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All Eyes on 7-on-7 Teams and Recruiting Hazards

Last week, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports' Eye on College Basketball blog hosted a podcast featuring John Infante, the assistant director of compliance at Colorado State University.  Infante is something of an internet celebrity - while performing the same job at Towson University, Infante anonymously ran Bylaw Blog, an unofficial/opinionated guide to NCAA compliance issues.  Infante discontinued the blog after his identity was discovered, but the site was so helpful that the NCAA encouraged him to continue blogging on compliance issues.  Now, NCAA hosts it on their own website.

Suffice to say, Infante knows a little something about the major issues facing intercollegiate athletics.  Much of the podcast focused on possible rule changes to college basketball recruiting.  In college hoops, there's virtually no bigger issue to deal with than the non-scholastic club teams that are often known only by the acronym AAU.

Problems with the AAU system have been well documented.  While club teams give young athletes the opportunity to train and compete in their favorite sport at the highest level year round, the AAU landscape, especially at the elite level, is littered with unscrupulous business managers who have little personal connection and no loyalty to a child's best interest.  On the podcast, Infante summed it up fairly well:


July is now the only time that coaches can go to non-scholastic events.  And "non-scholastic events" is the NCAA's general term for any team or event that's not run by a state high school association.  So the focus on men's basketball recruiting and women's basketball, and football recruiting as well, has been on high school events, high school teams, high school games.

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The trouble, as we have heard, is that because it's not structured the same way high school is, there's significantly less oversight of AAU coaches.  Which means that there has been a propensity for them to be more likely to try to profit off of their players in ways in which we wouldn't like people to profit off of young men and women.

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The buzzword around AAU is "grassroots."  The pioneers of AAU, Sonny Vaccaro being one of them, has pushed this "bottom up" mentality, where contracts with shoe companies are with individual teams and there's a loose registration of teams that actually gives you a lot of advantages if you register your team at a certain level with AAU that gives you a non-profit organization.  There's not a lot of top down control.


When asked whether there were bigger problems in basketball or football recruiting, Infante responded that he felt as though both were in "pretty bad shape" and that both sports were picking up each other's bad habits, especially "the rise of 7-on-7 and recruiting services in football, which mirrors what happened in basketball with recruiting services and AAU."

The comparisons between 7-on-7 football and AAU are not new; in fact, we've covered them here on Black Shoe Diaries before.[1]  The concerns are real - 7-on-7 camps "are becoming a racket much like AAU basketball for the big recruits."  The camp runners are almost never high school coaches or player families, but third-party "street agents" who rake in the endorsement cash from major corporations like Nike and Under Armour and even sports marketing agency IMG.  The NCAA worries that "adding another layer of third-parties will increase the number of people looking for illegal payments to steer players to certain schools."  The club teams are unregulated by a high school athletic associations, which means that there are no controls over safety during practice and training.

High school coaches are concerned because 7-on-7 teams draw their best players away from their team during crucial preparation months to play a sport that's entirely different from the one played under the lights on Friday evenings. The Godfather of College Football has even weighed in negatively on the topic:


There are in-between people getting involved starting 7-on-7 camps, and they are literally putting kids up on auction blocks so people can get a look at them. And there are guys who are soliciting kids to go to a camp and getting paid to bring certain kids to camps. You don't want those people involved in our game.


Of course, there are advantages to playing 7-on-7 and AAU ball.  For one, unless you play in a talent rich area of a talent rich state, it's highly unlikely that high level recruits will ever play against their peers.  The entirety of their recruiting film consists of them blowing by kids who just don't measure up physically.  Club teams allow players to showcase their skills against the best of the best and allow them to train and compete year round.  This can be a real advantage for young athletes who reside in northern states that don't allow spring football.  And it's true that these camps and teams add more events to help under the radar kids who are looking for a place to impress college coaches and earn a scholarship.

It's clear that everyone who has any knowledge at all believes that AAU teams long ago compromised the shred of integrity that college basketball recruiting had left.  The concern is that it's now on it's way to college football, a sport that has largely regulated by high school coaches and parents.  The SEC[2] was the first to get out in front of the issue by banning "7-on-7 football and other ‘non-scholastic' football from college campuses."  Apparently, the conference will be proposing national legislation to the NCAA to the same effect later this year.

Even so, it'd be surprising to hear that merely banning camps from college campuses would be enough to stop the apparent meteoric rise of non-scholastic football.  There are always fields to play and hotels to house the athletes for the duration of camp somewhere.  What else can be done?

[1] Jay does a nice job in his column with the issue, but it's basically impossible to have a serious discussion about the topic if you're going to use hypothetical names like "University of Excess," "Fast Frankie Streets" and "Freddie Warbucks."

[2] Really?  The SEC was first?  Shame on college football for allowing the SEC to become the voice of reason on an issue of football recruiting.