Anyone who follows college football recruiting knows that the rules concerning the wooing, care, and feeding of America's most promising high school football players range from the arcane to the out and out stupid. But leave it to Les Miles, master recruiter and noted werewolf enthusiast to find a new way to draw the ire of the NCAA: by recruiting a player in a manner which only became impermissible months after the recruiting actually occurred.
Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate had the story Thursday afternoon. It makes for a truly fascinating read, especially if you're fascinated by the NCAA looking for niggling violations to punish instead of worrying about, for example, star JUCO quarterbacks and their families receiving over $180,000 to sign with certain schools. In essence, an LSU recruit signed a financial aid agreement with LSU intending to enroll early in January and allowing the school to have unlimited contact with him. But when the recruit ultimately decided not to enroll at the school, it rendered LSU's contact with him against the NCAA's rules.
You may remember financial aid agreements (FAAs) from their recent starring role in the Roquan Smith drama. And before that from the drama surrounding former Bulldog recruit and current Tennessee Volunteer Josh Malone. After Malone and other class of 2014 recruits signed multiple FAAs, the NCAA decided it would try to bring some order to the chaos by tightening the rules surrounding FAAs. As usual, the NCAA's attempt to address the unintended consequences of its prior action are now having additional unintended consequences.
For example, you'll note that LSU was only penalized because the player in question did not ultimately sign with the Bayou Bengals. If he had ended up in Baton Rouge it wouldn't have mattered if Les Miles camped out in his front yard for three weeks. LSU is only now being penalized because the recruiting in question didn't ultimately provide them with a competitive advantage. There's something vaguely perverse about punishing only the losers in a tawdry recruiting free-for-all.
For another, the ex post facto nature of these penalties creates a very real incentive to pressure kids to flip their commitments so as to manufacture recruiting violations on the part of one's rivals. For an organization that spends a lot of time bemoaning the increased pressure on recruits today and mumbling vaguely about the possibility of an early signing period for football, this seems pretty counterproductive.
Finally, and perhaps most NCAA-y of all, this episode creates a real disincentive for schools to offer FAAs to players. If the advantage of doing so (unlimited contact) has the potential of turning into a crippling sanction, why risk it? I imagine the collection of seventeen year old kids out there who are both in need of round-the-clock recruiting and simultaneously so unlikely to flip that the risk is acceptable is an empty set. LSU for example is losing 10% of their player evaluation days (21 of 210) for 2015, and cannot offer any FAAs for two years. Both of those hurt. LSU will still recruit very, very well. But a lesser program could be seriously hurt by being in high schools 10% less than the competition in a given recruiting cycle.
All of which is to say, if you're looking for someone to burn your neighbor's house down while fixing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in your kitchen, Indianapolis is probably the place to start.