring meeting in Destin, Florida, the high muckity-mucks of the Southeastern Conference passed several new pieces of legislation, ranging from the red herring “oversigning” ban to allowing Mississippi State to keep the Cowbell Exemption for a little while longer.
But one of the rules that passed is likely to come back and haunt the 12 member schools of the SEC, especially if the rest of the NCAA membership follows the bell cow and passes rules barring 7on-7 football camps from holding events on college campuses.
7-on-7 football by itself is not an evil thing. It allows kids from middle and high schools to compete at a very high level against other kids in events organized by private citizens, who raise money to fund the events by selling sponsorships, holding fundraisers and in some cases, pulling money out of their own pockets. Kids develop skills and get seen by people who need to see the top talent in action. But, like AAU basketball, some shady characters have gotten involved with the industry and the fear is that 7-on-7 will become the sleazy underside of college football recruiting. There are some not-so-desirable people involved, and they do make it difficult for colleges to gain access to the 7-on-7 participants without going through a third party (the 7-on-7 coach, the camp organizer, the “street agent,” the “handler,” etc).
The fear is that with the money involved in college athletics, 7-on-7 could morph into an recruiting meat market (as if recruiting isn’t already), where young men and bought, sold and traded like commodities by people whose interest isn’t the kids, but their own bottom line.
So banning the 7-on-7 camps from being held on college campuses makes perfect sense, right? Who wants this noxious system playing out under the very noses of the programs that are recruiting these kids?
Not so fast with that answer.
If you want to gain control over something, if you want to monitor it and keep it from becoming a more serious problem, the last thing in the world you want to do is to push it as far away from your grasp as you can. 7-on-7 camps are still going to take place. They’ll just be happening at high schools, parks and other facilities in locations convenient for college recruiters to get a peek at them. This is almost exactly the same pattern that led AAU basketball to become the sleazy underside of college basketball recruiting. Is that were colleges want football recruiting to go?
I think it would be much wiser to do the exact opposite. Enact legislation prohibiting prospective student athletes from attending 7-on-7 camps not held on college campuses. Ensure that each 7-on-7 event is held at university athletic facilities. Limit attendance to college coaches, family/friends of players, NCAA compliance officials, and media outlets that do not have recruiting services as part of their business. No Rivals, Scout or 247 allowed.
Camp organizers can still make some coin off of sponsorships and ticket sales. College coaches can get a look at the players they’re interested in. Media access ensures openness. Banning unrelated third parties and recruiting services crimps the influence of street agents and sleazy recruiting service members.
But more importantly, college football will be keeping their friends close, and an enemy closer.
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