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Column: All recruiting stops pulled

I blew through a stop sign last week. No one was around to catch me. I’ll never be brought to justice.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said he's concerned about the NCAA's new recruiting rules during an interview on National Signing Day.

We can’t, after all, expect the local police to catch every driver who rolls through an intersection. Nor can we expect the government to foot the bill for the kind of technology and manpower it would take to consistently halt such a menial crime while thieves and murderers remain at large. No chance. So why don’t we just get rid of all those pesky stop signs and be done with it? That’s what the NCAA would do.

This August the governing body of college sports will take almost every last stop sign along the recruiting trail and tear it out of the ground. Last month the NCAA voted to lift its limits on how often a coach can send text message to prospective student-athletes. The group also decided to toss its restrictions on the types of promotional material that can be send to high school students through the mail. Recruiting is about to be deregulated.

The rule changes were trumpeted as part of the organization’s new “don’t sweat the small stuff” attitude supposedly guided at its core by common sense. There is no reasonable way for the NCAA to track the number of text messages a college coach sends each day or what a university sticks in its mail. Their enforcers are already inundated by far more serious scandals, like cleaning up the mess inside their own enforcement department.

So in January they decided they would focus on the big fish by ridding themselves of the insurmountable burden of reviewing minor recruiting violations. That burden, though, has to fall somewhere.

It starts with the assistant coaches, who are the lifeblood of a program’s recruitment arm (For now, at least). They will be the ones responsible for showing each possible recruit as much digital, thumb-pumping love as the next team to keep him interested in a scholarship offer.

“You think they’re busy now?” said ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill. “They better buy waterproof cell phones because they’re going to be using them in the shower.”

The NCAA provides a couple safety harnesses for the assistants though. Non-contact periods still occasionally give coaches time to, you know, coach. Irish recruiting coordinator Tony Alford brushed aside questions about how the new rules might negatively impact his day-to-day schedule.

“I think people are, and time will tell, trying to make it bigger than what it is,” he said..

Stanford coach David Shaw called recruiting deregulation a "deplorable" change.

The new rules also allow for a non-coaching staff member to take over the title of recruiting coordinator that Alford currently holds. The doors have been opened to create fully loaded player personnel and scouting departments separate from the coaching staff for the colleges that can afford it. That means part-time employees or work-study students could soon be plugged into Facebook and cell phones sending out dozens of messages a day to the next crop of high school talent on behalf of the assistants.

There are no such provisions to help the 17- and 18-year-old athletes who will inevitably carry the load by answering this new, limitless stream of messages. An early signing day, an option that exists for prospects in most other NCAA sports, would at least allow students to pull their mouths away from the fire hose a few months earlier.

“I think there's going to be a lot more on the plates of the [prospective] student-athletes, and I don't know how good that is,” head coach Brian Kelly said.

Stanford coach David Shaw was less diplomatic. He called the change “deplorable,” adding to the list of descriptions from high school coaches that includes “crazy,” “really unfair” and “out of control.”

Last week Big Ten coaches released a collective statement asking the NCAA to reconsider its recruiting deregulation changes. Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity told the New York Times he is rallying his SEC brethren to unanimously vote against the changes when they meet next week.

McGarity & Co. would have to collect 75 signatures from university presidents in the next month to have the right to veto the new rules. For athletic directors and coaches the changes mean that keeping up with the Joneses in recruiting will dip into the budget for the already ongoing arms race for higher coaching salaries and state-of-the-art athletic facilities.

The NCAA decision makers worried that changing the mailing rules might provide an unfair advantage for athletic departments with deep pockets. They decided no matter what they did they couldn’t level the playing field for the hundreds of Div. I schools that have made varying levels of commitment to the success of their athletic programs.

The edge in recruiting will no longer tilt on the fulcrum of coaches and programs willing to break the rules versus those that aren’t. It now goes to the team willing to shell out to send a cardboard cut-out of each potential recruit wearing their school’s colors to his front porch. Instead of basing the integrity of competition on fair play and following rules, the NCAA board members decided to let the playing field be dictated by money.

For the high schoolers who sit at the other end of this indirect cash flow, the new rules likely will affect their lives in a way that is much more real.

When you take away the stop signs it makes life easier for the police. Not so much for the young driver who gets jackknifed by a Mack truck on his way through the intersection. Buckle up, kids.

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