In Gilman School football parlance, it’s called recruiting fatigue. After guiding the Baltimore-based Greyhounds for 16 years, Biff Poggi can immediately recognize the symptoms. First, the college coach calls, wondering why Recruit X switched off his cell phone’s voice mail, or why his Facebook account lay dormant for several days. Poggi then approaches the player, asking about a broken phone. “No,” the player typically responds. “I’m just tired of talking.”
Thursday, the NCAA Board of Directors will meet in Indianapolis to reconsider legislation deregulating communication between coaches and recruits. Seventy-five schools requested an override of the initial proposal, which eliminated phone call limitations and overturned periodic bans on text messaging. Last week, the board also suspended two other proposals that lifted restrictions on which staff members can recruit and which printed materials they can send to prospects.
The issue has frustrated many since the Board of Directors initially tried to simplify the NCAA’s rulebook by passing 25 changes last January, including the contentious deregulation measures. Big Ten coaches and athletic directors issued a collective statement expressing “serious concerns” about their “adverse effect.” Maryland football coach Randy Edsall called it “ridiculous.” Towson’s Rob Ambrose appreciated the reform effort, but said he “hasn’t met a single person who’s in favor of it.”
The Board of Directors can either “maintain its action on the proposals” or “rescind the proposals,” according to an NCAA press release. If it passes, most athletic officials and coaches forecast an unregulated environment in which recruits are bombarded with calls, letters and text messages. Speaking at the Football Bowl Association annual meetings, NCAA President Mark Emmert defended the action. Monitoring calls and text messages, he said, was virtually impossible.
“I think the NCAA is going to find out that this is going to be a disaster with kids,” Poggi said. “However, they can’t control it anyway, which is why they’re opening it up. The reasons the rules are coming down is because they can’t enforce them, but it will wind up backlashing onto the kids, which is what always happens. The kids wind up getting the short end of the stick always.”
“I’ve seen some of them, when they see a coach hanging around my office, they just don’t come in,” Good Counsel Coach Bob Milloy said. “They turn around and go the other way. They don’t want to listen to it anymore. They all sell the exact same thing. You have a Cadillac and maybe a Buick. Let’s just say Alabama’s the Cadillac and some other school’s the Buick. But it’s the same thing. It’s still a car to get you from A to B.”
Jeremiah Clarke, a T.C. Williams defensive lineman with at least 17 scholarship offers, including seven from ACC schools, receives 15 to 20 letters per day. He stacks them in boxes by the front door. Antoine White, a New Jersey defensive tackle with eight Division I scholarship offers, works five-hour shifts making pizzas at a local restaurant, and between homework and training has difficulties keeping up with the 10 letters that arrive daily.
“My opinion on that is, it’s kind of taking a kid away from being a kid,” White said of the rule change. “Eventually it’s going to wear you down. Yeah, I think there should be some regulations, whether it’s a once a week thing. Kid’s got homework, kid’s got school, kid’s got stuff like that. You’re 15, 16, 17 years old.”
Edsall and other coaches claim deregulation would cut into their already thinning personal lives. How many text messages are too many? they wonder. What if a rival coach sends one more, and that tips the scales?
Ambrose says he feels worse for the recruits themselves. Player reactions will largely depend on the individual. Some recruits enjoy the attention more than others. Most, however, agree that the process already festers plenty stress.
Poggi’s son Henry was a four-star prospect who signed with Michigan in February, but had offers from Alabama and Auburn. During Henry’s recruitment, the Poggi household began acquiring new cardboard furniture — boxes and boxes of unopened mail.
“Oh my god, he got tired so early, it wasn’t even funny,” Poggi said. “He turned his phone off, took his message down so nobody could leave a message, then he started screening calls. Then when the calls became so many that it was distracting to even screen them, he turned his phone off. Then he eliminated Facebook. He didn’t tweet until after he made a final decision, because he was basically getting harangued by the football establishment recruiting paparazzi.
“And it’s ridiculous.”