As the college football news hunkers down and waits for white smoke to emerge from the NCAA conclave on the biggest set of legislation in a generation -- no one seems to know exactly when the vote will go down, but it'll be before the country breaks for the holiday weekend -- Todd Berry conducted a radio interview to give one last stump speech for the AFCA's stance on the issues. And what are those issues, you ask? Adding a 10th assistant coach. A December signing period. The so-called IAWP rule. Drastic changes to the summer camp schedule. Small things like that.
The IAWP rule is a great place to start. With the backing of the AFCA (more on this in a moment), the Division I Council will vote on a rule that bans IAWPs -- individuals associated with prospects -- from being hired to support staff roles, lest all prospects associated with that new hire be ineligible to play for said program for two years after his hiring and two years after the player's eligibility has expired. There are a number of potential issues with this role, which we touched on yesterday, but I'll give you the Cliff's Notes version here: Chip Lindsey and Jeremy Pruitt were hired to Auburn and Alabama, respectively, from the high school ranks to support staff roles. Lindsey is now the offensive coordinator at Auburn, and Pruitt is now the defensive coordinator at Alabama. The two coaches in charge at this November's Iron Bowl may still be in the Alabama high school ranks had this rule been in effect a decade ago.
Here's another problematic situation: a Division III assistant is let go in December and unable to find a job in that cycle. To remain in the game and feed his family, he takes a high school coaching job. The following December, an FBS program would like to hire him to a support staff role but now must weigh whether it wants to recruit that high school for the next two years before hiring him. If the program happens to be, say, Texas and the high school in question happens to be Southlake Carroll, the career college assistant may have his path to college football blocked as part of legislation not targeted at him and didn't exist a year ago. A hypothetical situation, sure, but the powers that be voting on this week's legislation take responsibility over this situation and others like it in their thumbs when they hoist them up or down when voting time starts.
Berry is aware of those exceptions and still supports the IAWP rule as a necessary means of stopping adults from leeching themselves onto teenagers' college decisions.
"Our board of trustees started looking at this six years ago knowing we were having a growing problem, potentially," Berry said in an interview Wednesday with the ESPN Radio affiliate in Waco. "Obviously there's some temptation in hiring someone in a support role that has some association with a prospect and their employment basically assists in recruiting that individual. And with the burgeoning number of support staff that we're seeing across the country, our board looked at this years ago and said we have an oncoming problem. Unfortunately, again I don't know that it's rampant, but we are seeing a trend that all of us would like to stay away from. Basketball, even though it's a different sport, the reality is they've been utilizing this in NCAA basketball for a couple years now. So we looked at that model and said, 'Is this going to solve some of our problems in relation to this?' And we felt like this was a good step.
"Part of the problem, obviously it's a little bit more difficult for our high school coaches who we have tremendous respect for, we've got some wonderful guys out there that have elevated themselves through some of these processes, and that's tough for us. But we also recognize, too, that if we don't get this problem under control to some degree then it's going to continue to become more rampant and that's something we don't think is good for our prospective student-athletes or the game of football as a whole."
While that may be the AFCA's position, it is not shared by the organization's most famous constituent. Nick Saban last month came out strongly against the IAWP rule and the associated rule banning programs from hiring high school coaches to work camps.
Berry pointed out he wanted talented high school coaches to continue rising to college football, but wanted to stop the basketball-ization of football recruiting.
"It's really all these different support positions," he said. "Analysts, directors of all these different things we have directors of nowadays. Sometimes there's even these curious titles that you wonder why in the world would you even need something like that. I think that's where the concern is. We want guys that have demonstrated abilities to be able to continue to do that and have that opportunity to showcase it at a higher level, so to speak. It doesn't keep you from being able to hire a high school coach into a full-time role. What it does is keeps you from not only hiring a high school coach, a prospective student-athlete's uncle or his best friend's dad or any of those other entities that are out there that might influence a decision of a prospect."
Berry explained the AFCA's position on supporting a proposal that would limit the summer camp schedule to one 10 non-consecutive day period, instead of the present situation of two 15-day periods.
"This is an opportunity for young people to get exposure, and we want that. We want young people to have opportunity for those exposures. What we didn't like out of this, and I'm going to give a real quick example, hopefully: Had a young person my last year in coaching (that) showed up at our camp the very first day that camps could happen and he would look tremendous," he said. "He was a great prospect. I then attended another university's camp about 13 days later and that same young man was in that camp and didn't look anywhere close to where he was that first day and I talked to him about it. He said he'd been at 13 different camps all around the country in those 13 days, and he felt the need to do that. He wanted to get all these exposures. What this does is allows all university coaches, basically, to have opportunities to work other camps and I think what the proposal allows for is for coaches to be able to work significantly or attend other collegiate campuses. That's where the young person gets multiple exposures with lots of different universities by attending one camp.
"And the main thing we wanted to do is return this back to the high school coaches. We had people that were missing their whole summer before their senior year trying to attend camps to try to get those exposures, and they weren't spending time with their own high school coach and their own high school team. That's not what this whole thing's supposed to be about. We want to give them exposures and opportunities, but we also want to do this better for these prospective student-athletes, and quite honestly our coaches, too. This rule also allows for only collegiate coaches to basically work those camps. We hope what that's going to do is keep those individuals that maybe are driving those young people to camps from being able to reach a financial windfall from taking young people to camps, which is part of the problem. We also had some universities out there that said, 'We want to have a presence but we don't really care so much about having great evaluations and we're going to hire people that basically show up in that university's t-shirt and with their university icon on it and aren't coaches. They're just there to basically show the colors. That's, again, not a direction we want these camps to head and this was becoming more and more problematic every year."
Finally, in his least controversial stance of all the issues on the docket, Berry offered support for the December signing period. The NCAA originally proposed adding a June and December period, but the coaches have abandoned June in favor of December.
"This was something our student-athletes requested, it's been talked about for a number of years and quite honestly it hasn't been held up by the coaches, it's been held up by other entities. Our coaches are supportive of this because young people are making decisions earlier," he said. "What we wanted more than anything else, we wanted clarity. With one signing day it doesn't necessarily provide the clarity that these young people need in order to make the decisions. XYZ University is a big university and they're continuing to recruit a young man because they're not sure who's going to sign with them in February, but the likelihood of that actually happening is pretty minimal. That young person then feel like they need to stay around instead of taking opportunities. What this does is allows for that young person to have good information because if they're signing in December they've got a good opportunity they're looking for. If they're not signing in December then holding on and waiting for XYZ University when they know they've already committed all their quarterbacks is tough. This, again, provides that young man with clarity in January when they can start taking visits to those universities that really are interested in him.
"As I mentioned earlier, this is part of a package. If you're going to do that then you need to have the opportunity for earlier official visits. I think this is going to provide a lot of clarity also for the student-athlete and their parents in the sense that if they're invited to an official visit in the spring then they know that institution is very much interested in him. If they're not invited then they need to probably go find some places that are interested in inviting them to an official visit in the spring. They are interrelated and they're tied together because they are intertwined."
The vote will be held this week -- sometime -- and there is much haggling and politicking to be done between now and then. And who knows what happens the final result will be once the doors close and the politics start.