Croom Adapting to New NCAA Recruiting Guidelines

While coaches and players prepare to prepare for the upcoming football season, college administrators are pondering moves that will affect future seasons. A particular area of discussion has become who can receive an athletic scholarship and how many years the athlete can both be on aid and play. The most interesting proposal of the moment is to allow five years of athletic eligibility, a move begun by basketball coaches and now supported by some conferences with other sports in mind.

That's all well-and-good for the future, today's coaches say. What has them more concerned right now is how more restrictive recruiting practices will impact the evaluating, courting, and signing of this year's prospects.

In a very public response to reported recruiting scandals around the country, the NCAA has zeroed in on one aspect of the process - the official (paid) visits. The governing body wants to shorten prospect trips to campuses and restrict the types of entertainment schools can provide. This legislation is an inevitable and P.R.-minded answer to revelations of how some programs have, literally, treated their visiting high school prospects.

Reaction from the folk whose jobs depend on recruiting these kids, the coaches, is mixed across the land and across the board. Some naturally resent the idea of taking away some frills they can offer to visitors, in the form of meals, trips, and socializing. Still most coaches agree that the visit process has gotten out of hand and if they don't give up something now they can have everything taken away later.

However, there are coaches leery of one particular guideline. Including Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, back in the college ranks after 17 years in the NFL. The NCAA is doing away with the use of private jet flights for visitors, a move that on the surface seems sensible. The reality can be very different for locales without major commercial air service.

"I'm really worried about that," Croom said last week. "We don't have multiple connections to Atlanta or Memphis right now." Or much anywhere else. Mississippi State has relied on use of the school or private planes for years now to get many January visitors to campus and back home on-time.

Now the long-distance visiting situation is, so to say, up in the air.

This is hardly a devastating blow to Bulldog football, of course. Croom and staff obviously put their recruiting priority on kids from Mississippi and Alabama, most of whom are in easy weekend driving distances. This 'local flavor' will become even more important as Croom wants visiting prospects to come with their parents, and it is much easier for Mom, Pop, and Junior to load up in the family hauler than for everybody to fly in for 48 hours. With, it must be noted, the parents buying their own airline tickets.

Still Croom also wants to recruit his type of talent from farther away. This week's commitment of a quality Texas prospect shows the new staff doesn't want to limit their hunting grounds. But to sign the kids, State must also get a visit. And the process just got more complicated.

Croom offers a first-hand example. This past summer he was flying back to Starkville from Green Bay, part of his own moving experience. He was stopped, then stranded in Atlanta by a delayed flight. After waiting from 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. at Hartsfield, he finally rented a car and drove to campus and still made it to the office for morning meetings. Imagine what a turn-off this would be for a prospect. "I'm really worried about that," Croom said.

Moreover, most major commercial flights for MSU visitors stop two-to-three hours from the campus. Croom can see not just how this would be an inconvenience for recruiters and recruits, but how it could set up another abuse of the guidelines. "A lot of schools drive to the airport, I want to know what kind of vehicles they drive? I hope the don't use the million-dollar RVs I saw on TV the other night."

The bottom line is that while Croom appreciates the intent, he sees errors in execution of more restrictive guidelines. "I have mixed feelings about it," he said. Such as, "I was hoping in return for taking jets away they'd allow us to pay for parents coming commercial. I know particularly for us it's a benefit for the parents to come on the visit. It will definitely eliminate some of the negative things that happen on recruiting weekends."

However the new guidelines impact Mississippi State, Croom and recruiting aides Shane Beamer, Brad Pendergrass and Rockey Felker will make visits as positive for prospects and parents as possible. As reported by Dawgs' Bite, Powered by, State already has four commitments. More are anticipated even before the 2004 college season and unofficial gameday visits begin. Croom is optimistic about this year's signing class now that things are settling down in Starkville. "The reception this spring was very positive," he said.

Certainly the overall situation is more positive going into this fall than last winter when a mostly-new staff tried to pull a recruiting class together in short order, and in the heat of a NCAA investigation. Croom was candid then and now about how his first signing class was impacted. "It did affect us, I know for a fact that it swayed three players at the end that I thought for sure we'd have gotten.

"But I knew going in it would be a factor. The thing I've learned in 28 years of coaching, things have to be clean and clear as far as what the situation is with the program and the head coach."

With the NCAA infractions committee expected to issue later this month their verdict on 13 allegations against the previous MSU football regime, the situation should be entirely clear soon. And eventually it will be clean, too, as Croom has promised NCAA investigators they will never have to summon him to Indianapolis. In short, the State staff can again recruit without any shadows over the program.

"This year that won't be a factor," Croom emphasized.

David Murray is the Editor of Dawgs' Bite magazine and the featured writer for the Dawgs Bite, Powered by website. You can contact him by email at

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