It was a beautiful Sunday morning that started off like any other for me. I sat down to a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs, along with a tall glass of OJ then fired up the DVR of the early morning episode of ESPN'S Outside The Lines. I have always been a fan of the show but found myself captivated by this particular episode as I have been both personally and professionally involved with 7 on 7 football and was eager to watch the story on it.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of 7 on 7 football, it's basically an opportunity for "skill" positions in football to compete against one another and further develop their talents. The "skill" positions consist of high school quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs and linebackers. Pretty much everyone but offensive and defensive lineman... Sorry fellas.
What was particularly interesting about this segment, was learning that the NCAA is going to start monitoring 7 on 7 football as they are concerned about the influence of "interested third parties" and the potential exploitation of high school student-athletes during the recruiting process. Rachel Newman Baker, a former colleague of mine and current Director of Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities voiced real concern about the "interested third parties" true motives. Baker states that the NCAA's, "biggest fear is that we give outside third parties who don't have prospective student-athletes' best interests at heart more room to have those prospects make bad decisions. You can call yourself a cousin, you can call yourself a mentor, you can call yourself a friend, but it's what are you doing for that student-athlete or that prospective student-athlete and where does that cross the line and potentially jeopardize that individual's eligibility?" A small segment talked about former NFL 3 time Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who stated that his organization (1925 All-star) spends up to" $15,000 per kid," which is permissible as long as it covers "actual and necessary expenses."
While I understand the NCAA's interest in this matter, I would like to be bold and offer a little advice to the NCAA about 7 on 7 football. First, the Association should go into this with the glass is half full approach as the 7 on 7's for the majority of student-athletes is a positive experience. It allows these kids to spend time with other student-athletes going through similar stressful situations and bond with each other while learning techniques and further developing their skills. At this time in a prospect's career, football should still be played to have fun as "athletics" is an "avocation." The vast majority of these coaches just want to help these kids and give back to the community.
7 on 7's provide student-athletes with a chance to improve their skills, learn new techniques, and in some cases learn about the crucial next steps to have an opportunity to play college football and earn a degree. While I agree that there should be some regulation of 7 on 7's, the focus here should also include providing prospects and these 7 on 7 clubs with access to educational resources about the NCAA. Thus, the focus should be on education and relationship building. This will help to avoid the eligibility pitfalls that concern the NCAA. When I use the term education, I am referring to the knowledge base of not only student-athletes and parents but of interested third parties and also of the NCAA as an institution. Remember that the mere mention of the NCAA causes anxiety for those not familiar with dealing with the NCAA.
The NCAA must be careful about public perception, as we all know that sometimes "perception is reality."