College basketball coaches have returned home with mixed emotions about new recruiting rules that kept them on the road for much of three weeks.
Coaches had from Sept. 17 through Oct. 7 to visit the homes of high school seniors. It was a busy time -- the average coach visited 10 or more recruits, while the average prospect was trying to get to know a handful of coaches.
It also was an important time. The coaches cannot go back out for recruiting purposes until Dec. 11. In between is the one-week early signing period Nov. 11-18, when more than half of the top 100 high school prospects are expected to sign.
The whirlwind hit-and-run visits left the coaches with a lot of frequent flier mileage, but wondering whether they had been effective salesmen for their program. Opinions varied, depending for the most part on the status and location of the school.
"For a program that's developing, it definitely puts us at a disadvantage," said Leonard Hamilton, who is starting his second year at Oklahoma State. "The thing we have to do is work hard and see more kids, so it creates a problem for us."
It is a problem that grows smaller with time, according to Wake Forest's third-year coach, Bob Staak.
"The volume of people we're talking with isn't nearly as large as my first two years," said Staak. "Before, we had to see a lot of players; now we're a bit ahead. I'd like to have more time but it's not as critical as before."
The three-week visiting period was the first part of a revamped recruiting schedule the NCAA put into effect this fall. Off-campus recruiting has been limited to four months, and the weeks are divided to allow for summer evaluation, fall visiting, winter evaluation, then spring visiting and evaluation.
The purpose of the rule is to cut costs, set up equitable recruiting parameters for all schools and lessen the pressure on high school players. Rules, however, don't always prove the answer.
"It's supposed to be a cutback but it cost us $300 to $400 an hour for the school plane," said Auburn Coach Sonny Smith, whose school is a two-hour drive from a major airport.
Smith often used the plane to see two or three prospects in one day. A city school, such as St. John's, Houston or De Paul, could do the same by car and never leave the city limits.
There also is the complaint shared by 90 percent of college coaches. They say the rule benefits the upper 10 percent of programs, those whose tradition and reputation precedes them.
"As always, those who select are better off than those who recruit," said Smith.
Hamilton, a longtime assistant at Kentucky before moving to Oklahoma State, said: "These rules just help the rich get richer."
One of those among the rich, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, doesn't agree. He said the time restraints mean the top programs have to see fewer prospects, thus giving other schools a chance at some of the better players.
The elite and the masses share one opinion -- the worst part of the new schedule won't be felt until next summer when coaches will have only the last three weeks of July to evaluate prospects. Those three weeks are but half the time coaches had this past summer.
"It's insanity," Staak said. "There is no way you can cover everything in that amount of time."
Krzyzewski said he would like at least four weeks, with the extra time chopped off the March and April periods. "A full month in the summer would help, and I'd like to also see another week added in the fall. Those are the important times," he said. "Take away time in April, when all you usually do is see juniors anyway."
The summer camps long have been a controversy, since many are set up as little more than a meat market. But despite negatives, the camps afford college coaches ample opportunity to evaluate prospects.
At least, they used to. With the changes, more of the camps are expected to switch to the July weeks. Thus, coaches face another three weeks of hop, skip and fly.
"I think they are taking away the best cost-saver we had," Hamilton said. "In six weeks, you could see every good player in only a few trips. Now, with so many camps going on at the same time, we've got to make more trips and won't see as many players."