- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are are two types of visits high school prospects can make to colleges recruiting them: the "official visit," which is paid for by the school and allowed during a prospect's senior year, and the "unofficial visit," which is paid for by the prospect and isn't restricted to the senior year. Official visits are pretty cut and dry. They are also -- given the modern recruiting trend of prospects committing to schools early in their careers -- passé.
The imbalance this rule causes -- wherein prospects from wealthy families can go anywhere and see any school, while prospects of limited means have to find other ways -- is obvious. That imbalance has also placed an undue amount of influence on the unofficial visit, providing a way in for infamously scurrilous prep hoops go-betweens, who can offer influence and access to schools in exchange for helping prospects find their way to campuses. It's not supposed to happen, but it does, and it no doubt happens more frequently than is ever reported.
How do you regulate this? Bylaw Blog's John Infante (along with the aforelinked Mike DeCourcy) has taken on the issue before, arguing that unofficial visits should be banned. The issue is not uncomplicated, as Infante's explanation shows; it would involve a ream of rule changes and restructuring to avoid negative unintentional consequences. The solutions aren't obvious.
Which is why a third way -- which Infante wrote about Thursday -- sounds so very promising. In a landscape in which prospects' increasing willingness to be aggressive in their own pursuit of a college scholarship (the "good old days" of prospects waiting around for coaches to come visit are over, and "probably never existed" in the first place, John writes), some are using Kickstarter-clone web fundraising tools. One such player is football prospect Marcus Rose, who began his own Indiegogo campaign to help pay his way to a camp. And it's legal:
Rose’s fundraising campaign used to be against NCAA rules, but is now allowed by Bylaw 188.8.131.52.4.5.1. As long as the funds do not come from an agent, NCAA member institution, or a booster of an NCAA school, athletes can find “sponsors” to help cover the cost of practice and competition in athletics events.
As of right now, fundraising for recruiting travel is not permitted. While you could put the same restrictions in, there is a much greater temptation to break those rules for boosters and agents when it means the chance to direct an athlete to a certain school rather than just to finance their athletic development. Allowing for fundraising campaigns without close regulation would be difficult.
First of all, that bylaw -- 184.108.40.206.4.5.1 -- is amazing. And people wonder why the NCAA rule book requires so much explanation.
Anyway, it would be very difficult to allow athletes to start raising money directly for recruiting, but not impossible, and that's where John's other idea comes in:
The NCAA could run a fundraising site where athletes could sign up to get recruiting expenses like trips to camps or unofficial visits covered. The best way to do it would be not to allow individual fundraising campaigns, but rather allow individuals to donate collectively to the athletes in the pool. That way money is not directed toward an individual athlete, even if say a recruit considering Kentucky encourages Kentucky fans to contribute.
Prospects would be given the funds for recruiting trips, then required to show the money was spent on recruiting expenses like travel, lodging, and meals. Failure to do so would require the prospect pay the money back and potentially face other penalties when he or she starts school.
This is a pretty great idea. Of course, it would include a gazillion minor contingencies in need of resolution, and it would be yet another major regulatory challenge for the NCAA, and the organization is pretty much swamped as it is. But if the NCAA is serious about limiting or removing unofficial visits altogether -- or at least reducing the influence unofficial visits allow third parties to wield -- a large fundraising pool could help bring things above board. Everybody in the pool!