A look at recruitment

U-News Staff

Have you ever wondered how UMKC received basketball players such as current stars Fred Chatman, Eilise O’Connor, Kirk Korver, or former players Chazny Morris and Reggie Chamberlain? What is the process? What are the rules? Who are the principal people involved in the process? Most importantly: why UMKC?

U-News will answer these questions while exploring  basketball recruitment in a three-part series.

“It all comes down to relationships,” said UMKC men’s head basketball Coach Matt Brown, giving his opinion about what is most important in recruiting. His eyes lit up behind his eye glasses, as bright as the sunlight beaming into his Swinney Recreation Center office through a window behind him.

Above and to the side of that window were three signed basketballs and a trophy from a Chicago tournament the men had won a year ago. He sat comfortably in his chair behind his desk, which had a basketball court painted on top for a more virtual review of plays. He wore a blue polo shirt with the UMKC logo emblazoned on it.

He intermittingly checked his phone, reading texts and answering them, and certain phone calls. It was the beginning of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) official evaluation period. It was a busy time for him and new UMKC women’s head Coach Marsha Frese, who was in Nashville, Tenn., recruiting.

“Building relationships with the kids, parents, high school and AAU coaches,” he said, concluding the most important factors in recruitment.

Yes, these are some of the role players, but there are restrictions to these relationships during recruitment.

The Process

The recruiting process officially begins when a coach or representative contacts a student, who is then deemed a “recruited prospective student,” according to an article by Elisa Kronish titled “Playing the NCAA Game: Rules for Recruitment.” The prospective player, prospective player’s family and the coaches and representatives are then subject to NCAA recruiting rules.

However, not all prospective players or their families are approached by coaches and their representatives. In such cases, the prospective players or their families take on the onus of making contact by sending letters, edited videos of the player, telephone calls or unofficial visits to the campus. The recruitment rules still apply.

Coaches may hear of prospective players via relationships established through years of coaching. These may include coaches from former jobs, such as when Brown was an assistant coach at West Virginia, high school and AAU coaches who were former players or assistant coaches or simply through local friendships.

If a coach becomes truly interested, he or she may pursue the prospective player in various ways. At this point, the coach may try to “sell” the student on what the school has to offer. The coach may promote the school’s prime location, national academic standings or community involvement, along with one of 13 full-ride scholarships available for the team and the possibility of a starting position.

The financial aid and scholarships are huge factors in attracting a prospective player, according to Frese.

“In Division II, students are only offered partial scholarships,” she said. “It is either pay yourself or go for free. It’s a no brainer.”

While it is difficult for Division II schools to compete with Division I in recruiting, it is equally difficult for Division I mid-majors, such as UMKC, to compete with Division I majors, such as North Carolina.

“We are not recruiting the same kids,” Frese said, frankly. “We are not recruiting the same level of kids.”

There are many companies or organizations that rank high school players nationally, such as rivals.com, ESPN and CBS Sports. These nationally ranked prospective players are often courted by and virtually guaranteed a scholarship to play at any college or university of his or her choice, which are normally the majors. Unranked players are left to the mid-majors and others.

“Yeah, it is tough,” Brown said. “They have great resources.”

Of course, simple name recognition could be a big selling point.

“I think it matters a great deal,” Brown said. “A school like Kansas has great recognition, while a school like us is trying to build a name.”

Frese was not sold.

“Name value, recognition in the recruitment process is a bigger deal than it should be,” she said.

It is difficult to say what may convince a prospective player to choose a particular college or university. Once the prospective player makes a choice, the coach may ask the prospective player to sign a national letter of intent (NLI).

According to National Letter of Intent’s homepage: signing “A prospective student-athlete agrees to attend the institution full-time for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters)” and “The institution agrees to provide athletics financial aid for one academic year (two semesters or three quarters).”

The whole process of coach-prospective player interaction is regulated by NCAA rules.

The Rules

The NCAA, the governing body for most university athletic programs, has developed rules for player recruitment from Division I to Division III. Since UMKC is Division I, this article will focus on the rules for Division I colleges and universities.

