Changing The Field

In one way, the Big East's new rule that prohibits member schools from accepting non-qualifiers has simplified recruiting. However, the negatives that accompany the policy far outweigh any benefits in that regard, according to one of West Virginia's best recruiters.

WVU assistant football coach Tony Gibson, who covers western Pennsylvania and West Virginia on the recruiting trail, admits that the new rule, which was quickly and quietly passed late last year, has one positive aspect.

"It clarifies our recruiting some, because if a kid isn't going to make it then you don't waste time recruiting him," said Gibson, who has been making the rounds of high schools over the past several weeks. "It makes our job a little easier."

Despite that fact, however, Gibson and the vast majority of Big East coaches are against the rule, which, in their view, unfairly penalizes individuals who are capable of doing college work.

"I don't think that the Big East or whoever it was made the decision looked into it," Gibson said forcefully. "If you look at the graduation rates of our kids who were non-qualifiers, it's been 100% since we've been here. I don't know what they based the decision on or why they did it, but I think they are taking [chances] away from some kids."

Past numbers certainly bear out Gibson's point as well. West Virginia has been very successful with its non-qualifiers, as Greg Hunter pointed out in an article in the Feb. 4 edition of the Blue & Gold News. He pointed out that WVU had 22 non-qualifiers in the football program from the years 1989-2001, and 16 of those completed their careers at West Virginia. That's a success rate of 72.7%, which far exceeds the finishing rate of just under 50% over the same timespan.

The numbers in other sports, such as men's basketball, are equally high, so it's obvious that West Virginia wasn't simply taking anyone that came along. The Mountaineers also weren't dumping numerous kids into a community college to build grades and see if they could come up with a player or two. WVU only took those individuals it believed could do the work in college, and for the most part, was successful in the process.

Gibson, who brought Pittsburgh's Eric Wicks to campus as a non-qualifier, is frustrated that the presidents of the league schools didn't take the evidence into account. Wicks, like many Mountaineers before him, has proved his capabilities as a college student, and is on track to graduate in four years.

"I just wish they would have looked at the success rate of these kids over the past few years, and Louisville's, and Cincinnati's," said Gibson. "I don't agree with the rule and don't like the rule, but we have to work with it."

Another negative to the new rule is the fact that the line which determines which players will continue to be recruited and which will be dropped has just moved, not been eliminated. While, as Gibson noted, players that are clearly not going to qualify won't be recruited, those close to the line may still be.

"Do you go full speed ahead," Gibson asked rhetorically, "or do you pull off (guys on the borderline)? It's hard to project. If a kid has a good core GPA you're probably going to go ahead and recruit him and see what happens. But if he's under 2.0 in the core there's no use recruiting him. You can get a pretty good feel for where a kid is at this time of year, and kind of work and see where he is at the end of the semester and then go from there."

Of course, there are always going to be a group of players that hover right around qualifying marks and keep coaches on pins and needles well past signing day. Their fates often aren't determined until May or June, when final grades and test scores become known. In the past, those that did not qualify sometimes had the option of enrolling at West Virginia anyway, but no more. They will now be directed to either prep school or junior college, in the hopes that they will honor their commitments to WVU one or two years down the line.

Playing that game, however, is fraught with danger. In a class of 20 players, for example, WVU might not be able to accept commitment from more than two or three players that aren't qualified, because if all three of them fail to meet the qualifying mark, the recruiting class could have some big holes in it. WVU, like many schools, will likely attempt to hedge their bets by lining up a small number of greyshirt candidates, who could fill those spots immediately if the primary targets fail to qualify, but that too, is an uncertain strategy at best, as there is nothing binding to hold greyshirts to the school.

So, in all, while the new rule did appear to remove one level of uncertainty, it opened up just as many problems as it supposedly solved. And it failed miserably in the one area that should be of primary concern – the welfare of the student athletes themselves.

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