SEC Coaches look for new ways in recruiting

DESTIN, FL – Leave it to the man who many people feel is responsible for new NCAA legislation limiting college football recruiting to find a way around the rule before the year was up.

 Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the reluctant father of the "Saban rule," has now helped introduce video conferencing to his rivals in the league and around the country. College football coaches are no longer allowed to make off-campus recruiting visits during the spring evaluation period because of perceived abuses to the system.

 Saban's response? Bring the player, or at least his face, to him. Saban has conducted between 50 and 60 virtual face-to-face conversations with recruits via a video conference on the Internet, according to an Alabma spokesperson.

 "A picture is worth 1,000 words," Saban said here this week at the SEC's annual business meetings. "In my case, as ugly as I am, they probably don't like looking at me, but I like looking at them when I'm talking to them."

 The practice is slowly starting to filter out around the conference and the country, and Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer admitted most coaches are simply following Saban's lead into the land of web conferencing.

 "He's ahead of the curve a little bit," Fulmer said. "If they're going to do it, we have to do it."

 Fulmer's first web conference is scheduled for next week, he said.

 Surprisingly, Florida head coach Urban Meyer, who was the loudest critic of the NCAA's ban on text messaging and who is a strong proponent of all things that increase access in recruiting, is unsure about the new technology.

 "It seems kind of silly to me," said Meyer, who has yet to do one. "I'm going to look into a little (camera)? I'm just not comfortable with it. To each his own."

 Meyer acknowledged, though, that he probably will end up doing it.

 Not surprisingly, Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who jokingly refers to the notes he regularly writes on his hand as his "palm pilot," has not used the technology and has no immediate plans to.

 "If it's legal to do, then next year I'm sure we'll do it," he said.

 Saban's idea originated during his two years as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, where his players often used the technology to talk to doctors in other parts of the country.

 "I said, ‘If it's legal, why not use in recruiting?'" he said.

 About 60 percent of the high schools Alabama has recruited have the technology available to put a player on a video conference, Saban said.

 "Most of the coaches didn't know if they had it or not," he said. "They had to go find out from somebody else, but it worked out great."

 The is nothing in the NCAA banning the practice, Saban said, but Fulmer thinks that may not last long.

 "It's like texting, it's just another way to communicate," Fulmer said. "Somebody will eventually rule that you can't do it. That's why the rule book was made, out of abuses. That's why it's so thick."

 The newest rule in that book still bothers Saban, who said he got a better feel for players by watching them practice during the spring. Until this year, coaches were allowed to visit high schools during the spring but were not allowed to make direct contact with recruits during those visits. The coaches only were supposed to say hello if they happened to bump into a player while on campus, but the situation was ripe for abuse, Meyer said.

 High school coaches usually would bring the player into their office to meet the college coach or even have the player greet the coach when he got out of the car in the parking lot, Meyer said, putting the college coach in a difficult situation. Saban was long rumored to be one of the biggest abusers of the system.

 Richt made only one spring visit to a high school during his five years in Athens because he disagreed with the practice and feared unwittingly committing a violation.

 "I understand why they (changed the rule)," Saban said, "because everybody is paranoid about what everybody else is doing. I got turned in all kinds of times because I was supposed to be doing this or that. I wasn't doing that. I was just watching practice, evaluating a player, which is part of our job."

 Now the second-year Crimson Tide coach seems uncomfortable being linked to the web conferencing issue.

  "They all could have done it," he said of his colleagues. "It's no secret."

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