The NCAA website for recruiting states, “NCAA member schools have adopted rules to create an equitable recruiting environment that promotes student-athlete well-being. The rules define who may be involved in the recruiting process, when recruiting may occur and the conditions under which recruiting may be conducted. Recruiting rules seek, as much as possible, to control intrusions into the lives of student-athletes.”

These rules were designed to prevent improper relationships, advantages and disadvantages between colleges and universities, high schools, coaches, parents and prospective players. They regulate recruiting methods such as telephone calls, text messaging, printed materials (such as brochures and letters), official and unofficial visits and off-campus contact. Boosters, money and other enticements are also limited in the recruiting process.

According to the NCAA, recruiting is defined as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”

The rules are applicable at specific times throughout the year in what the NCAA has termed recruiting “periods.” The calendar for these time periods may be viewed at www.ncaa.org.

There are four periods, which the website explains:

  • Contact period. During this time, a college coach may have in-person contact with you (prospective player) and/or your parents on or off the college’s campus. The coach may also watch you play or visit your high school. You and your parents may visit a college campus and the coach may write and telephone you during this period.
  • Dead period. The college coach may not have any in-person contact with you or your parents at any time in the dead period. The coach may write and telephone you or your parents during this time.
  • Evaluation period. The college coach may watch you play or visit your high school, but cannot have any in-person conversations with you or your parents off the college’s campus. You and your parents can visit a college campus during this period. A coach may write and telephone you or your parents during this time.
  • Quiet period. The college coach may not have any in-person contact with you or your parents off the college’s campus. The coach may not watch you play or visit your high school during this period. You and your parents may visit a college campus during this time. A coach may write or telephone you or your parents during this time.

The NCAA goes further to explain the terms “contact, evaluation, official visit, etc.” These rules vary depending on the prospective player’s status in high school from freshman through senior year. For example, a sophomore may not have an off-campus contact or an official visit, but a senior may. Both are allowed unlimited unofficial visits, though.

This year, the NCAA made an amendment to the rules which gave coaches the ability to send unlimited texts to prospective players. Previously, text messaging was banned and later allowed, but limited.

For the most part, all parties involved are content with the rules.

“The recruiting rules, I think, they are reasonable, not hard,” said junior Fred Chatmon, forward and center for the Roos.

“I feel like they’re a little much,” former UMKC women’s guard LeAndrea Thomas said, “but overall I think they’re fair.”

In recent years, the NCAA has been rife with recruiting scandals in major college sports. In 2010, the father of Auburn’s quarterback Cam Newton was cited for requesting $100,000 from recruiters. In 2011, former Tennessee men’s head basketball Coach Bruce Pearl was fired after allegations of recruiting violations.

The NCAA women are not exempt. This year, Baylor women’s head Coach Kim Mulkey received scrutiny for recruiting violations of Associated Press player of the year Britney Griner after the team went 40-0 and won the national championship.

“They may try to get an advantage,” Brown said of violators of the NCAA recruiting rules. “They try to get an extra leg up.”

Penalties

The NCAA has established penalties for violations.

Violation of recruiting rules can be consequential, if not crippling to a university. It may even end in termination of the offending coach’s job or the entire program.

In the aforementioned recruiting scandals, the University of Tennessee was placed on self-imposed two-year probation and fired Pearl, which the NCAA accepted.

It also placed Pearl on a three-year show cause period, which restricts him from recruiting if hired by any school. The NCAA reserved the right to impose the “death penalty” for repeat violations within five years. The “death penalty” is the ability to totally dismantle a sports program.

Baylor women’s basketball self-imposed sanctions, including reduction of two scholarships (from 15 to 13) for the 2011-12 academic year. The head women’s basketball coach could not participate in off-campus recruiting for the full summer recruiting period (July 1 – 31, 2012), and an assistant women’s basketball coach could not place any recruiting calls during a four-month period from January through April 2012.

Certainly it does not pay to violate the NCAA recruiting rules. However, it does pay to be a university with a nationally ranked basketball team.

There has been controversy about whether the players, who are not currently paid to play, should receive a portion of the money earned

Controversy also exists over at what age parents should begin to push their children into the sport and whether education is more important than sports.

In the second part of this series, the big business of college basketball and its controversies will be examined.

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