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NCAA backtracks on satellite camp ban

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Jim Harbaugh coaches then-high school QB Brandon Peters, now with the Wolverines, during a camp stop last summer in Indianapolis.

After considerable hand-wringing and sometimes angry national debate, satellite camps are back on.

The NCAA Board of Governors, meeting Thursday in Indianapolis, have rescinded the decision to ban Football Bowl Subdivision coaches from holding or working at satellite camps.

This comes nearly three weeks after the NCAA D-I Council voted in favor of an ACC proposal immediately banning the camps, drawing criticism from a number of coaches, including Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, a vocal proponent of the camps.

“Good news,” Harbaugh told the Associated Press. “It’s good for prospective student-athletes, fans, coaches and competition.”

The board also wants the Council to “conduct a broad assessment of the FBS recruiting environment,” according to a release by the NCAA.

“The camps and clinics rule received widespread attention after its adoption, with supporters contending the rule would keep coaches on campus with current student-athletes and steer recruiting toward the scholastic environment," the NCAA said in the release. "Detractors believe the camps provide opportunities for previously un-recruited student-athletes to be noticed by high-profile coaches and possibly receive scholarships.

“The Board’s action means the camps and clinics rule currently legislated is in effect and football coaches may be employed at any camp that follows Division I camps and clinics rules.”

"We commend the Board on today's decision to rescind the satellite camp ban," Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said. "Our stance remains that these camps are about teaching youngsters how to play the game the right way. They motivate kids academically and athletically, expose them to all levels of college football, and help to promote the game of football."

Council chair Jim Phillips, the Northwestern athletic director, said in the release the Board's decision will give the Council an opportunity to review the recruiting environment in a more thorough way.

“It’s clear that the membership has differing views on this subject, and the Council appreciates the Board’s insights into this important issue,” Phillips said. “This review will provide an opportunity to identify the most effective ways prospective student-athletes can have their academic and athletic credentials evaluated by schools across the country."

The board does want by Sept. 1 recommendations for improving the football recruiting environment from the Council.

While this has been a national issue, much of the satellite camp attention was attached to Harbaugh, and this may be perceived as Harbaugh victory.

Harbaugh, however, was not the first to take his staff to work satellite camps, but his multi-state “Swarm Tour” last summer that ventured into the southern states, was the most ambitious and rankled the SEC and ACC coaches, who are not allowed to work camps outside a 50-mile radius.

Although the SEC commissioner has said the camps were an issue he has wanted to see addressed for the last several years because of the recruiting element, it’s probably no coincidence why the proposal was hurried through the Council vote.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on Thursday issued a statement saying that while the conference is “disappointed with the NCAA governance process result, we respect the Board of Directors’ decision and are confident SEC football programs will continue to be highly effective in their recruiting efforts.”

“We continue to believe football recruiting is primarily an activity best focused in high schools during the established recruiting calendar, which has provided opportunities for football prospective student-athletes from all across the country to obtain board national access and exposure but with appropriate guidance from high school coaches, teachers and advisers that focuses on both their academic and athletic opportunities as they decide where they will play college football.”

The SEC, however, had planned to lift its ban on working camps effective May 29 according to a Bleacher Report story last month, if the proposal was not approved, and Sankey confirmed that in his statement. This is why so many SEC coaches have said in interviews this month they had camps planned.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said earlier this month that he doesn’t place a high value on satellite camps for his own program. He added Thursday night that he doesn’t have problem with the ban reversal.

“Well, I didn't think satellite camps were that big of a deal for us,” Saban said on ESPN’s SportsCenter. “But I do see that it does create some opportunity for some players that maybe don't get exposed to some of the bigger schools, and I think the most important thing is we do what's best for the players. And if this is what everybody thinks gives them the best opportunity, I'm certainly all for it.”

Harbaugh and other coaches, like Washington State’s Mike Leach, have said the camps offer opportunities in particular to lower-income high school football players. The camps allow young players to be seen by multiple college coaches from a variety of levels. Harbaugh and his staff had plans for a robust tour this summer, with camps lined up in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Virginia, with more expected.

And there’s also the Sound Mind Sound Body camp, which originated in Detroit and is entering its 12th year. The camp this summer is expanding to other cities like Los Angeles and Houston, but locally it has been a fixture.

Sound Mind Sound Body's Blackwell: 'NCAA got it right'

Curtis Blackwell, a co-founder of SMSB, was elated by the news.

“This is a victory for high school student athletes and parents and high school coaches across the country,” Blackwell told The Detroit News on Thursday shortly after the NCAA indicated it is rescinding the NCAA Council’s vote from April 8. “Today, they were the biggest winners. This was the Super Bowl of high school football today. I’m happy for all the young people.

“The NCAA got it right. That’s the biggest thing – the Division I Board of Directors got it right. This could have been final on April 8, but with the structure and the few period, they were able to review all the information and got it right and had the courage to stand up and do the right thing. That’s all you can ask for.”

Blackwell was moved by the response from so many former SMSB participants. Two days after the April 8 decision was announced, many Detroit football players on the Michigan and Michigan State teams took to Twitter to share why SMSB was so important to them and future athletes. They added the hashtag, #ChangeNCAA.

Khalid Hill

Among the most passionate in his response was Michigan fullback Khalid Hill, from East English Village Prep Academy. He called himself an “under the radar kid” who gained exposure through the SMSB Academy and said not allowing FBS coaches to attend summer high school camps would prevent players like him from getting scholarships. Last summer, Hill and Michigan teammates Shane Morris and Moe Ways, who also had participated in SMSB summer camps, were on stage as part of a question and answer session with the high school athletes.

Michigan tight end Jake Butt said the student-athletes have a voice on issues that drive college football.

“Sometimes I feel we aren’t heard as much as possible, especially with these satellite camps,” Butt said earlier this month on the Big Ten conference call. “I really looked at it as: Who’s really winning in this situation? If the NCAA is so much for the student-athletes, where does the student-athlete win in this? That was my biggest question, and I’m still looking for an answer for that one.”

Several coaches weighed in on the Council decision earlier this month. Many of the SEC coaches said they had summer camps planned if the proposal was voted down, and Ole Miss coach Huge Freeze told the Clarion-Ledger that while he also had camps arranged, he was pleased with the vote.

“I’m selfish with my time,” Freeze said. “I’m away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go.”

Harbaugh finally responded to the decision several days later in an interview with Sports Illustrated, took a shot at Freeze but mostly shredded the NCAA and the Council’s vote.

He called the ruling “knee jerk … like somebody was shaving in the morning, cut themselves when they were shaving and said, ‘Let’s just ban satellite camps.’”

Phillips, casting the vote for the Big Ten, represented the only Power Five conference in the council to oppose the ban. However, it has since been revealed UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero went against the majority of the Pac-12 and voted to uphold the ban. The Sun Belt commissioner has also said a re-vote would have turned out differently and in favor of eliminating the ban.

The Council vote was 10-5 in favor of banning the camps.

Michigan’s summer 2016 camps (so far)

June 2 – Cedar Grove High, Ellenwood, Ga. (near Atlanta)

June 4 – University of South Florida, Tampa

June 5 – Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

June 6 – Bob Jones High, Madison, Ala.

June 7 – Prattville High, Prattville, Ala.

June 8 – Pearl High, Pearl, Miss.

June 9-10 – Sound Mind Sound Body, Detroit

June 12 – Baylor University, Waco, Texas

June 13 – Greenhill High, Addison, Texas (near Dallas)