By the time Dylan Moses is old enough to play football at Alabama, Nick Saban would be 65 and starting his 11th season at Tuscaloosa. If Moses opts for Louisiana State instead, Les Miles would be 63 and starting his 13th year in Baton Rouge.
To their respective fan bases, the competition between the two for the eighth-grader’s services four years down the road is one more example of how each stays ahead of the coaching pack by “feathering the nest,” “building the brand,” or even “securing the legacy.” Whatever. It sounds like brainwashing to me.
“Coach Saban said the Alabama staff believes Dylan has a chance to be the best player in the country in the Class of 2017 and they were ready to offer him a scholarship,” Edward Moses Jr. said shortly after he and his 14-year-old son returned from Alabama as invited guests at a camp called Crimson Tide Junior Day. “That’s when the fireworks started going off in our heads.”
Though most of us would call that recruiting, the NCAA won’t. The offer to the player isn’t technically binding, and as long as it takes place at a sports camp, it isn’t considered an “official contact” _ which can’t begin until junior year of high school _ and thus doesn’t violate any rules. And Saban is far from the only guy who’s learned to game the system. Miles made his scholarship offer to Moses at a camp last summer, though his father didn’t say at the time whether the LSU coach promised him the moon, too. Miles probably didn’t think he would need to, since come fall, Moses will head to University Lab High, not far down the road from LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
Recruiting was always part of the college game, but it started to run off the rails right about the time sports TV and radio shows had too much airtime to fill and successful coaches like Saban (four national championships) and Miles (one) began commanding CEO-caliber pay packages. It’s become quite a cottage industry in the meantime, with dedicated websites like Rivals.com _ where Moses has his own page _ and rumors buzzing across social media nonstop. Coaches, desperate to avoid being left behind, embraced the new technology with such fervor _ or in many cases, their assistants did _ that the NCAA surrendered trying to police the process.
Come Aug. 1, under what’s being billed as “deregulation,” recruiters will be allowed unlimited contact with recruits via phone calls and texts. Also gone is the so-called “dead period,” that two-week stretch barring face-to-face contact, which, quaint as it sounds, was supposed to provide a break from recruiting and let some coaches actually focus on other things, like coaching. Gone, too, are the restrictions on how much printed material schools can send recruits. Perhaps most important of all, gone is the requirement that recruiters be part of the regular coaching staff, as well as any restrictions on how many such off-campus recruiters a school deploys.
If you don’t think this is going to open the field up to more competition, well, here is how Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity described a meeting with his coaches soon after the NCAA’s deregulation plans were announced:
“We now have about 35 items on the list of what the coaches would love to do,” he told the New York Times two weeks ago. “Think about if we gave them a few months to come up with things.”
According to the newspaper, on the “wish list” were 200-page, four-color brochures, as well as Fathead posters and videos of the recruit in a Georgia uniform.
The most telling request, though, was this: “Four or five extra staff members devoted to recruiting.”
The playing field hasn’t been level for a long time _ the game is now the BCS conferences and everybody else _ and as the Saban-Miles contest for Moses demonstrates, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The big boys have better players, more money, more resources and with the move-on, there’s-nothing-to-see-here crowd in charge of the NCAA, fewer qualms than ever about throwing their weight around.
To illustrate just one way the haves stay on top, football analyst George Sarkisian looked at the schedules of the BCS conferences for 2013. Both the Big Ten and SEC schools play at home 70 percent of the time, using their nonconference schedules to load up on non-BCS opponents, most of whom will play the sacrificial lamb anywhere in exchange for a big payday, and few of whom are ever extended the privilege of a home-and-home series. Both the Big Ten and SEC also fatten up on more than 30 Division I-AA opponents as confidence builders, often the weekend before a particularly tough conference rivalry game.
So remember the name “Dylan Moses.” You’ll be hearing it plenty four years from now, when rich, successful programs like Alabama and LSU are just as successful and a whole lot richer.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at twitter.com/JimLitke.