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May 26, 2012

Rule change frees up phone lines for coaches

Here's a quick reminder for basketball recruits across the country: You might want to put your phones on vibrate the morning of June 15.

You can thank us later.

An NCAA rule change taking effect June 15 will allow men's college basketball coaches to make unlimited phone calls and text messages to recruits who have finished their sophomore year of high school.

The change certainly benefits coaches, who now will have a much easier time getting a hold of potential recruiting targets. But if five-star recruits already thought they were getting bothered too much, they haven't experienced anything quite like what they're about to encounter.

"There will be hundreds - maybe thousands - of text messages and phone calls per day or per week for some of these top-rated players," Rutgers head coach Mike Rice said. "That's life changing."

And it's a change some of them might not be expecting.

San Jose (Calif.) Archbishop Mitty forward Aaron Gordon is the No. 4 junior prospect in the entire nation. As the younger brother of former New Mexico forward Drew Gordon, he also is no newcomer to the world of recruiting. Yet he didn't know about the rule change until just a few days ago.

"I had no idea," Gordon said.

If Gordon was unaware of the rule change until now, it stands to reason that plenty of other recruits still don't have a clue about what they're going to face in a few short weeks.

Under the current NCAA rules, coaches can make only one phone call per month to a recruit from June 15 after his sophomore year to July 31 after his junior year, though the prospect is permitted to call coaches as often as he likes. Coaches can make two phone calls per week to a recruit starting Aug. 1 after his junior year. Text messages are prohibited.

Starting June 15, there won't be any restrictions on calls or text messages to prospects who have finished their sophomore year.

So recruits who were accustomed to getting no more than one call per month from a specific coach now will have that same coach calling or texting them as often as he likes. And that could lead to chaos, at least in the early stages of this rule change.

"Some people may look at it like, 'I don't want to be the school that doesn't call him three times in a day,' '' Iowa assistant coach Andrew Francis said. "Some schools may think it's a great idea to say, 'Well, we've got to get this guy on the phone at least three times a day and let him know we're thinking about him.' That's a bit much, in my opinion, but some kids may love it. But after a while, it wears on you."

The frequent calls and texts from multiple coaches could cause some elite prospects to speed up their decisions. The sooner they narrow their choices down to a handful of schools, the sooner they don't have to worry about getting hounded by coaches from 20 or 30 other programs.

"Kids are going to get sick of the recruiting process quicker now, to be honest with you, because of the constant [calls and texts]. We're going to be, you know, legally stalking some of these kids," Rice said with a laugh. "It'll be interesting."

CALLING ALL PROSPECTS
An NCAA rule change taking effect June 15 could have a dramatic effect on how often men's basketball coaches contact elite recruits via phone calls or text messages. Here's a look at the current restrictions in place as well as the rule change.
CURRENT RESTRICTIONS
From June 15 after a recruit's sophomore year in high school to July 31 after his junior year, coaches are permitted to call him once per month. Starting Aug. 1 after a recruit's junior year, coaches are allowed to call him twice per week. Text messages are prohibited.
THE RULE CHANGE
Starting June 15, a new NCAA policy takes effect that allows coaches to make unlimited phone calls or text messages to recruits who have finished their sophomore year of high school.
Although Rice is quick with a quip as he imagines the potential scenario facing elite recruits next month, he actually favors the rule change. He believes the benefits outweigh the potential drawbacks.

For one thing, college coaches now can reach recruits more directly without wasting their time going through various back channels. Because coaches currently are limited to one call per month or two calls per week to a recruit, they'd try to reach the recruit via Facebook messages, which are permitted. Or they might ask the high school coach or AAU coach to have the recruit call them.

"Now we don't have to go through any associates or any middlemen or any different coaches," Rice said.

Because coaches and prospects will be communicating more often and more freely, they also should get to know each other better during the recruiting process. And that in turn could help slow down one of college basketball's most troublesome trends.

Recent reports have shown that about 40 percent of Division I men's basketball players transfer before their junior years. Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com has compiled a 2012 transfer list that includes more than 425 players. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch report cited NCAA data showing more than 400 players have transferred each of the three previous offseasons as well.

"You look at how many kids are transferring," Tennessee assistant coach Kent Williams said. "Sometimes it's coaches not being happy with the player. Sometimes the player's not happy with the university or the staff he's playing for. When you have a better feel for everything going into it, you can make a better decision on where you're going to school and we can make a better decision on whether this is the type of personality or kid we want in our program.''

Williams pointed out other ways in which the current restrictions have caused problems.

Sure, a prospect can still call a coach as often as he wants. But if the coach has already made his one call per month or his two calls per week, he can't return the call. That means he has to pick up his phone whenever that recruit calls him, no matter the situation.

"I might be sitting at home having dinner with my family and a kid's calling me, and I know I can't turn around and call him back because I've already called him this month," Williams said. "I've got to take that phone call. Or if you're in the middle of a meeting, you have to take the kid's phone call because you can't call him back. This [rule change] eliminates that."

Williams also noted that he's run into trouble under the current restrictions when a prospect called seeking directions during a recruiting trip. If the call went to voice mail, Williams couldn't call the prospect back or text him the information.

"So you're just waiting for him to call you back," Williams said.

There's no doubt this rule change benefits the coaches. But what does it mean for the prospects themselves? How much will they get bothered by the constant calls and texts? And what can they do about it?

"I tell my guys [that] you control the recruiting process, you're the one in charge,'' said Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy coach Steve Smith, whose team topped the RivalsHigh 100 national rankings this season. "It's not the other way around. You call the shots. If you want to limit contact, tell them or you tell me and I'll tell them. If you want to limit their calls, fine. ... They're going to do whatever you tell them to do because they want you and you're one of their top recruits.''

Gordon plans to take that approach.

"The coaches who call me, I'll just let them know a person like myself doesn't need to be called and reminded of the benefits of a school," Gordon said. "I don't need to be reminded every single week.''

And even if the NCAA won't have any limits on phone calls or texts anymore, nothing's stopping each recruit from setting up his own ground rules.

Rice said that if his 14-year-old son developed into a blue-chip prospect, he might set up particular times in which coaches were allowed to talk to him. For instance, perhaps coaches would only be permitted to call from 7 to 9 p.m. on weeknights. He also would ask his kid to narrow his list of potential schools down to a workable number before the process got out of hand.

But at least for the short term, prospects simply may be tempted to silence their phones as much as possible.

"They can pick and choose which [calls] to accept," said Henderson (Nev.) Findlay Prep coach Michael Peck, whose team finished second in the RivalsHigh 100 national rankings this season. "With the others, they hit the ignore button. Or else they just shut their phone down. It becomes a little bit more annoying. They might change their numbers a little more frequently."

Eventually, coaches will get the hint.

"I think that it's going to be kind of crazy at first, but once things settle down a little bit, coaches will realize which kids are interested and which are not interested," Loyola (Md.) assistant coach G.G. Smith said. "If you text a kid or call a kid and he doesn't call you back after the fifth or sixth time, he's probably not interested, so you go to the next kid."


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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