April 29, 2008

Coaches have different thoughts on new rule

Alabama coach Nick Saban believes it's ridiculous that head coaches no longer can visit high schools during the spring evaluation period. USC coach Pete Carroll reportedly said the new rule benefited "lazy" coaches.

Not every coach agrees with them.

In fact, the reactions across the country to the new NCAA regulations reveal a wide variety of opinions.

Some coaches worry that the ban on off-campus recruiting visits could prevent them from learning more about the players they're recruiting. Other coaches see it as the only way to make sure they meet regulations that already were in place.

The NCAA had prohibited coaches from speaking in person to potential student-athletes during the spring evaluation period, which runs from April 15 to May 31. But that rule was difficult to enforce as long as head coaches were visiting high schools during that period.

When big-name coaches talked to coaches or walked the halls at high schools across the country, students often gathered. If one of those students happened to be a college prospect, the coach unintentionally was violating the rule that prohibited contact with potential student-athletes.

"This was seen as a way to deal with the disconnect from the rule and the reality some people faced," said Greg Sankey, the Southeastern Conference's associate commissioner for compliance.

Although the SEC actually sponsored the proposal to keep head coaches out of high schools during the spring evaluation period, some of the league's coaches weren't happy with it.

Saban has been the most vocal in his displeasure with the new regulation, which has been referred to as the "Saban Rule" in some quarters. "I think it's ridiculous," he said.

Saban pointed out that he usually took it upon himself to speak to coaches, principals and guidance counselors as a way of learning about the character of a prospect as well as other qualities that can't be spotted on a stat sheet or in game film. He now can't have those face-to-face conversations with school officials each May.

"I think we've really limited ourselves in what we've done," Saban said, "and I totally disagree with it."

Complaints about the new rule have extended to other parts of the country. Carroll also criticized the restriction and implied that it would penalize coaches who traditionally worked the hardest during the spring evaluation period. "I don't want to sound like a jerk," Carroll told The Sporting News last month. "But other coaches they're just lazy."

But other coaches believed this rule was necessary as long as they already were prohibited from speaking with recruits during this time period.

Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson noted how difficult it was to avoid recruits while visiting high schools each spring. Johnson noted that the prohibition on contact with recruits couldn't always prevent a high school coach from bringing in his top players whenever a college coach was visiting. And that doesn't even account for potential student-athletes who might approach a coach on their own.

"Especially when some of the high-profile coaches go out to a high school, it's just like an event," Johnson said. "Everyone's waiting for him. Everyone comes by. It's just a hard rule to enforce. (The new rule), I think, is the only way to do it."

That explains why Texas coach Mack Brown already wasn't going to high schools during the spring evaluation period. Brown said his assistants have visited the high schools each spring instead for the past 10 years.

"The problem in the state of Texas and (for) some other coaches across the country is if I go into the school being the head coach at the University of Texas a lot of the kids will come up and talk to you and put you in a very difficult situation because it's illegal to talk to the kids in the spring," Brown said.

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt noted that all the distractions surrounding a head coach's visit to a high school also made it difficult for him to obtain all the information he'd be seeking about potential recruits. Nutt said he often would get asked to sign autographs or pose for photos whenever he toured high schools during his tenure at Arkansas.

The new rule doesn't prohibit assistants from visiting high schools each May, and they don't have to worry about facing the types of distractions that Nutt encountered.

"There would be a lot of time wasted," Nutt said. "If you had an assistant out there, you could get a little more work done."

Texas provides evidence that a program can find talented players by relying on its assistants instead of having its head coach traveling to various high schools throughout the spring. Even though Brown said he hasn't toured high schools during the spring evaluation period for the past decade, the Longhorns still have won at least 10 games for seven consecutive seasons.

"You have to trust your assistant coaches," Brown said.

While assistants are gathering information at various high schools across the country, head coaches must alter their spring schedules.

"They passed it," said Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who wasn't in favor of the rule. "We just have to live with it and do the best we can."

And it appears that this rule's most vocal critic already has found a way to live with it. The Birmingham (Ala.) News reported last week that Saban didn't have to leave his office to speak to one recruit. William Ming, a four-star defensive end from Athens (Ala.) High, used a webcam to chat for 15-20 minutes with Saban.

NCAA rules still allow a coaching staff to make one phone call to a prospective student-athlete during the spring evaluation period. All electronically transmitted exchanges are considered phone calls by the NCAA.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the man who attracted the nation's top recruiting class in February already has discovered a way to work around the NCAA's latest restriction.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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