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KSR Goes (Satellite) Camping: Democratizing Football Recruiting


SEC coaches are not fans of satellite camps.

“If we’re all going to travel all over the country to have satellite camps, you know, how ridiculous is that? I mean we’re not allowed to go to all-star games, but now we’re going to have satellite camps all over the country. So it doesn’t really make sense.” — Nick Saban

“We are trying to get guys to cover the camp but most of our assistant coaches and myself — I’m not going to go to any satellite camps,” Saban said last Thursday. “I don’t know how much it benefits anybody because all the people that say this is creating opportunities for kids, this is all about recruiting,” Saban said. “That’s what it’s about. Anybody that tells you that. What’s amazing to me is somebody didn’t stand up and say here’s going to be the unintended consequences of what you all are doing.”

“I’m selfish with my time,” he said. “I’m away from my family enough, and I just did not want to go. I was ready to. We would’ve jumped in with the rest of them and gone to work. But I’m glad we can have a camp and I can sleep at home.”  —  Hugh Freeze

It’s no secret that they aren’t fans of satellite camps, but why is there so much animosity towards satellite camps from SEC coaches?  Jim Harbaugh’s antics can take some of the blame, simple laziness takes credit for more, but the reason why they dislike satellite camps comes from a much darker place: it makes their jobs more difficult.

Traditional Recruiting

Recruiting in college football is much different than recruiting in other sports because there is no football in the offseason.  Basketball, baseball, volleyball and the olympic sports are played year-round for a variety of different amateur athletic associations.  There is no such thing as “travel football.”

College and high school seasons are played at the same time.  The only opportunity to watch a recruit in person is during a bye week.  If you’re Mark Stoops, you might make a splash by flying a helicopter in for the game.

Since they often can’t see the athletes in person, the only way to watch the prospects play is through game tape.  Recruits cut up highlight reels and send them to the schools they desired to attend.  Graduate assistants pour through hours of film, slowly narrowing their pool of potential prospects.  From there, the coaches reach out to the best with mailings and maybe phone calls to show their interest.

It takes a lot of luck to get noticed by simply sending in film.  The preferred method is by “knowing a guy.”  Over many years, coaches at powerhouse high school programs develop relationships with college assistant coaches.  Those relationships grow stronger when a high school coach sends an elite player to a specific school.  As an example, if Phillip Haywood at Belfry sent an elite offensive lineman to Kentucky, the coaches at UK wold keep their ears open the next time he tells them, “I got this kid you need to see.”

Nobody is better at recruiting through a social network than Vince Marrow.  As Marrow told Matt (either on the radio or in a podcast), he has a connection to at least one person at every school in Ohio.  Those connections help coaches spot talent early, finding elite recruits that could not be found by someone who didn’t have a connection to that recruit’s high school.

This system of handshakes and back-slapping is turned upside down by satellite camps.

Making New Connections

Coaches chat it up at the Midwest Gridiron Showcase.

Coaches chat it up at the Midwest Gridiron Showcase.

It takes years to create extensive relationships in the traditional recruiting model.  Even if a college coach can tap into an elite local high school, the odds that they last more than five years at one particular college are slim.  If their next job is in a different region, the process starts over.

The best recruiters build relationships in talent-rich states.  Even though players rarely go too far from home, that’s not always the case.  You can recruit Florida players from almost anywhere east of the Mississippi River.  When Lamar Thomas went from Louisville to Kentucky, it didn’t force him to recruit elsewhere.  However, Thomas’ case is not the norm.

Satellite camps make it easier for new coaches to make connections in talent-rich areas.  They spend a lot of their time at camps socializing, shaking hands and talking about the best talent available.  Even though most of the coaches at last week’s Dayton satellite camp were from the area, a new hire could seamlessly create connections at the event.

In the past, it may have taken years to develop a relationship the produces top prospects.  Now all it takes is a good summer or two.

Putting the Players First

There are many people that hate AAU basketball.  They hate the style of play, they hate the lack of coaching, but they will learn to love it if their kid is playing in front of Calipari, Williams, Self and Kyzewxchewshki.  AAU basketball gives players an opportunity to showcase their skills.  It only takes one great game at the right time to catch the eye of the nation’s best coaches.

Instead of sending off film to schools and saying a prayer, football prospects don’t need to rely on luck to get noticed at a satellite camp.  Even if a player’s head coach isn’t best buds with Vince Marrow, he could make a play that makes Marrow ask, “Who is that?”

Most importantly, all of the coaches are in one place at the same time.  Instead of being forced to pay a lot of money to attend camp at Louisville, Kentucky, WKU Cincinnati and Tennessee, they could spend $60 to attend one camp and be seen by coaches from all of those schools and more.

If you don’t think it’s beneficial for players, here’s what Twitter looked like after Dayton’s satellite camp:

I won’t bore you with more, but I think you understand the implications.

There’s no denying that the dynamics are different in football than than other sports.  Players don’t wear pads at camp.  Just because you can make plays in 7-on-7 doesn’t mean you can do the same with a linebacker waiting tee-off in the middle of the field.  It might make things more difficult for coaches, but it helps the players.

Satellite camps provide unprecedented opportunities for players to be seen by dozens of college programs that could provide them a meal ticket for the next four years.

The next time you hear an SEC coach whining about satellite camps, it’s not because they’re lazy or because they’re sick of Jim Harbaugh, it’s because satellite camps make their jobs more difficult.  “Access for all” takes away the advantages for the powerhouse programs — facilities, program pedigree etc. — and allows everyone a chance to get a piece of that pie.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

2 Comments for KSR Goes (Satellite) Camping: Democratizing Football Recruiting

  1. bluegrassstu
    11:33 pm June 13, 2016 Permalink

    Hairbaugh likes doing sleepovers at a recruits house, perhaps the SEC coaches should do that.