Rift over NCAA rule
LAS VEGAS – He’s an assistant at one of the top junior colleges in the country and also has worked with some of the biggest stars in Division I. Still, when Ryan Freeberg tested the job market this summer, the result was always the same.
“Two different high-major coaches told me, ‘We’d love to talk to you, but we can’t,’ ” said Freeberg, who is set to begin his third season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
“It’s frustrating. I’ve built a pretty strong resume. I think I could offer some really good things to a program.”
Unfortunately, none of that matters.
A new NCAA rule is making it tougher for coaches such as Freeberg to land a job on a Division I staff. Implemented in January, the rule states that any Division I school that hires a high school, junior college or AAU coach for an entry-level position will be prohibited from recruiting players from that coach’s program for two years.
In other words, if Kansas State made Freeberg its video coordinator this summer, all prospects from Hutchinson would be off limits to the Wildcats until 2012. The fear is that most coaches won’t be willing to write off a tradition-rich junior college, high school or AAU program for two years simply so they can hire one of its assistants for a low-level, non-coaching position.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams said it’s “disheartening” to see how the new rule is handcuffing good, young coaches. Most of them are trying to catch their big break at a Division I school by being hired as a video coordinator, a graduate assistant, director of player development or a director of basketball operations.
“They still have an opportunity,” Williams said. “It’s not impossible. But unfortunately things have suddenly become much more difficult.”
Aggravated as they may be, coaches understand – and agree with – the intent of the new rule. In an effort to clean up the game, the NCAA’s college basketball focus group is attempting to prevent schools from making hires simply to land a player.
Baylor, for instance, tried to enhance its chances of acquiring top-ranked recruit John Wall by adding his AAU coach (Dwon Clifton) to its staff in 2008 as the director of player development. South Florida hired Terrelle Woody, the advisor of forward Augustus Gilchrist, and made him the video and conditioning assistant. The fathers of former Kansas stars Danny Manning and Mario Chalmers were on the bench when the Jayhawks won national titles in 1988 and 2008.
All of the hires would’ve been disallowed under the new rule.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams said it is clear why the rule was put into place.
“People get to where they have influence with a kid, and all of a sudden they’re getting hired to work at college camps for exorbitant amounts of money,” he said. “That person isn’t adding anything to the camp. The school is trying to recruit their kid. It’s ridiculous. So, yes, I think these rules are good.”
Marquette’s Williams comprehends why the rule was added. But he questions the scope with which it will be applied.
“One or two bad things happen in college basketball, and it spoils it for the rest of the bunch,” Williams said. “I can understand why the [NCAA] put this into play. But it probably hinders more guys trying to work their way up. It’s going to penalize more people than it’s going to help.”
LuAnn Humphrey, the director of enforcement for the focus group, said she can understand how the new rule can be a bit of a road block for some coaches.
Humphrey, though, was quick to point out that the NCAA isn’t prohibiting Division I coaches from hiring coaches from the lower ranks.
“No one is banning [the Division I schools] from making those hires,” Humphrey said. “They just have a decision to make. Who do they want worse? The coach or players? If they want the coach bad enough, they can hire him.”
Humphrey also said the two-year rule wouldn’t apply if a Division I school hires a junior college, AAU or high school coach as one of its three full-time assistants. But everyone in the coaching ranks realizes that’s a big leap that rarely happens.
Instead, low-level coaches usually work their way up through the system by spending their summers working at camps at high-major institutions, all the while hoping to make a contact that will lead to an entry-level job with a Division I program.
Williams said he worked at a camp “every week of every summer” before making a contact that led to his first coaching job at Texas-Arlington. But now, per the new rule, schools can’t even hire junior college, AAU or high school coaches to work their camps if they have a player who is currently being recruited by said institution.
That’s led to a lot of missed networking opportunities for AAU, high school and junior college coaches across the country this summer.
“Most of the people in Division I jobs now got there because of the relationships they made by building relationships and working at camps,” Williams said. “Now you can’t always hire those guys. If you do you can’t recruit their guys. It’s a shame because I’m all about guys working hard. I don’t think you should ever put a lid on how hard someone can work.”
The NCAA also has banned Division I schools from hiring “speakers” – or at least those tied to prospects – to address the kids who attend their camps. It has been common practice in the past for colleges to funnel money to the high school or AAU coach of a standout recruit by paying him to speak at various camps.
“The intent of the NCAA isn’t bad if it eliminates AAU guys getting hired at Program X for $40,000 and all they do is show up twice a week to the office,” said Freeberg, who has also coached at The Patterson School in Lenoir, N.C. “I understand the idea of the camps, too, where the guy that’s connected to Player X goes in and speaks and gets $1,500 for telling kids to say ‘no’ to drugs.
“I understand the rule. I just think they need to tinker with it a little bit. I don’t think they really fully understand what they’re doing. There are a lot of guys out there doing things the right way, and they’re eliminating them from getting certain jobs right off the bat.”
Even so, all hope is not lost. As Williams told a group of 20-somethings at the Rising Coaches Conference on Wednesday night in Las Vegas, the rewards still will come to those who work the hardest and avoid making excuses.
“You’ve got to work as if you’re trying to get to the next meal,” he said.
The point was not lost on the 45 attendees, which included event organizer and DePaul video coordinator Andy Farrell, who held the same position at Clemson under Oliver Purnell before Purnell left during the spring to coach the Blue Demons. Farrell also has worked as a graduate assistant at Virginia Commonwealth and a student manager at Dayton, where he coached an AAU team on the side.
“The NCAA’s intent is good, but this is definitely going to make it harder for some guys to break into the business,” Farrell said. “It’s unfortunate for the guys who are networking and grinding and hustling just to get a shot.
“Still, the people that really want it, the ones who want it bad enough … they’re going to find a way. If this is truly their passion, they’ll keep grinding until they break through.”