Three NCAA rule changes to benefit athletes
In one of my alter egos, I review science fiction and fantasy, and I just finished "The Dragons of Babel" by Michael Swanwick. Not only do I highly recommend its unique blend of mythical high fantasy with a 21st century twist, it also got me to thinking.
At one point, the hero suddenly has the power to change the laws of the great city of Babel with just a thought. He needs only to think it, and it is so -- so he fixes some tax loopholes, among other things, and tidies up some other legal loose ends.
I'm not nearly as ambitious, and playing around with the structure of American society is a fairly risky proposition (the law of unintended consequences is always ready to go upside your head) -- but when it comes to the tiny corner that is college women's basketball, I'm a little more bold.
So if I had the power to rewrite the NCAA rules, here are three changes I would make.
When a coach goes, so can the players.
As it is, coaches can transfer without penalty, but the players can't -- which makes no sense. As Lin Laursen, who is closing in on 1,000 career wins at the junior college level, says, "The jockey never finishes ahead of the horse." Or to put it another way, success at the collegiate level is much more dependent on the players than the coach.
But if a player wants to go somewhere else, she has to sit out a year. A coach? She leaves for a bigger contract without a backward glance, and if that freshman she recruited to run and gun now is stuck with a walk-it-up coach, that's just tough luck.
So in the brave new world, if the head coach leaves, all players are free to transfer without penalty, and will be eligible the next season. Hey, if it's good enough for the adults, why isn't it good enough for the kids?
End the summer madness.
Why are girls out on the road traveling for six weeks each summer playing 10 games in five days in gyms hundreds of miles apart? And why are coaches watching the same kids play over and over again?
The answer to both questions is they feel they have to, but in reality, kids don't need to be seen that many times and coaches don't need to sit in the stands and babysit their recruits while text-messaging someone else.
So here's the new system: There are four three-day weekends during the summer when players can be seen by coaches. There will be six sites nationwide on each of the weekends. Girls who fill out the proper paperwork can get financial aid to make sure they attend one event. No player may go for more than two weekends so the richer families don't have an advantage over the poorer ones.
Otherwise, players can be seen during the high school season and restrictions on viewing players during the high school season are eliminated.
This means college coaches will spend 12 days each summer viewing talent and players will spend a maximum of six days being seen. Players and teams can continue to fly around the country for tournaments if they wish, but if they'd rather stay close to home and work on skill development (now there's a radical concept), they can do that instead.
The advantages? It's cheaper for everyone and it's easier for everyone. After all, a college coach can evaluate a player in about 15 minutes, so there's no need for these multiple viewings. And the entire high school season is available as well, and though it's not as efficient for the college coaches, it's a lot better for the players and their families. And shouldn't the system serve the players, who are the most important part of the equation, rather than the coaches, who get paid a lot more?
Leave those kids alone.
No text messages. No Fed Ex. No special delivery. No e-mails.
One phone call a week (though the player can call the coach as often as she likes). One letter a week. Both starting at the end of the player's junior season.
That's it. A coach and player can get to know each other well enough with one phone call a week and a school visit. The rest is just overkill; stories about kids getting stuck with huge cell phone bills (that the NCAA won't allow the colleges to reimburse) are all too common.
Let the kids be kids. They'll have plenty of chances to deal with high-pressure sales tactics when they get older, but there's no compelling need to introduce them to aluminum siding salesmen at age 17.
The general theme here is obvious: Balance the scales. Right now, the system is heavily weighted in favor of the colleges and coaches, while the players are merely afterthoughts.
And so much of what's done is simply because of inertia. If Player A doesn't see Coach B in the stands for another meaningless summer game, then Coach C tells Player A Coach B doesn't really care about her. (Of course, Coach C's devotion is soul-deep -- until Coach C gets an offer for more money from somewhere else, and promptly skips town. The player, naturally, has to stick around, and though it's nice she's learned a lesson about human nature and looking out for number one, there are better ways to teach that lesson.)
Unfortunately, unless I get a hold of some dragons, I don't think anyone's going to let me rewrite the NCAA rule book any time soon -- but it's always fun to dream.
Clay Kallam is a columnist and contributor to ESPN's HoopGurlz.com. He was the founder of Full Court Press, an online magazine devoted to women's basketball; the author of "Girls Basketball: Building a Winning Program" and a voter for several national awards, including McDonald's and Parade All-Americans and the Wooden Award.
For more in-depth coverage of women's college-basketball prospects and girl's basketball, visit HoopGurlz.com