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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Recruiting a hot topic at SEC media days

By Dave Hooker
ESPN Recruiting

HOOVER, Ala. -- Mike Slive wasn't afraid to challenge the NCAA on issues that will affect recruiting -- again.

The coaches at SEC media days weren't so adamant.

Reaction was mixed to another, likely most wide-reaching proposal, which the SEC commissioner offered up on Wednesday: raising academic standards for high school athletes.

"For some reason we want to try and make it more difficult on these young men who come from difficult backgrounds and difficult academic settings," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I think the requirements are pretty good the way they are right now."

Slive began SEC media days with his usual opening address that was anything but usual. The 10-year commissioner stood before hundreds of reporters and outlined what he deemed a "call to action" and what he hopes will become "a national agenda for change" to NCAA guidelines.

Slive again outlined some of the changes he proposed to the NCAA last month, such as reworking and simplifying the recruiting calendar, allowing freer contact thought text messaging and social media and promoting earlier official visits.

Slive then took it a step further, proposing vast changes to toughen the NCAA's eligibility process.

Slive proposed raising the minimum core GPA for high school students from 2.0 to 2.5 in the NCAA's 16 required core classes. He also proposed implementing a satisfactory progress rate for prospects throughout high school, much like the formula that is currently used in college. Slive said such a rule would prevent high school upperclassmen from cramming in courses to become eligible after a poor academic start in high school.

The proposal would essentially give the NCAA the right to mandate what classes players must take each school year to be eligible.

If that happens, Slive proposed bringing back partial qualifiers. That would allow prospects meeting the current eligibility requirements to enroll in college, receive financial aid, participate in a limited amount of practice, but not play in games for one school year.

Spurrier wasn't the only coach that disagreed with the proposals.

"I've never felt like let's put things back on the high schools," Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said. "Let's make sure we do it on the college level. To me it's hard to justify you get a 2.0 or 2.5 out of high school to be eligible, but after your first year of college, you have to be [at] 1.8. That's where I struggle a little bit."

While first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp steered clear of the topic, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen endorsed the plan.

"I think it's good," Mullen said. "One of our goals is to educate young people and make sure they leave with a degree. That's why you coach in college. I think if you look at the percentages of guys that go on to the NFL … that percentage is low. We're into developing champions in life."

Mullen seemed to think that legislating satisfactory progress for high school prospects could have a more significant impact than just raising the core GPA. Mullen said by educating coaches and counselors to NCAA requirements, prospects would be less likely to stumble academically as underclassmen while still remaining eligible for high school participation. Mullen said high school eligibility has nothing to do with becoming eligible for NCAA competition.

"I bet if you did a study, you would see an unbelievable increase in student athlete GPA's their senior year in high school when they understand just how important those academics are," Mullen said.

While high school coaches and counselors would bear most of the responsibility for making sure underclassmen don't undermine their eligibility, many high school coaches will likely oppose the measure because it could limit opportunities for prospects who don't reach the 2.5 GPA in core classes.

College coaches will only sign so many partial qualifiers since they can't contribute immediately. Moreover, athletes run the risk of losing interest in college during their freshman year if they're not able to play the sport they've been so dedicated to.

"I've sent several guys to Division I and they were barely able to make it," North Little Rock (Ark.) High School coach Brad Bolding said. "Under that rule they wouldn't have made it to college. I think it's putting kids in a position where they won't have an opportunity. Some kids just struggle."

Bolding said he believes the kids that will be hurt are the less fortunate, the kids that don't have a stable home life and no parents to hold them accountable to focus on schoolwork.

"I think it also opens the door for some cheating," Bolding said. "Whenever you start setting up standards and barriers that opens it up for people to try to get around them. Doing that is creating more problems for the NCAA than it is helping them."

All-SEC tailback Marcus Lattimore from South Carolina wasn't nearly as empathetic.

"I just think it will make them work harder," Lattimore said of prospective student-athletes. "To get a full scholarship, get a 4.0. It's going to affect a couple of people, but it will work out in the end."

Recruiting news and notes

South Carolina making a stand
Long criticized for his lack of passion in recruiting, Spurrier crowed about his program's recent recruiting success.

Spurrier cited South Carolina's recruiting, in which it nabbed some of the state's top prospects, including the top in-state prospects for the past three years, as a major reason why the Gamecocks reached the SEC championship game for the first time last season.

South Carolina secured the services of defensive back Stephon Gilmore in 2009, tailback Marcus Lattimore in 2010 and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in 2011.

"This is the first time, according to [some of] these recruiting experts, that the No. 1 guy picked a school that has never won a national championship," Spurrier said, referring to Clowney. "Usually those No. 1 guys go to Alabama or Southern Cal, Ohio State, Florida, somewhere like that. But we got the No. 1 guy.

