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Can autonomy affect recruiting?

8/6/2014

You've heard, no doubt, about the big decision coming Thursday in Indianapolis.

The vote by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors on a proposal modified last month portends to change the face of college athletics. If passed, it would grant power to the 65 schools in football's five power conferences to set their own rules on autonomous issues as soon as early next year.

Autonomy represents a monumental step in this age of potential upheaval in the governance of college football. But what does it mean for recruiting?

The short answer: Not as much change as many college coaches would like.

But, make no mistake, coaches want changes in recruiting.

"Is anybody awake here?" Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz asked recently at the Big Ten's annual media days. "Is anybody looking at what's going on?"

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said he's disgusted by the artificial adoration that many coaches heap upon prospects.

"What a bunch of losers we are as coaches," Fitzgerald said. "It's all a bunch of smoke, mirrors and innuendo."

The Big Ten coaches' opinions on the recruiting model differ from the other conferences, but the majority seem to agree that it needs repair.

Coaches in every region say trends in recruiting like the acceleration of early scholarship offers and commitments and a movement toward unregulated communication do not benefit student-athletes and their families.

Autonomy supporters promise to provide a voice for student-athletes and address their welfare on multiple fronts. New legislation, if the proposal passes on Thursday, would likely soon emerge to cover the full cost of attendance and fulfill the need for increased resources, health and nutritional benefits for players.

In recruiting, the autonomous issues are somewhat limited.

The latest proposal, drafted by the Division I Steering Committee on Governance, grants autonomy to schools in the Power Five to change rules designed to reduce the infringement on recruits' academic preparation.

It allows for legislative changes related to expenses and support provided in the recruiting process and transition to college, including assistance to families to visit campus, medical expenses and academic support during the summer prior to enrollment.

Additionally, rules may be introduced to limit the size of support staffs -- a hot button topic as coaches at some schools have bolstered their offices with a seemingly limitless number of recruiting staffers.

"We all have 29 practices before the first game," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "We all have 15 spring practices. We all have eight weeks of summer. Why, in recruiting, are some of these schools off the charts?

"The world of recruiting is where you need some balance."

Some form of balance is on the horizon.

Many of the most contentious recruiting issues, such as regulations on the communication between prospects and coaches, are not covered in the proposal of autonomous issues.

It remains to be seen, though, under the proposed structure, how broadly the Power Five schools could interpret the range of autonomy. For instance, might rule changes, designed to reduce the infringement on recruits' academic preparation, impact the recruiting calendar?

If so, autonomy could bring a period for official recruiting visits (paid by the school) in the spring or summer before a prospect's senior year, a scenario supported by coaches in the Big Ten and elsewhere.

Current rules prohibit official visits before the first day of school in the prospect's senior year.

"That's No. 1 on my docket," said Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. "Let's just throw it out there. I'll be the guy to say it, that's fine. Certain people don't want recruiting trips to take place to the Big Ten in the summer -- certain conferences. They want [recruits] to come in January."

To pass, autonomous issues would require 60-percent approval from the new 80-member voting panel and a majority vote among three of five power conferences, or a majority vote from the panel and a majority among four of the five conferences.

Under autonomy, any topics related to the National Letter of Intent, including an early signing period, would be off the table. The NLI is governed by the Collegiate Commissioners Association.

In a development separate from autonomy, the CCA formed a committee in June to explore the merits of an early signing period.

"Changing the whole recruiting calendar," Andersen said, "it's going to take time."

And that time for change could begin Thursday.