College football camp recruiting grows into border war
Go ahead and look at the flier above. It seems about as clear as clear can be.
Maybe it's the big "Oklahoma State" down on the bottom. Or the fact the copyrighted "OSU" logo appears in five different locations. There's even a nice picture of coach Mike Gundy, complete with his signature, a true mark of authenticity. That sits right next to the address for the Oklahoma State program – "OSU Football, West End Zone, Stillwater, OK 74078." Up top, of course, is a lineup of the team's recruiting assistants right under the words "Cowboy Coaches At Summer Camps In Texas!"
The flier is all but calling out to every Texas high school prospect: The Big 12 program is coming to a town near you.
Except, Oklahoma State isn't running any camps. Doing so would be a violation of NCAA rules and the compliance-committed Cowboys would never do such a thing.
They'd just make it look like they are doing such a thing.
"We actually don't host those camps in Texas, so they're not Oklahoma State camps," said Cowboys spokesman Gavin Lang. "They are hosted by Mary Hardin-Baylor and our coaches serve as employees of their camp."
Wait, what? Mary Hardin-Baylor? You mean the 3,000-student, Division III Christian school located in little Belton, Texas? Well, upon closer inspection of the flier, UMHB isn't just the location of the first stop on the camp tour. The school actually runs all six events. The only clue from the flier is the listed website – cruathletics.com – which is run by UMHB. Oklahoma State's website – OKState.com – is not on there.
Funny, the promotional material doesn't feature any pictures of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg.
So when is a flier not a flier? When it comes to football recruiting in Texas, of course.
Confused? Yeah, that's the point, and while this looks like Oklahoma State is running right through an NCAA rulebook loophole, the Cowboys certainly aren't the only ones. This is just the masterful use of some fairly comical and creative maneuvering.
Six years ago, the NCAA passed rule 188.8.131.52, which set limits on where football programs can run high school camps, namely any out-of-state location that sits more than 50 miles from campus. Essentially, unless your campus sits on a state border, you're fenced in. Prior to that, Oklahoma State, or anyone else, could run its own camp in whatever area it wanted to gain a foothold – Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, wherever.
In the Big 12, Lone Star high school talent fuels almost every team. No other state produces a fraction of the talent. Oklahoma State has 67 players from Texas on its current roster. Oklahoma has 43. Conversely, the University of Texas has just two players from Oklahoma.
Under the spirit of the NCAA rule, OSU and OU would be forced to sit idly each June as their rivals in Texas crisscross the geographically vast and talent-rich state, making inroads with recruits and high school coaches. Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston, TCU and others did just that this summer, bringing their staffs to prospects in all corners of the state, rather than just hoping the kids could get a ride to their home campus. In the extreme, UTEP ran a camp in Houston, some 755 miles away from El Paso.
That's a boon for Texas schools, especially as satellite camps have become one of the hottest trends in recruiting and seen by college coaches as increasingly influential. While the trend is most prevalent in Texas, college coaches think it could extend to other big-time football states such as Florida, Georgia, Ohio and California. In Texas, it isn't unusual for a high school prospect to attend a handful of one-day camps each June.
So to combat the rule and avoid getting boxed out, OU and OSU – among others – became creative and started teaming up with a D-III institution to do what their Texas rivals are able to do – get their coaches some valuable face time with recruits.
The Sooners coaches appeared at camps in Houston, San Antonio and Tyler during the summer of 2012 that were technically run by McMurry University, a 1,400-student liberal arts college in Abilene. At least the flier was less deceptive – hyping up "War Hawks Football Camp," featuring "instructions by coaches from the University of Oklahoma and McMurry University."
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, hooked up with Mary Hardin-Baylor five years back, a relationship born because Fredenberg's son, Cody, was a grad assistant in Stillwater. Now, a school with a 7,500-seat stadium runs half a dozen camps and employs the coaching staff (mostly just the assistants) of T. Boone Pickens' team. "We hired [the Cowboy coaches] to work our camp," Pete Fredenberg said.
OSU's presence bulks up attendance (more kids will pay the $35 fee to attend a camp that looks affiliated with a Big 12 champion than a D-III program). That makes the entire enterprise profitable for the little school. In the meantime, Mary Hardin-Baylor might uncover a player or two that works for them. It's win-win.
"It's been a resource for us and for [OSU]," Pete Fredenburg told Yahoo! Sports. "We've evaluated a lot of players and been able to expose our university across the state. There's certainly a cost involved and you have to decide if it's worthwhile, but I think it's been great to get the name of Mary Hardin-Baylor across the state."
In general, there isn't anything wrong with college football programs bringing their coaches closer to the prospects. If anything, it makes it easier and less costly for high school kids to gain coaching, experience and exposure. Partnering with a D-III program was just an ingenious twist around legislation. After all, the original rule doesn't seem like a particularly good one.
It is the rule, though. And if you want to know why the NCAA manual is about 1,000 pages long, it's because no matter what rule is passed, enterprising coaches will find a way to beat it, which might require another rule to strengthen the intent of the original one. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Not every school is involved in this, of course.
The state's two most prominent programs – the University of Texas and Texas A&M – don't participate in these deals. A&M used to run off-campus camps, but can't after joining the SEC in 2012, because that conference prohibits satellite camps of any kind, even in state. That puts the Aggies, for whom Texas recruiting is paramount, at the same competitive disadvantage as the Oklahoma schools.
"These Big 12 schools can run a camp right over there," A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said one day this summer, pointing out his office window to an empty field just on the edge of the College Station campus. More importantly, they can run one in Dallas and Houston, where lots of players live.
The smaller schools also are not prohibited from hiring local high school or 7-on-7 coaches to "work" their camps, assuring top talent arrives or, perhaps even overpaying them for the effort. As one Big 12 head coach acknowledged, it's a situation ripe for abuse. "Third-parties are getting involved," he said. "That's a mess."
Sumlin brought the issue up at SEC meetings this summer, where other league coaches also voiced concerns about the differences in approach and the advantage they may give to the Big 12, according to SEC executive associate commissioner Greg Sankey. The SEC decided to keep the status quo, but the subject is likely to be revisited.
"It wasn't really an issue until expansion because we are on the edge of things [geographically in the SEC]," Sumlin said. "And now these remote camps have become real evaluation tools for schools. It's a real issue for us."
The University of Texas, meanwhile, could legally barnstorm the state, but says it is committed to doing everything on its campus in Austin, perhaps because it has mostly dominated in-state recruiting for years. In-state players rarely turn down an invite to a recruiting event from the Longhorns. Coach Mack Brown estimated only three players the Longhorns wanted to attend camp in the last year did not come to Austin.
But Fredenberg told Yahoo! Sports that Brown, who is the president of the American Football Coaches Association, is not happy with the current loophole in the rules.
"There's some concern with the AFCA," Fredenburg said. "We talked with Coach Brown a lot. He's not a big fan of the satellite camps. I don't know why."
Brown told Yahoo! Sports that if the loophole is so easily exploited in Texas by out-of-state schools, then "let's clean it up and make it legal," essentially undoing the 2007 rule and ending all the confusion.
You know, like a flier for a bunch of Oklahoma State football camps that, it turns out, aren't Oklahoma State football camps.