"In other words, he said I've got confidence that my home-state university can win big and that's what he wants to do. It was a big boost. It sends a message that we can win. Hopefully we can."

Spurrier, however, wasn't taking credit for South Carolina's recruiting. He let that fall on his assistant coaches.

"These assistant coaches, they can go recruit the guys," he said. "They don't need me hanging around the guys all the time. They can sell the program."

Intended or not, some of Spurrier's comments may have given prospects solace that the 66-year-old will be in Columbia for the foreseeable future. Spurrier said he feels like he did 10 years ago and that his strong coaching staff should allow him more longevity than some other coaches.

And the winning helps too.

"If it was going bad and we were getting beat, I'd be gone," he quipped.

Pro potential
Muschamp quickly noted that Florida had 40 years of NFL experience on its staff, just in case any prospects were listening.

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is the most notable. He coached 16 years in the NFL and won three Super Bowls with a highly respected, pro-passing attack.

"I didn't want any projections coming out of our scheme," Muschamp said. "I wanted guys seeing themselves playing in this scheme and certainly transferring it to Sunday, if that's available."

Whether or not that was a jab at former coach Urban Meyer's spread-option offense wasn't clear. It was, however, a clear indication that the philosophy has changed in Gainesville and the message was clear: The NFL-type offensive talent in the Sunshine State need not go far to prepare themselves for professional football. Meyer sometimes struggled with skill-position prospects who were afraid his offense wouldn't prepare them for the NFL.

Weis' NFL experience has another recruiting advantage. Muschamp said the long hours of preparing an NFL game plan has some similarities to the long hours that must be put in to recruit in college.

Muschamp's NFL-ready system isn't limited to offense. He said his defensive coverage schemes have many similarities to those used in the NFL.

Florida vs. Texas
Muschamp said recruiting in two talent-rich states can be much different. How? There is more, proven competition in his newest coaching stop in Gainesville as opposed to his former one in Austin, Texas.

"The competition in recruiting is much more fierce in the state of Florida because of the proximity of programs that have big stadiums, that have great academic institutions, that have great resources," Muschamp said. "They have a lot of similar things -- outstanding staffs, championships, tradition -- as opposed to maybe being in Texas."

Still a gray area
Muschamp threw out his perhaps soon-to-be signature glare when asked about oversigning, which has been widely criticized during the offseason.

"Our policy at the University of Florida is we don't oversign and we don't grayshirt," Muschamp said. "It hasn't really affected our success."

Spurrier, however, didn't rule out the practice. He said he's been burned before by not having enough players on campus, citing one season when he had seven scholarships left to award to walk-ons because some prospects didn't qualify academically.

Therefore, Spurrier admitted that he regularly signs two or three more prospects than he has scholarships to award and assumes he'll have academic casualties. However, he said it has never affected a signee's status.

"We didn't have to ask anybody to come in January," he said, referring to grayshirting. "We've never had to ask anybody to come in January."

Do it their own way
Spurrier and Mullen said they both prefer relying on their own recruiters as opposed to recruiting services, which have come under fire recently for charging exorbitant fees and having close ties to prospects.

"I'm not huge into recruiting services," said Mullen, who said he prefers "old fashioned" recruiting in which he and his Mississippi State coaches seek out the best prospects.

Said Spurrier, "We didn't use it that much in the Florida days either. We operate pretty cheap around here [at South Carolina]. ... Nah, I don't think they're that much necessary. They may help a little bit but not too much."

Wright says wrong call
Arkansas wide receiver Jarius Wright said he's not fond of Slive's proposal to open up text messaging. He said it was a nuisance when he was being recruited.

"It was very distracting to me at the time, especially when you want to worry about your senior season," Wright said. "If that's important to you, you really don't want to be bothered with any outside distractions. I think that can be very distracting sometimes."

Slive made the proposal to eliminate the loophole that Facebook creates. Currently, coaches can send a message on Facebook, but not text. The proposal would also eliminate some of the secondary violations that have proven tough to police.

Like texting, the "bump" rule has been tough to monitor. During the spring evaluation period, college coaches are only supposed to meet with high school coaches and not prospects. However, brief, supposedly inadvertent meetings have become the norm and are often referred to as "bumps." Slive has suggested allowing college coaches to visit with prospects during the spring evaluation period.

Wright wasn't too keen on that notion either.

"The biggest thing I would worry about is that [meeting] going to their heads," he said. "Me, personally, I wouldn't want a coach to come visit me before the season because I haven't even played out my senior season yet."

Passing remark
Petrino has long been considered one of the top quarterback coaches in college football. That pays dividends on the recruiting trail for Arkansas as well.

"We try to sell the fact that we're going to throw the ball, that we're going to be good at quarterback and the scheme that we run is something that's going to help you out," Petrino said. "I think that helps us a lot."

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.