The intensity of outsiders’ pursuit of a valued Texas export, the state’s home-grown high school football talent, reaches a new level this week.
A high-profile college coach, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, will teach at satellite football camps in the Lone Star State on Monday in Houston and Tuesday at the Gopher/Warrior Bowl in Grand Prairie. It marks Michigan’s first trek into Texas for summer skills sessions in conjunction with an in-state agency.
For the Grand Prairie camp, the co-host is Dallas Showtyme Elite Football. Another traditional power from a northern venue, Notre Dame, will have a one-day presence in Texas later this month. Irish coach Brian Kelly will partner with ProCamps Worldwide for a June 16 camp at Cedar Hill High School.
The idea of satellite football camps held at off-campus venues is not new. Oklahoma State coaches have participated in summer camps for seven years at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. TCU’s summer schedule includes two camps in Houston, one in Plano and one in East Texas.
Under NCAA rules, schools are allowed to hold camps on campus or within a 50-mile radius of their school. Coaches invited to be a “guest coach” at a camp organized by another school or agency can travel anywhere in the country to fill that role.
That loophole has led to a 2015 increase in Texas-based camps involving coaches from schools located hundreds or thousands of miles from the venue. Michigan coaches will hold 10 camps in nine days in six different states (Indiana, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, California) before returning to Ann Arbor, Mich. for an on-campus camp on June 14.
Many observers view the out-of-state camps as thinly veiled efforts to jump-start recruiting efforts in football hotbeds where the visiting schools seek a stronger foothold. Often, the camps provide access to players during a recruiting dead period. To some, this signals the start of a dangerous precedent for the game if the practice is left unchecked and continues to grow in popularity.
“I think there’s a whole series of reasons why this is not healthy,” said Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw, whose school won the 2013 Big 12 football championship and shared last year’s title with TCU. Left unchecked, McCaw said the natural tendency for “keeping up with the Joneses” on the recruiting front could lead to disastrous ramifications for schools and coaches.
“We’re going to start sending coaches all around the country, all summer long,” McCaw said. “If ‘School X’ is running 45 satellite camps around the country, ‘School Y’ is going to have to figure out how to get 46. And that is not healthy for college football.
“Coaches need a vacation, like everybody else. It’s a quality-of-life issue.”
It’s also a cost-containment issue. Holding camps on a school’s campus, or within a short drive of the campus, limits the need for flights and hotels for coaches. Setting up shop in an out-of-state venue makes everything more expensive. But it gives coaches from Michigan or Notre Dame an opportunity to meet and assess players from Texas who typically would not travel to out-of-state football camps.
The growth of satellite camps has hit a nerve with coaches and administrators in the Southeastern Conference, where league rules prohibit satellite camps. The ACC has a similar rule. The SEC is sponsoring NCAA legislation aimed at getting all schools to adopt their policy by next summer, thereby closing the loophole for “guest coaches” to work at camps in out-of-state venues.
If such a move fails, SEC administrators have made it clear they will lift their prohibition on satellite camps next summer. Greg Sankey, the new SEC commissioner, told reporters during the SEC spring meetings that league coaches already have “talked very specifically about their intent to canvas the nation” if allowed to do so next summer.
Although McCaw expressed support for the SEC’s position to tap the brakes on satellite campus, the Big 12 is split on the issue. Schools located in other states like being part of satellite camps in Texas to bolster recruiting efforts.
“Our ADs, I have to say, are all over the place on that issue,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said the growing number of satellite camps in Texas has caused robust discussion among league administrators. OU coaches regularly take part in satellite camps in Texas, with sessions scheduled this summer in Houston, Dallas and Sam Houston State in Huntsville.
“We have strong feelings in our conference, for and against the issue,” Castiglione said. “Like a lot of things that happen in our business, it wasn’t that big of a deal when they were few and far between. Now, people are becoming more aggressive. The reasons are obvious: being in front of prospective student-athletes becomes a strategy. One camp begets multiple camps and multiple camps beget more of a national approach.”
A heightened national focus means more out-of-state coaches seeking to be part of satellite camps in Texas, Florida and California. For obvious reasons.
“There are as many Division I recruits in California, Texas and Florida as there are in the other 47 states combined,” Bowlsby said. “So, indeed, we would be one of the states that would be sharing our talent pool with others.”
Bowlsby predicted the issue eventually will land on the doorstep of the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, of which he is the chairman. He considers serving as commissioner of the Big 12, which has no official stance on satellite camps because its 10 members are heavily divided on the issue, an ideal opportunity to explore both sides of the debate.
At this point, McCaw said he perceives there to be “a slight majority” of athletic directors from FBS schools who would support the SEC’s position to tighten regulations on satellite camps by next summer. Bowlsby said he is not sure that truly is the case.
“I think the plausibility of doing it depends on who you ask,” Bowlsby said. “I’m going to get a lot of chances to debate and listen to debate. At this point, I won’t prejudge how it’s going to turn out.”
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760