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Estes: A case against de-regulation

ATHENS, Ga. – You’re hearing much more now about the NCAA's rules de-regulation and the far-reaching impact it will have on college sports and recruiting.

UGA athletics director Greg McGarity has spoken against NCAA de-regulation in recruiting. He's not alone on this, and really, he shouldn't be.

But amid grumbles in the Bulldog Nation over SEC rivals making recruiting-based football hires to take advantage and the lack of a (publicly detected) response at Georgia, something is getting lost in the discussion: The sweeping de-regulation itself.

This was not just a bad idea, folks.

It was perhaps one of the worst the NCAA has ever enacted. Even worse, it was done hastily without much debate and without much awareness among the general public or those it will most impact in the end.

No, coaches weren’t responsible for this. Neither were athletics directors or recruits who'll get the brunt of it.

More than a month ago the NCAA Board of Directors – a small group of presidents and chancellors who honestly can’t be expected to understand the role of coaches and the intricacies of big-time recruiting -- decided it knew what was best anyway and quietly enacted its own little closed-door revolution.

Under a benign headline on its own website reading simply “Division I streamlines rulebook,” the NCAA patted itself on the back for actions that were “first steps toward a rulebook that is more meaningful, enforceable and supportive of student-athlete success.”

Now that sounds great. And to be fair, there were some good measures among the 25 proposals approved last month. There were things that help schools pay expenses for an athlete’s medical care, provide entertainment to current teams and extend the definition of “family member” and the removal of other legalese that has spawned many silly secondary violations in the past.

However, well-meaning attempts to clear up a jumbled and complicated process went too far, essentially removing too much of the red tape, especially in regards to recruiting.

Mark Fox: "The goal was to get rid of the rules that made no sense, and evidently we’ve changed it a lot more than that." (Photo by UGA Sports Communications)

That’s a view many Division I coaches and administrators are sharing as more attention and criticism is greeting this dramatic overhaul that most coaches and administrators essentially had no say in from the beginning.

"We have a speed limit for a reason," new Tennessee football coach Butch Jones said Tuesday, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel. "Law enforcement agencies don't say, ‘Well, we can’t enforce the speed limit, so we’re going to do away with it.'"

“Everyone was in favor of some de-regulation, because a 500-page rulebook, I mean, that’s hard to stay in the boundaries, because you’re always looking in the rulebook,” Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox said. “Everyone was in favor of de-regulation. … But I think the goal was to get rid of the rules that made no sense, and evidently we’ve changed it a lot more than that.”

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Of the 25 proposals adopted last month, the most contentious parts of the de-regulation argument involve three of them:

Proposal 11-2: Removes restrictions that only coaches can be active in recruiting.
Proposal 13-3: Removes limits on communication with prospects.
Prososal 13-5-A: Removes limits on printed recruiting materials, video, audio, etc …

The Big Ten Conference pointed to these three items in a recent statement that read, “We have serious concerns whether these proposals, as currently written, are in the best interest of high school student-athletes, their families and their coaches. We are also concerned about the adverse effect they would have on college coaches, administrators and university resources.”

Basically, proposals as they are written mean that coaches can call and text and message recruits all they want. And not just coaches. Pretty much anyone can be hired off the street and calling recruits on behalf of programs.

Butch Jones: "Law enforcement agencies don't say, ‘Well, we can’t enforce the speed limit, so we’re going to do away with it."

“Those people as it is written now don’t even have to have passed the NCAA recruiting test to contact recruits. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Fox said to reporters. “I could hire you guys and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to pay you money just to contact recruits and produce material for us,’ and you don’t have to even open the NCAA rulebook.”

Can you imagine what this might do to a prospective recruit?

I mean, these kids are getting swarmed anyway, because coaches are in a constant race to not be outworked by the next man.

Now you’re saying that schools not only can contact them limitlessly but that they can hire anyone to do it?

These hires already at Alabama and other schools are just the tip of the iceberg, and that’s just football. Other sports would be included in this as well.

“I think some deregulation of the most ridiculous rules was needed,” UGA president Michael Adams said recently. “But a lot of those rules have been put there because of how competitive coaches are. I don’t know that you ever have a ‘perfectly level playing field.’ But I worry about a student-athlete being bombarded in high school, particularly some who need to spend time studying instead of responding to 100 emails a day. So I think all of this is a balancing act, and the pendulum can swing too far in one direction — which it probably had with some ridiculous rules. But it doesn’t need to swing all the way back to the other side, or we will hurt student-athletes in the process.”

These new proposals – given the new hires that would result -- are in conflict with recent discussion in NCAA circles about implemented limitations on staff sizes. Adams was one of the driving forces in trying to enact that legislation.

But it didn’t work.

“I took that effort to the Board, and they voted it down,” Adams said. “I was for limiting specific numbers of non-coaching positions in certain sports. I haven’t changed my view, but the Board at the time when I took it … thought it was too restrictive and didn’t approve the committee’s recommendations. We just had a difference of opinion on that matter.”

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Here’s the truly frightening thing about these changes: It’s already done. They are in place now and set to go into effect this summer.

It will take a vote of at least 75 Division I presidents to override the legislation by March 20, making the coming weeks some of the most significant ever in college athletics.

But it looks like that override will ultimately happen. Too many powerful entities are beginning to line up against the measures. In fact, asked who is actually for these rule changes, Fox replied, “I don’t know anybody. I really don’t.”

The New York Times recently cited UGA athletics director Greg McGarity as saying his goal was to get a 14-0 override vote in the SEC in response to these changes.

“I bet there’s some serious concern when they really start looking at, ‘OK, yes, everyone is in favor of de-regulation, but if we don’t keep some parameters, then you’ve opened the floodgates for some major, major spending,’” Fox said.

“Some school is going to want to get on the high dive with this and go all in and spend and spend,” McGarity told the New York Times. “It is going to start a round of competition among schools that is going to be limitless.”

People might read that comment from McGarity as UGA – same old UGA – being reluctant to spend, to go all-out and throw its considerable weight around like the school in Tuscaloosa has been doing a lot of lately.

There have been times that argument could be made, but this isn’t one of them. It's not about that this time.

McGarity’s point is that there is no stop to all this. If Georgia hires 10 people to help in recruiting, Alabama could then just hire 11. If Georgia sends out 30 letters to a prospect, Auburn could send out 35.

Having said that, if the de-regulation moves do stick past the override, Georgia’s football program will do what it needs to do to keep up.

Fans shouldn’t worry about that.

What they should worry about is defeating these new proposals themselves. They’re bad for everyone, the University of Georgia included.

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