For high school athletic directors, early summer typically provides a respite from their football program. The growing popularity of 7-on-7 passing events, however, is changing that.
While 7-on-7 scholastic football camps and tournaments--those run by high school coaches--are still seen as a positive, the proliferation of 7-on-7 "all-star" squads is raising eyebrows. The concern is that these teams, which have no educational oversight, can be run by people promising college scholarships and may not be in the best interests of student-athletes.
Delegates at last summer's NFHS annual meeting last summer discussed the topic, and according to Executive Director Bob Gardner, one of the main worries is the way third parties can insert themselves into the recruiting process through the all-star teams. "The system that's been in place for a long time is one where high school football is the recruiting field for the college market, and it's worked well," he says. "Now that non-scholastic 7-on-7 camps have grown in importance, it's opened the door for people outside the educational community to get involved, and we don't see that as a good thing.
"Unsophisticated young people and parents who are unfamiliar with the recruiting process are easy prey for these individuals who promise a college scholarship for an athlete who plays on their team," continues Gardner.
The NCAA is also carefully watching the trend. "Over the past year, our enforcement staff has attended 7-on-7 tournaments in several states," says Marcus Wilson, NCAA Associate Director of Enforcement. "We've spoken to high school coaches and event organizers, and the primary concern is the involvement of third parties and scouting services. These outside individuals often tout themselves as having a relationship with a college coach that can enhance a player's chances of getting a scholarship."
The reality is that such individuals often offer no access to college coaches--who are prohibited from attending the events and are becoming more and more wary of them. "The potential for corruption stemming from third-party involvement is a big concern for us," says Tim Murphy, President of the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and Head Football Coach at Harvard University. "A lot of high-profile college coaches, especially in the South, where 7-on-7 is growing quickly, are concerned about the direction this is going. High school football players do not need street agents brokering their services to colleges."
Murphy applauds the rule enacted by the Southeastern Conference last year that bars all non-scholastic camps from being held on member campuses. "What the SEC has done is a positive step, and should send a message loud and clear to athletes about what colleges think of these camps," he says. "The AFCA is legitimately concerned, and we will continue to work with our coaches to identify the best possible solutions."
In the meantime, how should high school athletic administrators and football coaches handle the situation? Jeff Dicus, Head Football Coach at Duncanville (Texas) High School, has responded by not allowing his players to participate on all-star 7-on-7 teams. He feels parents and student-athletes need to remember the critical role high school coaches play in recruiting.
"What a high school coach says about a player's work ethic, character, and academic abilities goes a long way with a college coach," he says. "These are all things colleges are looking for, and we're the ones who can really speak to that."
Terry Smith, Head Football Coach at Gateway (Pa.) High School, does not prohibit his players from considering all-star teams, but he does take time to vet the squads. "These non-scholastic teams can be a good thing or a bad thing," he says. "It all depends on who's running them. Adults need to do due diligence to make sure it's a good experience for the athletes.
"I look into any traveling team my players want to join," Smith continues. "First, I do an Internet search for the organizer's name, because if there's something negative about them or their operation, it's going to be out there. Then, I call coaches whose opinions I trust and ask if they've dealt with these individuals."
If he's still wary about letting an athlete compete for a non-scholastic team, Smith goes to the camp with his player and takes a look around. "Talking to the coach or the organizer of the event is useful," he says. "I ask if they're having discussions with players about things like their non-football career goals. If they're not, and it's only about football, I won't let my kids play at that camp. I can teach them how to get better at football on my own."