Yesterday, my father-in-law told me that while reading an article in a hard copy of the Sporting News (he was at a doctor's office or something, so doesn't have a copy of the mag), he stumbled across a passage stating that the Big Ten had implemented what can fairly be called a "Sampson rule": my father-in-law reported that the rule forbids Big Ten schools from recruiting a kid who has committed to another Big Ten school and requires a coach who receives contact from a kid who had committed to another Big Ten school to call the coach who procured the commitment. I was shocked that I hadn't heard anything about it, and despite asking around on message boards I haven't found the TSN article in question, but this article by Tom Oates in the Wisconsin State Journal show that such a story did appear in TSN:
News: The Sporting News reported the Big Ten has a new rule prohibiting conference members from recruiting players who are publicly committed to another conference school.
Views: This is fallout from Eric Gordon reneging on his commitment to Illinois and signing with Indiana after the Hoosiers hired coach Kelvin Sampson. More important, it is an enforcement nightmare. After all, how does one define "publicly committed?" When it is confirmed by the kid? By his parents? His prep coach? His AAU coach? When it is in the newspaper? And what if the player truly initiates the contact?
Because I haven't found the article itself (by the way, if anyone has an electronic or even hard copy of the TSN article, please e-mail me at the address in the upper right hand corner), I won't comment on the second part of what I was told, the phone call issue. Nevertheless, as the State Journal reporter notes, this is an enforcement nightmare. Take the case of DeShaun Thomas. Thomas, a Fort Wayne resident who just finished his freshman year of high school, verbally committed to Ohio State back in early June. A few days later, his high school coach indicated that Thomas's parents want him to take more visits before making a final decision. I'm not sure if Thomas himself has offered any further public comment. So, under this rule, is DeShaun Thomas committed to Ohio State? Can this fifteen year-old's parents decide whether he is committed? Can they speak for him?
Again, I haven't seen the rule. But would it apply to basketball only, or to all sports? One of the issues that really exercised IU fans during the coverage of Eric Gordon's change of heart was the portrayal of recruiting a committed player as a deep moral wrong, while in reality such tactics are pretty well-accepted in the world of college football recruiting. Certainly, basketball recruiting classes are smaller, so the loss of even one player can cause quite a bit of damage, as Gordon's de-commit certainly did to the Illinois program. Still, the loss of a specialized player such as a quarterback, or any other player who fits a particularly glaring need, or the loss of a handful of top commitments can just as surely cripple a football recruiting class.
Another problem with this rule is that it will work to the disadvantage of the Big Ten. Suppose a high school junior-to-be wishes to make an early commitment. His finalists are Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, and North Carolina. When a kid commits, of course, he probably doesn't contemplate changing his mind. Nevertheless, a commitment to a Big Ten school would have a high cost than a commitment to North Carolina because it would limit his future options should the circumstances change at one or more of the schools.
It would be unfortunate if Bruce Weber's sniveling resulted in a rule that works to the detriment of all Big Ten schools, including Illinois. Most kids don't chose a college until they are seniors in high school. Hell, some don't even start the decisionmaking process until then. I had known for years to which schools I was going to apply, but didn't make a final decision until April of my senior year. Unquestionably, it is in the interest of prospective student-athletes to be allowed to keep their options open. Should the Big Ten really be working to ensure that verbal commitments made by 15 year-olds in response to pitches from polished salesmen should be as binding as possible? My main problem with the criticism of Sampson last year was that if one took Bruce Weber's side, then Kelvin Sampson, who makes a seven-figure income for his job as the head coach at Indiana University, was supposed to subordinate his duty to his employer (not to mention the wishes of Gordon himself!) to his duty to be loyal to "the coaching fraternity" (gag). One would hope that the Big Ten, this coalition of fine universities, would care more about the autonomy of student-athletes rather than keeping peace between rival coaches and ensuring the enforceability of promises by young teenagers (who can't even enter legally binding contracts in most circumstances). But so it goes.
If there is an overwhelming need for recruiting reform, it seems to me that it should be national and should have some objective component so that coaches and players know where they stand. The NCAA could develop a nationwide, Internet-based "do not call" list. Every player who wished to be considered for a scholarship at an NCAA institution would be assigned an ID number and password. If a kid decided it was time to commit, then the school could confirm the scholarship offer, and the kid could confirm his tentative commitment. While the database reflects the kid as off-limits, no other school could contact him. This commitment would, however, be instantly and unilaterally revocable. I'm not sure if what I propose is necessary, but it would have the advantage of being uniform and objective. The Big Ten rule, at least as I now understand it, would work to the disadvantage of conference schools and is rife with potential for misunderstandings and general confusion.