If SEC coaches and admins had it their way, Penn State coach James Franklin would never leave Big Ten country to coach in a summer camp.
According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff, Franklin, formerly Vanderbilt's head coach, and his staff plan on coaching prospects at Georgia State (Atlanta, Georgia) and Stetson (Deland, Florida) camps in June.
Franklin's smart to do so. He's taking advantage of a loophole within an NCAA rule (18.104.22.168) that limits where football programs can run high school camps. Basically, a program can't leave its state to operate a camp located more than 50 miles from campus.
But there's nothing in the rule that says coaches can't work at those camps.
Franklin is hardly the first coach to do it. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has done it in the state of Texas, as profiled by Dan Wetzel and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports in 2013.
Taking advantage of the loophole makes sense for Gundy and his staff, who heavily recruit Texas prospects. Joining camps at GSU and Stetson also makes sense for Franklin's staff, as they try to build Penn State's brand in the Southeast.
Traveling to Georgia and Florida, the heart of SEC country, gives Penn State's coaches an opportunity to see players they may not have otherwise seen before. Maybe a handful of kids will seriously consider the Nittany Lions because of it. Some may even eventually sign.
Guest coaching at camps isn't the same thing as taking an unofficial visit, as Bud Elliot of SB Nation Recruiting tweets. That's a big part of the experience of taking a campus visit.
But taking unofficial visits are expensive. Not every recruit and their family can afford to do it. Official visits, which are paid by the school, aren't permitted until a prospect's senior year of high school. By allowing guest coaches to work camps anywhere in the country, face-to-face visits can take place sooner.
The evaluation process would be better because of that.
Recruiting is at its best when kids have as many options as possible and are able to interact with as many coaches as possible—not the other way around.
The reason the SEC is miffed is because it has a rule prohibiting what coaches like Franklin and Gundy are doing. Alabama's coaching staff can't appear at camp in Dallas, Texas, for example. As a result, the conference views guest coaches as an invasion of sorts.
"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, 'What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance,'" Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said (via Schlabach). "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."
It's borderline unfathomable to think of the SEC as being at a competitive disadvantage at anything, but there's data that supports Bjork's concern.
College Football Matrix compiled heat maps showing where SEC (via USA Today) and Big Ten schools get their recruits. As you'd expect, the SEC rarely has to venture far for players, while the Big Ten would like nothing more than to break further into the Southeastern region.
Of course, one option for the SEC is to simply lift their rule, not force everyone else to comply with its policy. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated expands on that idea:
So, can the nation's coaches and athletic directors, most of whom have spent their entire professional lives as part of a system in which the solution to any problem is to make more rules, handle a system that treats them like adults and expects them to act accordingly? The SEC's reaction to the Franklin conundrum suggests those groups aren't quite ready to handle the freedom they're about to receive.
Change is a hard concept in college athletics. Even as power conferences push toward autonomy within the NCAA, fear of what other conferences/schools might do is enough to table just about any deregulated legislation.
By lifting the rule, though, LSU could send coaches to a camp in St. Louis, or Tennessee's coaches could help out in Los Angeles. Suddenly, a kid in California who never considered the Vols before realizes he has the best connection with the team's running backs coach. By the time that kid makes an official visit to Knoxville his senior year, he has a better idea of what to expect.
For some prospects, the recruiting process is a narrow scope. Some kids know they're bound for a certain school the moment they're offered a scholarship. But for many others, the process is far more open. It would behoove any recruit to interact with as many different coaches as possible.
At most, players will generally get five years of college. It's a time to be enjoyed, so recruits should open up as many options as possible while they can. It'll be the last time they have those options.
The SEC should hop on board with that philosophy.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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