College football recruiting is not pristine. Let's get that straight. In the ruthless world of finding and acquiring talent to win, make money and earn glory, problems arise. It was that way when Knute Rockne coached, and nothing has changed.
But is it as bad as basketball recruiting, which if you believe Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has reached a new low?
Not quite, IU athletic director Fred Glass said.
“My perception is it's worse in basketball than football, but football is catching up with 7-on-7 leagues, all that stuff that's the corollary of the AAU situation for basketball,” Glass said. “Now in and of itself it isn't a problem, but it creates a vehicle for a problem.”
The competitive nature of athletics, combined with the big-money stakes, ratchet up the pressure to cheat. That was true even before the new four-team football playoff was approved. It's certain to boost end-justifies-the-means temptation. Still, football coaches Danny Hope of Purdue and Kevin Wilson of Indiana said they haven't seen a rise in shady recruiting practices.
“I don't see anything going in the wrong direction in regards to ethics and football,” said Hope, who recruits southern states hard to improve overall team speed while not neglecting Purdue's in-state and Midwestern roots. “In my mind it's gotten better.”
Added Wilson: “In our region it's pretty good. Coaches talk about gentleman's agreements, but it's not an agreement because you're going to recruit guys, but the coaches in our region typically recruit the right way. You might go into some other areas of the country where it's a little more push the envelope. Here the coaches in our league, the assistant coaches and high school coaches are all pretty good about doing business the right now.”
Yes, Big Ten football coaches got a little grumpy last winter when Urban Meyer got the Ohio State job and quickly convinced some recruits committed to other conference programs to sign with the Buckeyes, but that was all smoothed over by last month's Big Ten kickoff event in Chicago.
The growth of 7-on-7 summer football leagues -- which started in Texas -- has spread around the country. It is run by parents, former players and, sometimes, the football equivalent of AAU basketball coaches.
The potential problem is that unsavory people will become involved with 7-on-7 leagues and will steer players toward certain programs in exchange for money, as has happened in basketball.
Izzo said in a recent USA Today article that such practices have become a big problem in college basketball. He said cheating occurs around 20 percent of the time and probably involves around 14 of the nation's top 20 players in a given year.
Much of that involves travel basketball. Those have become huge factors in recruiting, and while most AAU coaches are honest, greed sometimes brings other, less reputable elements into the mix.
Football's 7-on-7 leagues have far less recruiting impact, Wilson said, and far less opportunities for problems.
“Some of those 7-on-7 teams travel around,” he said, “but it's not near what it is with the third-party person, the agent-type guys, you might see in basketball.
“Basketball coaches are at all the AAU tournaments recruiting We can't go (to 7-on-7 tournaments) and recruit, so it doesn't get quite out of hand. The only (7-on-7 events) that are good for me is the one we do here (as part of IU's summer football camps). Then I get to watch them.
“The real (recruiting) deal for us are camps.”
Hope said the American Football Coaches Association, Big Ten coaches and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany have been proactive in addressing 7-on-7 league concerns.
“We're in front of that a little bit. We've identified that as a potential issue. You learn from the mistakes of others. You look at basketball and see some of the negative ramifications that could occur in the 7-on-7 if you don't manage it properly.”
Added Wilson: “If they'd let us go to 7 on 7, it would be more more like (AAU basketball), where guys would showboat players, take them around. Because we can't be there, it's really not that big a deal.”
Hope said a bigger football recruiting issue isn't cheating as much as a “sped-up” recruiting process where “you have to recruit all the time.”
“You can't believe how much time we spent on recruiting this summer,” he said. “June used to be kind of an off month. Now we spend a gazillion hours facebooking recruits to contact us because we can't call them. That's really changed our lives. In the summer time you used to be able to get away a little and catch up on things and refuel. There's little opportunity to do that now.”
As far as basketball recruiting and cheating, Glass said the problem is growing rapidly.
“It's terrible, man. I mean, it's gross. I always had a sense of how gross it was before I had this job. I have more of a sense now. I think A) because I'm closer to it, and B) it's gotten worse in the few short years I've been here.
“I think it's a very serious problem that potentially challenges the nature of the game. I applaud the NCAA, the basketball focus group which was formed to take a more aggressive approach with that. I think extreme situations call for extreme measures, and we ought to figure out what we can do about it.”
“I would encourage the NCAA to hire a bunch of former FBI guys that know how to follow the money,” Glass said. “I think we get caught up in the number of phone calls and stuff that isn't a big deal. I think the really corrosive thing is people getting paid to play, to have official visits, to have unofficial visits. I think you need to hire guys that know how to find bad guys and that know their way around tracking money. That's what I'd do.”
If that means having subpena power, so be it.
“If we're serious about cleaning that up,” Glass said, “we need to have some people who have a real ability to track money and require people to give them the information they need to do that.”