Coaches: Text-message ban is a misguided overreaction
ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NCAA board of directors' decision earlier this month to continue the ban on text messaging was expected, even though the decision was sent back to the NCAA membership for review.
The immediate reaction amongst coaches, however, was that they had to go back to the dark ages of e-mails, handwritten letters and even, gasp, phone calls. Assistants and younger head coaches are still adamant that text messaging is the way to go to communicate with today's youth.
Even though the ban may be repealed when the committee revisits the topic in January, text messaging was a hot topic during an ESPNU roundtable that I hosted last month in Orlando.
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who is part of that youth brigade, said that not being able to text message hurts the relationship. Rhode Island coach Jim Baron said that without text messaging, players will just get a Blackberry and e-mail coaches more. But most seemed to think that coaches are the ones to blame for this even being an issue.
VCU coach Anthony Grant, another of the younger coaches who had relied on text messaging before the ban was put in place Aug. 1, said that players were "getting hit either by a phone call or by a text message or by e-mail or by a letter constantly. So I think it has to be monitored and has to be controlled, but to say the whole thing has to be taken away, that's tough."
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon saw the ban as an overreaction to an abuse.
But still, we go back to who is to blame for this being an issue -- the coaches.
"This is the situation where coaches only have themselves to blame," Ohio coach Tim O'Shea said. "The reason the rule was put in place is because you had examples of coaches who were totally abusing the text-messaging opportunity. They were sending hundreds of them out a day. It was ridiculous. I think we should allow texting, but in a limited basis."
Still, there are a few coaches who mostly avoid text messaging. Gonzaga coach Mark Few said he doesn't even know how to do it. Illinois coach Bruce Weber said he had just learned ... from his daughter. The same is true of Saint Joseph's Phil Martelli. So, taking away the text messaging was not a big deal to them.
Text messaging is a hot-button issue for some. Still, gather a dozen coaches together, and you're sure to have plenty of spirited discussions about the other issues in college basketball today.
Expanding the NCAA Tournament
The National Association of Basketball Coaches won't let this die. They put it in front of the selection committee in the spring and didn't get much of a response. The thought process is that the coaches are tired of sweating out Selection Sunday. They are begging for a few more spots beyond 65.
They want to see it expand to at least 68 teams, although when pressed, no one could come up with an exact figure. Part of the problem is that no one can agree on who should be part of the pool of teams that is added. Should the three extra spots be for bubble teams from high and mid-majors to play their way into seeds 10-13? Or should the three extra spots be to create four opening-round games to qualify for a No. 16 seed?
The reason the selection committee isn't ready to jump on this is pretty obvious -- they don't see a problem. They also don't want to mess with existing television contracts, not to mention conferences that have television contracts with conference tournaments. The schedule is tight right now in late March and early April. CBS puts March Madness in a three-week window before the Masters. If you mess with that too much, the Masters gets pushed, and that won't happen. So, really, the only solution to expansion is a minor one; that is, instead of a single opening-round game in Dayton on the Tuesday after selection Sunday, expand Tuesday's opening round and make it a four-game event.
Still, the one-sided debate on this issue from the coaches is still passionate.
O'Shea, who has toiled in the MAC for seven season after stints as an assistant at Boston College and Rhode Island, is a proponent of change.
"Every time the tournament has gotten bigger, it's gotten more popular, it's become better," O'Shea said. "I think now we have an NCAA membership of over 330. We currently let about 20 percent of the teams into the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA now owns both tournaments, the NIT and the NCAA. Fan interest in the NIT against the NCAA, there's no comparison. It makes sense to sort of wrap it all into one tournament, expand the field. It's going to be better for coaches, obviously, from a job-security standpoint. I think you're going to have a better tournament."
That means there are 31 automatic qualifiers, and the NCAA doesn't want to drop one at-large spot, so it added a 65th team by creating the opening-round game in 1999).
"It's great if you win a game, but I'll tell you what, I felt so bad for the Florida A&M team," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "Those kids can't feel like they were in the tournament. I don't think two teams that win a championship and earn their way into the tournament should have to play that game.
"I walked out of the back of the Dayton Arena and saw the Florida A&M kids sitting on the curb with their heads down, and I could have cried for them. Because three to four days earlier, they earned their way into the tournament with a dramatic tip-in at the buzzer. And four days later, they don't even get to experience going to the NCAA Tournament."
Recruiting issues are always worth delving into, and recruiting players who have made a verbal commitment is still a sensitive topic. No one feels as burned by this as Illinois' Weber, who lost verbally committed player Eric Gordon to Big Ten rival Indiana.
To be fair to Gordon, he was an Indianapolis kid who didn't want to go to IU during what was obviously the end of the Mike Davis era. So, with a new coach (Kelvin Sampson) coming in, it made sense to give it a look. Once he did, he decided to go. The problem, at least in this instance, is that Gordon was still verbally committed to Illinois, and that left the Illini without a top guard in that class.
"Once a kid makes a decision, [he] should be able to sign," Weber said. "I'm not sure how you can fix it. AAU is here to stay. Camps are here to stay. And that's where you run into a bind."
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said he saw basketball moving toward a football trend in which players break verbal commitments at supposedly a higher rate (at least that's what the hoop coaches believe).
"I see a trend in basketball, like football, when you get a [verbally] committed [recruit]," Purnell said. "Previously when a kid was committed, very seldom did other coaches try to recruit him. I see other coaches now targeting kids who are committed, so a whole new round of recruiting ensues, and I don't think we need that in our game."
One issue that some coaches are dangling their toes into right now is getting commitments from middle school youth. USC received a verbal commitment this summer from a 14-year-old weeks before he had even picked which high school he was going to attend.
"I'm not sure if a young man at 14, 13, 15 years old, if you can really predict how good he's going to be three years later," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "He could be physically more mature. ... At that age, to get a commitment, it's OK if the kid wants to do it, if he already knows what he wants to do and the coach can agree. But the real problem is, you don't know if the coach is going to be there [when the recruit goes to college]. The other problem is, he may not continue to grow and get better to play at that level."
Dixon said eighth- and ninth-grade commitments rarely hold. He didn't produce statistics to the contrary, but he said he simply can't see them staying committed over a four-year period.
And that's why Weber's idea of having a player sign when he's committing, something Martelli is in favor of, as well, would require a start time of at least the end of the junior year, since so many things can occur prior to 11th grade -- for the player, the coach and the school he wishes to attend. Certainly, rules would have to be relaxed on the back end of getting out of a letter if a coach resigns, is fired or if the school were to be put on probation by the NCAA.
Still, not everyone is in agreement with signing recruits early.
"When a young man is put in a position where he's being contacted by a number of schools and he knows he has a timetable -- I have until November or I have until April to sign -- it gives him a little bit of a calendar to work with," said George Mason coach Jim Larranaga. "He can verbally commit earlier, and if he's a man of his word, he'll end up signing with that school. But if you tell coaches, my friends, that you can get a kid to sign and then it's over with, the pressure is going to be unbearable."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.