The NCAA Board of Directors recently implemented basketball recruiting changes that will go into effect in 2012. They are designed to help college coaches get to know prospective recruits better and reduce the influence of third parties.
Illinois head coach Bruce Weber says these modifications should help address an important problem now facing college coaches and their recruits.
"One thing the NCAA is trying to help us with, there's been so many transfers. Astronomical amounts of kids transferring, almost 400 kids the last couple years. Over 40% of the kids transfer after one year, and it's close to 50% transfer after two years in Division-1 basketball.
"They're trying to give us a tool to get to know them better. More contacts, more evaluations, just the ability to have a better relationship and better understanding of what his background is."
One of the most significant changes for coaches concerns social media. Texting has been banned for several years now, but email, Facebook and other social media are not. There will now be more equity in the rules, and contact can begin at an earlier age. Illini assistant coach Jeffance Howard says the changes make sense.
"That was my whole thing because kids have Facebook right on their phones now. So you could Facebook and email them, so it's just like text messages. Now it can be more intimate conversation than text messages."
Howard is a great communicator with recruits, so he is naturally pleased with the changes.
"I love it, especially the text messages. Social media the way it is today, kids would rather text than talk on the phone. I think you can carry on a better conversation with them. Anytime you can have an advantage like that, it's good for everybody."
Beginning next year, the NCAA will allow coaches to send unlimited phone calls, text messages and other private social media to recruits beginning June 15th after their sophomore year. Public messages are still banned because institutions are not permitted to publicize their recruiting.
The NCAA will also now allow two weekends in April for player evaluations at nonscholastic events such as AAU tournaments. And the July contact period has been reduced to three four-day periods.
Howard says the extra evaluation periods will help.
"Yes, especially with kids committing at a younger age. You've got to figure out who's good and who you want. You have to make the decision on whether you want the kid or not."
Coaches must evaluate every aspect of a recruit's home and academic situation to estimate who will succeed in college. Weber says whether a prospect has one or two parents at home is just one of many factors.
"If there was an exact science, it would make it a lot easier. George Raveling years ago said he didn't want to recruit kids with two parents because he wanted them hungry. It's that fine line. Every situation is different."
Howard is grateful for the opportunity to watch kids more, but there is a downside.
"I think it's good, but even with text messages it's still a lot of work. With our outside-the-box mentality of separating yourself within the rules, you've still got to develop that personal relationship. You've got to take advantage of it for you and your style, what works for you.
"Sometimes you can see a kid too much. You start looking at their weaknesses. Another coach may see them 2-3 times and really like them. You've just got to evaluate what you need for your program. What type of kid he is, does he fit in your program?"
Colleges are now checking out junior high schools for talent and trying to project future stars. The NCAA is seeking a balance between allowing earlier evaluations without adding recruiting pressure for kids too young to handle it properly. What age is too young?
"Part of it is we've pushed the accelerator on when we start recruiting kids," Weber states. "It's such an early age. I have some freshman kids who would love to have me offer them. I told them, I want to see a high school game. I want to see your report card in high school before we think about some of those things."
Some coaches are less reluctant to wait than others. Will a youngster be influenced away from Illinois if it is not the first school to offer a scholarship? Howard says it might in some instances.
"It depends on the kid. Everybody's situation is different. I know the freshmen that we are recruiting, we just tell people to be patient. It definitely changes things up a little bit."
Of course, if you offer too early and the kid doesn't continue to progress as a player, you might be stuck with him.
"That's exactly right," Howard agrees.
The NCAA may never be able to prevent undue influence from shoe companies, street agents, investment advisors, etc. But they are making an effort to level the playing field.