It’s late-May, but the Big Ten and SEC are in midseason form. The two conferences, forever at each other’s throat, are currently griping about rules surrounding camps. James Franklin is playing the role of protagonist. Since his days at Vanderbilt, he’s been an antagonist for SEC coaches.
Nothing is changing at Penn State.
In June, Franklin will return to SEC territory when Penn State coaches offer instruction at camps hosted by Georgia State in Atlanta and Stetson in Deland, Fla. Rule 22.214.171.124 limits programs from running high school camps more than 50 miles from campus. But loopholes exist, and Franklin found one.
Coaches are allowed to work at camps outside the 50-mile radius, which led to the southern swing. Consider the SEC coaches annoyed. The land of oversigning is not happy to have outside visitors spying on its prospects. Evaluating film is one thing, but in-person coaching is worrisome for the Sabans, Miles and Muschamps.
“I want you to know that it’s not the right thing,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
The SEC is hamstrung by conference guidelines that state coaches can’t be guest instructors more than 50 miles from campus. Its coaches have pleaded with commissioner Mike Slive to try and limit Penn State’s movements around the fertile recruiting ground that apparently is for the SEC and no one else.
Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni said the Buckeyes were discussing the possibility of attending out-of-state camps in the future.
But Penn State isn’t the only program smartly reaching out to schools in different footprints. Oklahoma State’s coaches will be present at camps in Texas and Iowa State will do the same in Chicago. Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni told Eleven Warriors the Buckeyes were discussing the possibility of attending out-of-state camps in the future.
According to media reports, Notre Dame is already in discussions with Georgia State about next summer’s camp.
Franklin’s bold move is a masterstroke. There’s a psychological ploy and a strategic move to establish inroads where Penn State hasn’t drawn many recruits. Urban Meyer famously urged fellow Big Ten coaches to expand their courtship skills. Franklin wasn’t in the league when the comments were made, as if it matters.
“The Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things,” Franklin recently told a group of Penn State supporters in King of Prussia, Pa. “We wanted to not only have camps on our campus, which we’re going to have a bunch of them, but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country that maybe young men and families wouldn’t be able to make it to our place, take it to them.
“And I’m fired up about it.”
So are SEC athletic directors. Ross Bjork of Ole Miss called it “a competitive disadvantage.” Naturally, he wants to discuss the rule’s fairness. Understandably, too. For seven years, the SEC had a monopoly on national championships. They were won with players from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.
Now, the big, bad Big Ten is encroaching on their God-given territory.
Ole Miss head coach Huge Freeze wants to see an end to it. As does Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. And Slive, of course.
“I wish it was a national rule,” Freeze said at the SEC’s summer meetings in Destin, Fla. “I don’t particularly want another school in a BCS conference coming into our state and running a camp. So we would like to see our rule be a national rule. I‘d love to see it be the same.”
It will only happen if the NCAA steps in at the SEC’s urging, because the Big Ten won’t be blocking a path that could bridge the gap between the rival conferences. Franklin admitted that he sees the Georgia and Florida camps as a prized recruiting tactic.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said every SEC coach would be in a different state instructing at a camp if the rules permitted. After all, recruiting is a nationwide chore. Imagine Saban in Ohio, Miles in Los Angeles and Muschamp in Texas.
“It would be beneficial for everybody, if everybody could do that, or nobody should do it,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There shouldn’t be any loopholes or anything else like that. The intent of the rule was to keep an institution’s camp on the institution’s campus, and now that’s not the case.”
Said Franklin: “We’re going to go wherever we have to go to find players. We’re going to read the rules and understand the rules, and, like you guys have heard me say before, it’s not like we’re going to lack for enthusiasm or lack for work ethic. We’ll go wherever we got to go.”
Meanwhile, the SEC will stay at home. But is it such a bad thing? The league has eight of the top 15 classes in the country and 13 of the top 30.
The lone outlier: Vanderbilt, at No. 72, Franklin’s old school.