NEW: Should NCAA overturn ‘Saban rule’ for head coaches to recruit in spring?

  • RELATED: For the opinions of UGA’s Mark Richt and Tech’s Paul Johnson on this, CLICK HERE

Should the NCAA overturn the so-called “Saban Rule” and allow head coaches to go back on the road to evaluate high school football prospects during the spring?

Nick Saban (AP file)

Nick Saban (AP file)

It’s at least worth taking a look at, it would seem, because the recruiting process has become so accelerated in recent years. Many big colleges, including UGA and Georgia Tech, filled up most of the spots in their recruiting classes before prospects started their senior year of high school.

So why not give the head coaches more access to recruits at an earlier date? It was like that before 2008, which was when an NCAA-related committee changed the rules to take head coaches off the road so they could avoid making illegal contact with prospects while visiting the high schools in the spring. It was nicknamed the “Saban Rule” after Alabama’s coach, a workhorse who was known to visit almost 100 high schools in the spring, was questioned for having improper contact or “bumps” with recruits while recruiting during the spring.

Should the NCAA allow the coaches back on the road? The coaches had some interesting answers:

USC’s Steve Sarkisian: “I would like the head coaches to go out in the spring to recruit. I think the recruiting process has been sped up so much now. They are talking about an early signing period. I don’t know how we could have an early signing period if the head coach has never met with a young man in person or seen the kid work. Hopefully we can get back to that in months of April and May — when our assistants get back on the road, that the head coaches can get back out there and evaluate as well.”

Steve Spurrier (AP)

Steve Spurrier (AP)

Steve Spurrier: “I sort of like what we do now. If we all stay in, it’s fair for all. Some coaches get sort of corralled to take pictures with all the kids and sign autographs. But whatever they say, it’s fine with me. If they say to go out in the spring, then I’ll start going out in the spring. If they stay in, I’ll stay in. Whichever way is fine with me.”

LSU’s Les Miles: “As soon as the college coach walks on the high school campus, the prospect comes and finds him. You have to say, ‘Listen I can’t talk to you. You’ve got to move along.’ What happens is that you can’t be polite. And then there were a number of coaches who would sit down and interview a guy. They’d talk to high school coach, and put the kid in there in the office with them. You know, that’s not right. To me, I like the rule the way it is: It stops the head coach from violating the rule, which is tremendously important. No. 2, it allows somebody to coach the players that you have on your campus. You continue to develop the guys you have on your team. To me, that’s often overlooked in recruiting by coaches who don’t see the year-round influence being quite as important. When I’m on the road, I miss my team. I need to be around them.”

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: “I wouldn’t like to be back on the road in the spring under the current rules. If the current rules are still going to be no contact, no bumps, and the new head coach control, it’s impossible for us to go into a high school, in our home state especially – we’d be so standoffish that it probably hurts us in the long run. If they would go to making it that you get one contact per school, absolutely (I’d be in favor of it). But under the current rules, I have no desire to get on the road and get back in the schools in the spring evaluation period.”

Urban Meyer (AP/Julian H. Gonzalez)

Urban Meyer (AP/Julian H. Gonzalez)

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer: “You can’t do that (change the rule). It’s a show when you go on the road and try to hit 8 or 9 schools per day and fly all over the country. And then when you get there, the rules say you’re not able to meet with them. And they’ll have fans there and people there. That’s not spring recruiting. Spring recruiting is spring evaluation. We have to get the kids to our campus. That’s how you do what you can. With a head coach going into a high school, you’re not allowed to meet with a kid so there’s no reason to do it. That’s really not an option with the current model of the evaluation period. Head coaches aren’t going to evaluate.”

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema: “I would be all in the favor of that. I would huge proponent when we could do that earlier in my career. We got taken off the road after my third year as a head coach, and I’ve missed it ever since. I think a lot of your old-school coaches don’t want to do it because they don’t necessarily want to be on the road. I understand why certain programs would be against it. But I think when you are building a program, and trying to build your value and your name as a program … to be able to get out there, shake hands and beat the bushes is only going to be a positive. Maybe there’s marriage in the middle where we can only go out for 15 days. Maybe not the whole time, but maybe only half the time.”

Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops: “I don’t really have a strong opinion either way. I understand that part of it. The hard part, or the part I never liked about it is that if you’re not allowed to have contact with the prospect, you get put in a corner where maybe one or two other coaches have had contact illegally. You get put in that position. How come you’re not (having illegal contact with our player, too)? So I’ve never liked that dilemma. When we were on that road during that period of time, if you went by the rules and didn’t have contact, then the player could be offended because other people did. Then how long was the contact? Was it just a hello? Or was it more than that? That kind of dilemma I never appreciated being in.”

Clemson's Dabo Swinney (AP)

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (AP)

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: “I’d love to be back on the road. I’ve always enjoyed recruiting and going out. I don’t want to back out on the road if it’s not a contact period. It puts the head coaches in a really difficult situation. That’s why they took the head coaches off the road — because you’re going out there, and you just really get put in bad spots. People don’t understand the rules, and they want you to say hello to everybody. It’s a bad situation, and that’s exactly why they did that. But me personally, I love recruiting. I love going out on the road, and I love getting into the high schools. I don’t ever see that as a bad thing.”

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy: “I have mixed opinions on that for two reasons. First, if we’re allowed to go on the road and have contact with juniors prior to their senior year … For example, if there’s a highly-recruited kid in Atlanta, he could very easily have 60 to 70 offers. So does that mean, during his school day or after practice, is he going to have 60 to 70 conversations or home visits with head coaches and assistants. How is that going to affect his career, his academic status and his everyday lifestyle? The second thing is we would all like to be able get out, evaluate and see the kids. But the rules prohibit us from standing in the middle of the hallway at school, or watching a practice and having communication with kids. They come up to us, and want to meet us, and say hello. We’re in a very difficult predicament in that we can’t talk to them. I don’t know what the answer is. But if you’re on the road, and you can’t shake a young man’s hand because it’s against the rules … there are some coaches across the country who are very recognizable now. The kids want to meet them, and it’s not a good situation. We just have to be careful what we wish for, and study the situation before we say we want to change a rule.”

Tennessee’s Butch Jones: “Recruiting has definitely accelerated. I think each year, the acceleration of recruiting continues to go faster and faster and faster. But I also think there are a lot of issues and concerns about head coaches going back on the road. That’s still an evaluation period and a non-contact period. So I think there’s a lot things within the structure of the rules and the recruiting calendar that would really have to be restructured in order to allow head coaches to go back out on the road.”

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