Time to do away with the 'Don James Rule'

OTHER MAJOR CONFERENCES allow them. But not the Pac-10. In the conference of champions, the NCAA rulebook just isn't enough. Nope, the Pac-10's archaic view of youth summer camps, ushered into place years ago by the Cougars' cross-state rival, is alive and well. And the Huskies have benefited from the "Don James Rule" ever since.

Worse, the impact of the James Rule is greater than ever with the implementation of two new recruiting rules put in place by the NCAA.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY
From the CF.C vault: Originally published May 21, 2008.

The James Rule is rather straightforward. It states that no Pac-10 school will be allowed to conduct their own camps or clinics off campus.

Why the rule is there, when other major conferences have no such limitation under the NCAA, is equally straight forward and speaks to why Cougars and Huskies tend to view the world so differently.

In the early 90s, you see, WSU's Mike Price started to hold summer camp events not just in Pullman but elsewhere in the state, too. The events helped introduce more prospects to Washington State, and helped the Cougs better identify talent and character.

CAMPS WERE HELD in Spokane, Everett, Tacoma and Seattle. Washington State was then also talking about having one the following year in the Los Angeles area. But the Seattle camp upset James. And the UW, and then USC, protested. Loudly.

Price told James he was welcome to come to Pullman and do a Husky camp. The humor was apparently lost on James. And 'SC didn't want Washington State holding a camp in its neck of the woods. So they complained, and the Pac-10 -- and weak-kneed commissioner (and UW graduate) Tom Hansen, knuckled under.

But why?

How does it benefit the conference or athletes when exposure is limited?

Both Washington and USC certainly had then, and have now, the budgets to hold their own camps away from campus. But situated in a major population base, part of the answer lies in the knowledge UW and USC can hold multiple camps on their campus and avoid the hassle.

But what they needed most was to keep WSU out of the major population centers. They want to restrict a competitor's ability to build a brand in their markets.

Because, heaven forbid, what if a recruit, turned on to Wazzu at one of these camps, decides to head to the Palouse and ends up becoming a standout? Then there's some explaining to do in front of the Tyee and Trojan clubs.

WHAT THE RULE TRULY LIMITS is a prospect's choices. How is that beneficial to the kid?

The archaic rule would be akin to the UW today going around to all the state's high school coaches and strongly suggesting that all prep prospects only attend the UW summer camp and no others.

An unethical restraint of trade is what that would be called.

A preliminary search shows the Pac-10 appears to be the only major conference in the nation that restricts schools' summer youth camps to such a degree. Some conferences limit camps to the school's state, plus 60 miles off campus if that 60-mile radius should cross a state border. Others have no such limitations.

Mike Price held a camp in Phoenix two years ago -- it was one of eight one-day camps UTEP held in addition to its main summer youth camp in El Paso.

Those one-day camps two years ago -- in Dallas, Houston and the like -- cost each attendee all of $25. And without those camps, Phoenix linebacker Torrey Huckaby probably wouldn't have had 40 tackles for UTEP in '07.

WITHOUT THOSE CAMPS, UTEP wouldn't have signed the players they have from across the state.

Consider this: 75 percent of Price's talent haul this past Signing Day consisted of recruits who participated in at least one of UTEP's summer camps held across the state of Texas. The camps, in Price's own words, have been a huge boon to the UTEP recruiting efforts.

YET WASHINGTON STATE doesn't have the ability to do something similar to what UTEP will do this summer, because of the Pac-10.

Now, with two new NCAA rules in place -- coaches can no longer attend as bystanders off- campus camps or combines, and no head coach can go on the road during the May Evaluation Period -- the ability to gauge talent has been further diminished.

Washington State could be holding a passing camp in Seattle this summer, were it not for the absurd Pac-10 rule. And getting a better sense of a kid's character while doing it.

The Cougs could, and should, be able to hold a OL/DL camp in Everett if they chose. A receivers skills camp in Tacoma. They should be able to test the waters in Portland, or San Francisco and find some nuggets that others miss. Instead, over a period of 20 days this summer, USC will hold five separate camps "conveniently located on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles," according to a Trojans brochure.

Washington State? They will hold one camp. You can't ask kids to fly into one camp or five camps -- whether in Pullman or L.A. -- on their own dime.

Hansen has talked often about competitive equity and reducing unfair competitive advantages. The Pac-10 summer camp restrictions fly in the face of that. Hansen's words on the subject are but window dressing, pure and simple.

I READ THAT Pete Carroll is unhappy with the rules change that restricts him and every other head coach from being out on the road recruiting during this period. He should be -- the rule diminishes USC's ability, and also everybody else's, to identify talent. I've also read Carroll talk often about how he loves to compete.

I'll tell you what, Pete. Introduce legislation to get rid of the nonsensical Pac-10 summer camp rule, the one USC helped the UW champion, and compete with Washington State on a level playing field during the summer camp recruiting season. Then we'll talk about you having to stay off the road this May.

Editor's Note: Washington State and Paul Wulff contacted the powers that be in the spring of '09 and were allowed under the rules to coach at Jason Gesser's Northwest Elite Camp on the West side of the state. CF.C is hearing rumblings that some schools have objected to college coaches providing instruction at camps like Gesser's and a future rules change could do away with those too. Stay tuned.

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