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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
UConn's recruiting penalties are survivable

By Dave Telep

The Connecticut men’s basketball team received its NCAA sanctions on Tuesday, but from a recruiting standpoint, the NCAA didn’t put UConn over its knee. Instead, the Huskies received a light spanking.

Kemba Walker
NCAA sanctions will make it more difficult, but not impossible, for Connecticut to recruit talents like Kemba Walker.
Unlike Bruce Pearl and the Tennessee Volunteers, the Huskies were not hit with sanctions that would prevent them from leaving campus to recruit. Instead, the sanctions levied on Jim Calhoun and the Huskies deal with scholarships, official visits and phone calls. Overall, the sanctions can be overcome with an efficient plan and diligent attention to detail mixed in with good judgment and crisp evaluations.

The Huskies lose a scholarship a year for a three-year period. This means that more invited walk-ons make the team. Losing the scholarship certainly reduces the overall number of available bodies, but it does not represent a major problem for an elite program.

UConn had its off-campus recruiting days reduced from 130 to 90, but UConn won’t likely miss those 40 recruiting days. Rare is the program that uses all of its days, so this penalty is fairly cosmetic and is overcome by efficient planning.

The Huskies won’t be able to waste days or take chances. Their biggest hit might come in the form of underclassmen recruiting. By reducing the number of days on the road, UConn might not be able to work too far ahead with the juniors and sophomores. But the reduction looks tougher on paper than it actually is.

Another hit is that Calhoun’s crew will have to wait 30 days after the first day phone calls are allowed to prospects before they can call recruits. It sounds harsh, falling a month behind in recruiting on the phone, but what it really means is UConn loses its two calls per week to juniors for a total of eight calls the first 30 days, and one call a month to sophomores.

While the phone ban is going on, other forms of communication exist. For instance, if the sanctions don’t include electronic communication then the staff would be free to e-mail at will per the rules. “Most kids have e-mail on their phone, so it’s really like a text message,” former St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. “You can be e-mailing them a ton. Kids don’t like to talk on the phone anyway.”

Plus -- and this is a big one -– the players can always call the coaches, and UConn’s staff would be free to communicate with the coaches of the players.

UConn was docked a slew of official visits, which again appears tough, but really isn’t. The growing trend among high school players is the early commitment. Each year, more and more recruits commit prior to their senior year and the unofficial visit plays a larger role than ever in the landscape of recruiting. Outside of some late period visits and ceremonial official visits for committed players, the overall number of official visits lessens each year. There are cases where a school might need to sign a larger class and the visits would be needed, but because of the prevalence of unofficials, this is isn’t a crushing blow.

The recruiting sanctions imposed on Connecticut certainly alter the program’s thinking and planning, but are not going to put the Huskies at a competitive disadvantage. They’ll require UConn to practice good judgment and not waste visits, but it won’t hamper the overall recruiting efforts of the program.

Frankly, the biggest hit on Connecticut comes in the court of public opinion. The perception of the Huskies took a hit once this story came to light, and has hung over the program. The major repair job in Storrs is one of perception. Once it was announced that there would not be a postseason ban (which could have seriously affected recruiting over the course of the ban), the program survived the worst-case scenario.

These recruiting sanctions aren’t ideal, but given the alternative, you won’t hear many complaints from Connecticut.