Last summer, Penn State head coach James Franklin made waves in SEC Country by participating in a football camp hosted by Georgia State University. This, obviously, didn't sit well with many in the SEC. Notre Dame will be doing the same thing with Georgia State in 2015.
Today there's word that Michigan will be doing something similar in the heart of one of College Football's most heated areas: the state of Alabama. He and his staff will be "featured" in the Prattville Elite Football Camp.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>June 5th 2015 will be the biggest event in Prattville High history featuring <a href="https://twitter.com/CoachJim4UM">@CoachJim4UM</a> & <a href="https://twitter.com/umichfootball">@umichfootball</a> coaches <a href="http://t.co/v17UikqyWg">pic.twitter.com/v17UikqyWg</a></p>— Coach Jackson (@CoachJack10) <a href="https://twitter.com/CoachJack10/status/580529545373200387">March 25, 2015</a></blockquote>
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Why are northern coaches conducting these camps down south?
Well, take a look at the first map in this article. The majority of "elite" talent in football is coming out of the south (and, of course, California). Sure, schools like Michigan can watch highlight footage and glean information from things like The Nike Football Opening Regionals such as the one that occurred this past weekend in Atlanta. They have enormous budgets and planes to take coaches all over the nation to observe recruits wherever they need to.
Every major program has the ability to scout recruits through those means. Coaches will tell you all the time that they don't rely on recruiting services, though. They also want chances to get kids on campus and work with them with the whole coaching staff. They want to see these players for themselves. They want to find those diamonds in the rough or really get a chance to see if a top rated talent has the mindset for big time football. They recruit off the talent they themselves observe, not what the recruiting camps say. I'm not saying they don't use the recruiting services at all. Far from it. I'm just saying they like to be able to confirm with their own eyes, and sometimes they see things a bit differently.
The advantages schools like Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, Florida, Clemson, etc, have is that being in the Southeast means those schools can also host the top talents at their own camps. Michigan and other northern schools can - and do - host those camps as well, but you have to remember who pays for it all. Recruits have to pay for their own travel to visit a campus unless it's an official visit. It's much easier for an elite prospect in Florida to pay his own way to Auburn or Tuscaloosa than it is to go to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
So, James Franklin of Penn State hit on the solution. If the kids can't afford to come to you, then you go to them. Franklin partnered with another FBS program in a mutually beneficial relationship. Penn State coaches got to see and work with top talent from the southeast that might not be able to afford to make it to State College, PA. Meanwhile, Georgia State coaches got a chance to work with top talent that otherwise may not given Ga State a second thought. If even one player that may not otherwise choose the Panthers elects to sign with Ga State, then the camp is a win for the Panthers.
But wait, what does the NCAA have to say on the issue?
What makes Jim Harbaugh's camp different is that it is not in conjunction with another FBS football school. This will by the "Prattville Elite Football Camp Featuring Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Coaching Staff." This will be a football camp that for all intents and purposes is hosted by Michigan's coaching staff. That stretches the bounds of the NCAA rules just a bit while still staying juuuuust inside them.
NCAA Rule 126.96.36.199 states that
An institution's sports camp or clinic shall be conducted on the institution's campus, within the state in which the institution is located or, if outside the state, within a 50-mile radius of the institution's campus.
James Franklin got around the rules by taking part in a camp that was officially hosted by Georgia State. The Big Ten's by-laws don't prohibit that, and it is a loop-hole in the NCAA rule that they don't prohibit coaches from taking part as "guests" in another school's camps.
Jim Harbough has just gone a step further and essentially found a loophole within the loophole. He's not co-hosting this camp with another FBS School, he and his staff are being "featured" in a high school football camp.
What Does It Mean?
Don't expect the NCAA to make any sort of statement clarifying the rule any time soon. I say that simply because I never expect the NCAA to do anything with something approaching quickness. Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June 2014 that "We can’t do that (in the ACC). Nobody will be able to … by next year. They’ll (the NCAA) change the rule. They’re skirting the intent of the rule. That’s not what the rule was for. They know it." The rule hasn't been changed, nor has it even been addressed as far as I'm aware.
For now, the SEC and ACC schools will have to live with the fact that the Big Ten allows its coaches to "guest coach" at a camp hosted by another institution no matter the level. I do think that Harbough's move to be featured at a high school camp rather than with another college may force some form of clarity eventually, though.
The recruiting arms race is constantly changing. Nick Saban pushed the bounds in many ways when he got to Alabama and the NCAA passed the "Saban Rule." Will this camp of Harbough's in the heart of Alabama result in the "Harbough Rule" clarifying exactly how coaches can participate in camps around the country at any level? Perhaps. I guess we'll see!