The very best college football programs take advantage of "loopholes." Joker Phillips' resignation notwithstanding, power programs—mostly in the SEC—have created a culture of rule-pushing, whether it be in recruiting practices, expanded support staff or over-signing.
But to consider the adoption of satellite camps, by Penn State this summer and by Notre Dame starting next summer, as exploiting a loophole gets one key variable wrong: This one actually helps the kids.
For Notre Dame, perhaps the premiere national recruiting football program in the country, getting the opportunity to sell their school and take their message to recruits over the summer can only help all parties involved. And the Irish staff absolutely must be at the forefront of the idea.
As 247Sports.com's Steve Wiltfong first reported, the Irish will begin co-hosting football camps with schools in different regions. First on the list is joining Georgia State in Atlanta, a region that's turning into a significant pipeline for head coach Brian Kelly.
Atlanta is just one stop. As a fully-formed idea, Notre Dame could set up shop in Florida, Texas and California, spending parts of the summer in three crucial recruiting regions where the Irish coaching staff continually fights uphill battles trying to pull out talent.
The chance for Tony Alford to be more than just a voice from Indiana on the telephone in South Florida should have Irish fans salivating. That Kerry Cooks will be able to coach up prospects in Texas, where he's made significant inroads the past few recruiting cycles already, will be invaluable.
And while most Irish fans want to give up on a place like Fresno, getting Mike Denbrock and the Irish staff to such a talent-rich (though difficult-to-crack) region will make the idea of Notre Dame a reality to talented recruits, not just some mythical place in Indiana.
The idea that James Franklin, Brian Kelly or any northern coach would be able to set up shop in somebody else's backyard has some SEC coaches crying foul. Georgia coach Mark Richt told the AP the following:
"To me, what I'm seeing is a loophole in that if another school sponsors a camp -- Georgia Camp featuring Penn State coaches -- or some Division II schools in Texas featuring Oklahoma's coaches or Oklahoma State's coaches or Texas' coaches and then just barnstorming all around the place," Richt said. "The rule says that everybody's camp should be on their own institution, so it's basically people finding a way around that rule. We think the rule was set for a reason and it ought to stay that way."
As SEC meetings took place a few weeks ago, some of the SEC's powerbrokers had the conference considering rule changes to stop the growing practice. Ross Bjork, athletic director for Ole Miss, made these comments to ESPN's Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff:
"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,'" Bjork said. "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."
The deeper you look into the summer camp scene, the more distasteful things seem to get. It's hardly satellite camps that are the problem.
CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler recently exposed the summer camp scene, highlighting the slippery slope that comes with paying high school coaches (often with elite prospects in tow) to work their camp.
According to open records requests made by CBSSports.com, Washington, Ohio State and Florida State spent more than $150,000 in "guest fees" last summer, making it pretty evident that it takes significant financial motivation to keep the current, non-loophole exploiting, summer camp system alive and well.
Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Tennessee's Butch Jones know the other, more compromised side. Both say high school coaches attempt to leverage them by offering to bring top players in exchange for getting paid to work a camp. “It's a growing question we hear,” Jones said.
Several FBS coaches are concerned not that camps exist, but that the recruiting system is designed for potential abuse, or to create pressure for coaches to abuse it themselves.
Putting high school or junior college coaches on the camp payroll to potentially steer players' campus visits could create a new arms race among high-resource schools. There's no definitive limit on pay for on-field guest coaches, assuming everyone gets the same rate based on work they perform.
“Essentially what (schools) are doing is paying to bring prospects to their camps,” Arizona's Rich Rodriguez said.
As recruiting timelines compress, getting athletes on campus over the summer is crucial. To that point, Notre Dame has stepped up its efforts on the homefront, not just relying on the traveling circus that could be unleashed next summer. Their upcoming "Irish Invasion" camp is among the top stops for elite recruiting prospects, with the Irish staff welcoming dozens of the top 2015 and 2016 prospects to campus.
For as long as Notre Dame has struggled to get back to the top of the college football mountain, excuses have been made: Academic barriers that eliminate a large portion of the country's top talent; an unwillingness to partake in unethical recruiting practices; the geographical hindrance that comes with being in Northern Indiana.
But Brian Kelly has done his best to tear those excuses down. He's recruited aggressively, working with both the university admissions office and high school guidance counselors to help prospects understand what it takes to get in and thrive at Notre Dame.
He's also taken a "new school" approach to recruiting, with the "Pot of Gold." Kelly's staff turned late December, a recruiting quiet period, into a much-talked about letter writing campaign that got national attention.
With satellite camps, Kelly and the Irish staff will be breaking down a final barrier, combating the geographic issue that even NBC and Under Armour money can't beat. For talented recruits that can't find their way to South Bend on their own dime in the summer, the Irish staff will simply come to them.
Call it a loophole in NCAA rule (126.96.36.199) if you will, but it's good for the kids. So whether or not it ruffles a few feathers, it's just one more thing Notre Dame needs to do as it continues its climb back into college football's elite.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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