Could banning satellite camps open the door to more NCAA violations and more high-profile, off-the-field troubles across college football?
The SEC's public battle against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan infringing on its territory stole all the headlines on the issue, which came to a head when the NCAA banned the practice of coaches holding or serving as guests at camps away from campus. Big Ten coaches like Harbaugh and Penn State's James Franklin had popularized the practice in recent seasons, ruffling feathers by participating in camps in SEC and ACC territory. The SEC and ACC had banned their own coaches from doing so.
While most of the debate has centered around elite programs like Michigan, Penn State, Alabama and Georgia and their millionaire coaches, Sports on Earth contacted high school coaches across the country to gauge their thoughts on what the ban will do to the people they know best: their players.
"Realistically, I shouldn't have been surprised." said John Ford, the head coach at Roswell High School, which is located north of Atlanta. "The NCAA works in opposition to what benefits young kids and student athletes. They work to protect the few as opposed to protecting and promoting the many. The hypocrisy is pretty well known."
Angelo Jackson, who coaches Bishop Mora Salesian in Los Angeles, didn't approve of the ban, either.
"What the NCAA is trying to do is control football because basketball is out of control with all the AAU and that other stuff," Jackson said. "A high school basketball guy may play 40-50 games during the summer. A lot of high school football guys, though, only get one chance to get exposure. It's just giving kids the opportunity. It gives kids an opportunity to get seen. I think everybody should have an opportunity. How is that an advantage or disadvantage? Not that every kid will get a scholarship, but they'll get opportunities. America is supposed to be the land of opportunity."
In the wake of the NCAA Division I Council vote, ESPN reported that the ACC, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-12, Sun Belt and SEC voted for the ban on satellite camps. The Big Ten, American, Conference USA and MAC all voted to keep them around.
That doesn't mean there was a consensus within the conferences themselves. Washington State coach Mike Leach, whose campus is in rural Pullman, Wa., spent Friday and Saturday on the warpath, speaking out against the ban.
"It appears that the selfish interests of a few schools and conferences prevailed over the best interests of future potential student-athletes," Leach told the Seattle Times on Friday. "I will be fascinated to hear any legitimate reasoning behind this ruling."
On Saturday, he doubled down, accusing SEC and ACC coaches of letting Harbaugh get in their heads and said that while he didn't believe the rule was intended to "further oppress low-income families," he said that "that's essentially the effect."
Harbaugh spoke with Sports Illustrated earlier this week, suggesting the NCAA drop the term "student-athlete" and that "the NCAA's incompetence rears its ugly head again."
"It really serves the colleges," said Reginald Samples, who coaches at Duncanville, south of Dallas. "I'm kind of neutral on it, but it's not something I'm a big fan of. I can understand the NCAA's point, though, because some of the larger colleges get an advantage."
Other high school coaches argue that the high-level war of words both loses the real purpose of satellite camps and overstates the so-called regional "turf war."
"Nebraska isn't getting a kid who Georgia wants because of a three-hour camp in Flowery Branch," Ford said. "Alabama was not going to lose a four-star safety because Penn State had a camp here. If they want that kid, they'll get that kid."
What hasn't been talked about enough in the SEC's feud with Harbaugh is schools from the Sun Belt, American, Mountain West or Conference USA, among others, piggybacking on camps hosted by Power Five schools, allowing introductions to players who Alabama might not be interested in but could certainly find a home and a scholarship at a smaller program outside the major conferences.
Ford said he had a player who'll likely start for a Conference USA team as a redshirt freshman. Before the player attended a satellite camp, his current program had very little contact or interest in him.
"In this day and age, with Hudl, kids are seen with technology," said Toby Foreman, the head coach at Beaumont Central in Texas near the Louisiana border. "But looking at kids on video and in person is very different. You don't just pass through Orange and Beaumont. Those are out of the way places."
Two of his players, Michael Jacquet and Ken Marks, went to nearby Louisiana-Lafayette satellite camps. Both received scholarship offers during those visits.
Instead of going 1-2 hours and not needing a hotel or many meals to get in front of college coaches, camp trips could mean more 5-6 hour drives with the possibility of multiple nights in hotels.
That's asking a lot from some families.
"I've been doing this for 15 years and I know it's really, really helpful for kids at these camps," Foreman said. "It makes it extremely difficult, and I personally don't think the NCAA has kids interests at heart. You're almost punishing people for being proactive. Go out and recruit harder. Quit being lazy."
Beyond making it easier for recruits to earn scholarships, Ford forecasted a dystopian future in which banning satellite camps could mean more NCAA scandals and sleepless nights for college coaches.
"It opens doors to corruption," Ford said. "Like the Willie Lyles deal at Austin. Now, you'll have quote-unquote 'street agents' who are getting paid to drive kids in vans. With satellite camps, that issue wasn't as big. That'll rear its ugly head again. Something like Oregon paying a guy for information on recruits."
Coaches can't go on the road to recruit during the spring, but camps offered a chance to get to know recruits better, both on and off the field.
"It'll reduce the contact with kid," Ford said. "You'll have to recruit without getting to know the kid. And at camps, they get to work with him for three hours. Your evaluation will be cleaner. You'll have more information."
Overturning the ruling seems unlikely, but Ford suggested allowing juniors to take four additional official visits in their second semester to help fix any issues that eliminating satellite camps produces. Right now, prospects are limited to five official visits during their senior year.
"That would be beneficial to student athletes," Ford said. "If a college really wants a kid, the interest will be genuine because they're footing the bill."
The boardroom dealings and legislation are done for now, but considering the uproar last week's ruling caused, the debate could still be in its early stages.