College Basketball Nation: Basketball Focus Group

Memphis fans had reason to be slightly nervous these past few months, and not only because head coach Josh Pastner seems intent on cramming yet more work into his already insane regimen. No, for a little while there, it seemed as though the Tigers could be in some hot water over their recruitment of top 2012 recruit Shabazz Muhammed.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal's Kyle Veazey has the skinny:
Muhammad's claim that the Tigers were "calling and calling and calling" prompted a question from the NCAA's Basketball Focus Group, an arm of the enforcement division formed in 2008 to gather information and explore potential violations in the sport. [...] But since he was not yet a senior in high school when he gave the interview, NCAA rules limited calls from schools to Muhammad at one per month.

The Basketball Focus Group began asking around about how Muhammed paid for an unofficial visit to Memphis, and it was interested in the recruitment of Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe, too. Memphis did its own investigation and reported back with its findings last fall, and on Friday the BFG called Memphis and said that it had accepted Memphis's self-reporting and confirmed that the school had committed no violations.

Why the confusion in the first place? You guessed it: obscure phone call rules. See, Muhammed's father is an AAU coach, so the school is allowed to call him more frequently than other parents and guardians provided the subject of those phone calls is about evaluations of players and not specifically about asking Muhammed to sign with Memphis. It's a loophole, yes, but it's a legal one.

Which is yet another reason why the NCAA needs to reform its phone calls by removing these sorts of restrictions altogether. The two major reasons for restricting phone calls -- cost and annoyance -- are now outdated. Coaches can't text with players, but they can send unlimited emails and private Twitter and Facebook messages. With push notifications and smartphone apps, these sorts of messages are basically the exact same thing as texts. And if you have unlimited texting -- and I'm pretty sure every 16-year-old has to have unlimited texting or their cell phone plans would engulf their parents' entire monthly budget -- the user experience on the front end is basically identical.

In other words, same takeaway, different day. When a rule as silly as phone calls can have this many unintended, needless side effects, it's probably not a very good rule. That's why the NCAA has moved toward changing it this offseason. In the meantime, coaches have to be as aware as Pastner -- who is universally hailed as a devoted compliance stickler -- to make sure they know the phone calls they're making aren't putting their program in unintended jeopardy. Hopefully, the Era of the Cell Phone Scandal will soon meet its end.

(Hat tip: CBS)
In June, the NCAA revealed that it was looking to add three former coaches to its Basketball Focus Group. I jokingly called such coaches "rats," which was probably not a very nice thing to do; the NCAA desperately needs coaches willing to break their silence and talk to the organization about the ins and outs of illicit recruiting. Ostracizing such coaches, even sarcastically, wasn't cool. Just like the Chicago police department, the NCAA needs snitches, too.

A few months later, we appear to have learned who those folks will be. Jeff Goodman's sources listed three hires, which Goodman detailed in a column yesterday. They are former Ohio State player and coordinator of the NCAA's First Team Program Chris Singleton; NCAA membership services employee Julie Powers; and coach Ken Huber.

Wait. Who?

Huber was the only coach hired by the NCAA, and you can forgive yourself if you haven't heard of him. According to Goodman, most Division I coaches haven't, either. (Goodman's anonymous quotes from coaches are borderline depressing. An example: "He'll be all over it." That coach was being sarcastic. Nice.) Huber was hired away from his current position as an assistant coach of the women's team at Gardner-Webb. His resume -- which includes stops at Florida International, Wright State, North Florida, and a handful of Division II programs -- doesn't exactly sing out with recruiting hotspots.

Needless to say, this is not the high-level, plugged-in hire most envisioned when the NCAA revealed it was looking for coaches to join its fight against recruiting naughtiness. Huber hasn't coached at a big-time school; he hasn't recruited big-time prospects; presumably, his ties to high-level AAU runners and agents are tenuous, if they exist at all.

The good news is that Huber is reportedly a very ethical, hard-working, stand up dude. Which is great. But that doesn't mean he's going to be able to outline the unseemly ways AAU figures, college coaches, and agents have corrupted the basketball recruiting process beyond recognition. Unless he's more plugged-in than his record would imply, he's not going to sit in a boardroom and tell the NCAA how one recruiter is tied to another. He's not going to glance at a newspaper story announcing the latest big-time signing and know the exact path that player took to that school. He won't have any smoking guns; he won't have any inside info. He's no Mark Whitacre. (Which, now that I think about it, is probably a good thing.)

In other words, he's just like us, if a little bit more well-connected. The average college hoops fan has a vague idea of how the sausage is made, but we don't know the sordid truth behind the factory walls. Maybe that's because we don't want to know.

The NCAA does. Make no mistake: The Basketball Focus Group's sheer existence is a great start. But if the folks in Indianapolis are looking to do more than mere reaction every time a new recruiting scandal -- if they're looking for the sort of comprehensive understanding that facilitates genuine prevention -- it will require the cooperation of far more than the well-respected assistant women's coach from Gardner-Webb.

Here's hoping Huber can surprise us. But other coaches, officially or not, need to come along for the ride.

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