In a recent article in the Washington Post, veteran recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons was asked about the growing concern by NCAA officials and others over an increasing number of fans who are creating Web sites, obtaining media credentials and becoming amateur recruiters for their favorite colleges.
"It really has gotten worse," said Gibbons, who has traveled the summer circuit while evaluating players for 30 years. "We have a whole different set of communications than I am familiar with, and that existed when I first started out, went to camp, watched the best players and did a report on them.
"They have taken it to different levels. There are multiple problems that need to be resolved, and I don't think anyone knows the exact solution to it. How do you legislate these people who claim they are media representatives?"
It was a powerful statement. But it was the last paragraph in the story. It jumped out at me. So much was left unsaid. Where is the rest of the story? I immediately called Gibbons, a good friend whom I have known since he launched his service in 1979. He admitted he had said a whole lot more but it was left on the cutting room floor.
These newcomers with media credentials dangling around their necks are products of the new technology and the depressed condition of the newspaper industry. The Internet, twitter, blogs and everything online has empowered these people who really are no more than zealous fans of a particular school. They establish their own Web site online and represent Illinois or Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky or other schools.
"We are besieged by these guys," Gibbons said. "They want to get into events and talk to players. Where do you draw the line? Who has a legitimate Web site and who doesn't?"
This summer, Gibbons said he observed a situation at one camp where a college coach was sitting next to a guy with a media credential hanging around his neck. The media person would text a player and ask the coach what he wanted to communicate. The coach isn't allowed to talk directly to a player but the media person allowed him to make his recruiting pitch on a cell phone or texting or twittering or writing things on their Web sites.
Thirty years ago, when Gibbons began, there was no Internet. Very few analysts outside of college coaches attended camps or tournaments...Gibbons, Van Coleman, Bill Krider, Tom Konchalski. They didn't talk to kids about what schools they wanted to attend. They just rated the top 100 players in the country for coaches and readers of their newsletters. Also, alumni of the schools didn't show up to see kids who might be going to their school. Sure, every school has zealous fans who like to see prospects that their school is recruiting. But, at that time, they didn't interfere with the process.
"So what happened? The technology changed," Gibbons said. "The Internet impacted on the whole world of communications, opening up the world of recruiting. People realize how they can take advantage of the new technology. Fans have gone nuts and coaches have bought into it. It has become such a competitive business."
And if you're looking for solutions, don't call the NCAA. At the National AAU tournament in Orlando, for years, the media had been allowed to sit in the same section as the college coaches.
"But the people who run the event told me that I would have to move, that the NCAA had just passed a rule that prohibited the media from sitting next to the coaches. We had been sitting there for seven days, Now the rule was being changed. Later, an official told me: 'We know you're legitimate but we're having problems with people who we don't know.' He pointed out a media person who actually was a representative of a school but who was wearing a media badge. He was talking to kids and touting his school."
What can the NCAA do? How do you control freedom of speech? Aren't these outside influences protected by the First Amendment?
Gibbons has a possible solution. Maybe the NCAA should listen. It should appoint a committed of veteran media who know the good guys from the bad guys, who can separate the legitimate online journalists from the the amateur recruiters who represent schools and cross the line with ethics.