Does College Football Need Scouting Services?
In an article posted today on OregonLive.com, Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian does an excellent job of laying out why schools like Oregon need scouting services. He doesn’t answer many other questions that the NCAA’s inquiry is hoping to settle, but he does make a strong case that schools simply must subscribe to these scouting services in order to compete nationally:
Services help procure game video, transcripts, grade-point averages, test scores, accurate height and weight, addresses and phone numbers.
A national package could include a region, a select group of states, depending on the service.
But it all starts with the game video.
Gilmore said that too often UO, and other college programs, would request tape from a high school and receive only a few games. Through a package, Gilmore said, UO could get a player’s entire junior season and then also be able to watch opposing teams to scout additional players.
It’s easy to read a couple of headlines and determine that of course Oregon shouldn’t be paying for these services, right? We’ve all learned that any time a school makes the news for paying for anything, they’ve probably crossed a line somewhere, right? If this is actually legal, it shouldn’t be, and that’s a loophole that should be closed up right away.
Not so fast, my friend.
If you give in to the knee-jerk reaction to declare the practice illegal, what’s left for the schools? Are they resigned to only recruiting players from cooperative (read: large) high schools and/or schools near by? Do they have to find a way to employ their own army of videographers to scour the country looking for America’s Next Top Recruit?
Major programs aren’t going to just resign themselves to rising and falling on the strength of their state or region’s crop of recruits. If we’re conscious of the spending that an institution has to devote to compete at an elite level in football, and it’s something we don’t want to inflate needlessly, this is an issue that requires a bit more thought.
There are other options. One is to have the NCAA take over the process entirely. You want game film on a prospective student athlete? It’ll come from the NCAA’s video clearinghouse. That department’s job will be to collect game film and organize it in a way that universities can find what they want and have it on demand. This would, of course, be a massive undertaking. Schools who go make their own film or acquire it through other means could be required to submit that film to the clearinghouse.
That option puts more power in the hands of the NCAA and provides a central point of failure.
Another approach is to simply forbid schools from signing contracts with scouting services that have any individual contact with the recruits. How will a university know whether or not a scouting service is breaking that rule? They’ll have to trust the scouting service to be honest with them and follow the NCAA’s rules. If we could trust scouting services to do that, there wouldn’t be a problem to solve at all.
A rule change of this nature might have the benefit of making infractions easier to prove, but it also might just force scouting services to erect elaborate corporate structures to provide the appearance of separation. That’s not to say that these issues can’t be solved within the rule itself1, but the idea is to make the proof easier, not more complicated. If nothing else, you can say that it will make catching the dumb rule-breakers easier.
An analogous exercise can be done on the other side of the issue as well, talking about the services that help prospective recruits get their names out. The goal would be for the rule to proscribe undesirable behavior without casting a net so wide that innocuous behavior is forbidden as well. That gets tricky — if you’re not careful, you could end up with a rule where FedEx gets labelled as a street agent because it ships so many game films to coaches.
Even if you were to manage to separate those two groups, you still have the possibility for trouble at their nexus: street agents and scouting services would quickly develop working relationships2, and it wouldn’t take long for positive or negative opinions of coaches and recruiters to filter from scouting services to street agents down to recruits.
That’s not to suggest that there’s no way forward or that the rules are as perfect as it is possible for them to be, but to emphasize that the solution that balances the interests of all of the parties is not an easy one to achieve.