BY THE TIME Dylan Moses is old enough to play football at Alabama, Nick Saban would be 65 and starting his 11th season at Tuscaloosa. If Moses opts for LSU, Les Miles would be 63 and starting his 13th year in Baton Rouge.
To their respective fan bases, the competition between the two for the eighth-grader’s services four years down the road is one more example of how each stays ahead of the coaching pack by “feathering the nest,” “building the brand,” or even “securing the legacy.” Whatever. It sounds like brainwashing to me.
“Coach Saban said the Alabama staff believes Dylan has a chance to be the best player in the country in the Class of 2017 and they were ready to offer him a scholarship,” Edward Moses Jr. said shortly after he and his 14-year- old son returned from Alabama as invited guests at a camp called Crimson Tide Junior Day. “That’s when the fireworks started going off in our heads.”
Though most of us would call that recruiting, the NCAA won’t. The offer to the player isn’t technically binding, and as long as it takes place at a sports camp, it isn’t considered an “official contact” — which can’t begin until junior year of high school — and thus doesn’t violate any rules. Saban is far from the only guy who’s learned to game the system. Miles made his scholarship offer to Moses at a camp last summer, though his father didn’t say at the time whether the LSU coach promised him the moon, too. Miles probably didn’t think he would need to, since come fall, Moses will head to University Lab High, not far down the road from LSU’s Tiger Stadium.
Recruiting was always part of the college game, but it started to run off the rails right about the time sports TV and radio shows had too much airtime to fill and successful coaches such as Saban (four national championships) and Miles (one) began commanding CEO-caliber pay packages. It’s become a cottage industry in the meantime, with dedicated websites such as Rivals.com — where Moses has his own page — and rumors buzzing across social media nonstop. Coaches, desperate to avoid being left behind, embraced the technology with such fervor — or in many cases, their assistants did — that the NCAA surrendered trying to police the process.
Come Aug. 1, under what’s being billed as “deregulation,” recruiters will be allowed unlimited contact with recruits via phone calls and texts. Also gone is the so-called “dead period,” that two-week stretch barring face-to-face contact, which, quaint as it sounds, was supposed to provide a break from recruiting and let coaches focus on other things, such as coaching.
Gone, too, are the restrictions on how much printed material schools can send recruits. Perhaps most important, gone is the requirement that recruiters be part of the regular coaching staff, as well as any restrictions on how many such off-campus recruiters a school deploys.
The playing field hasn’t been level for a long time — the game is now the BCS conferences and everybody else — and as the Saban-Miles contest for Moses demonstrates, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. The big boys have better players, more money, more resources and with the move-on, there’s-nothing-to-see-here crowd in charge of the NCAA, fewer qualms than ever about throwing their weight around.