The NCAA regulates text messages, emails, phone calls, donor contributions, and a myriad of other ways for coaches to entice a recruit. Athletic departments host massive recruit-centered weekends, and sometimes the events can slip into the sordid.
For all the effort the NCAA expends to monitor recruiting practices, I find it interesting how often a story breaks of an institution hiring an individual related to that recruit. What are the rules regarding this seemingly-obvious path to subverting the goals of the NCAA and how can athletic departments be sure they’re both in compliance but also taking advantage of this potent recruiting tool?
First off, the legality of hiring a recruit’s coach, mentor, or even family member is without dispute. This is a practice that has a long tradition in the past and continues today among programs with the financial wherewithal to create positions for valued individuals. Although more commonly seen in men’s basketball, the most recent related story surrounds the University of Tennessee’s football program. The recent hiring of five-star recruit Trey Smith’s sister to an administrative role in football operations caught attention when Smith committed to Tennessee last week. UT insists everything is above board, stating Smith was hired through the normal channels.
However, despite its legality within the NCAA’s hyper-specific book of rules, there still exists a degree of stigma to the practice. Perhaps a reason for this is because it so heavily favors the “haves” versus the “have-nots” that cannot afford to bring on a staffer at a recruiting whim. To get an idea of the cost of these positions, compensation can vary wildly by situation. While some may take a pay-cut to break into college coaching, others make six-figures as executive-level administrators.
This inequity, though, is not different than having more money to spend on facilities or a bigger media footprint because of a national television deal. In fact, there have been success stories borne of seeming nepotism. Hugh Freeze, a former high school coach in Mississippi who was hired at Ole Miss’ football program (one could argue) because of his connection with coveted recruit Michael Oher, has proved himself more than capable as a college coach.
In this vein, it is important to remember that the hires are usually well-qualified for the positions they assume; they are not a random person with no background being gifted a sinecure. When John Pastner, then head coach of Memphis men’s basketball, hired high school coach Keelon Lawson (who is also the father of three coveted recruits), Pastner pointed to Lawson’s coaching chops, reminding the media that he is a state champion coach in basketball-heavy Memphis. The same can be said of UT’s hiring of Smith, who has time managing the Lady Vols and working for the NCAA on her resume and thus theoretically has a strong athletics knowledge base.
Universities hiring individuals associated with players they’re recruiting might feel spurious to many athletic department outsiders. This is, in part, because it flaunts another inequity within college athletics. However, despite its reputation, the practice is common, legal, and oftentimes beneficial to not just the university, but the individual receiving the opportunity.