UPDATED: Satellite camps still orbiting the SEC’s agenda

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Update: The University of Arkansas football team no longer plans to participate in a football camp at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, according to reports in the Dallas Morning News and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas had planned to work the satellite camp in the home stadium of the Dallas Cowboys, but Texas A&M Commerce backed out of the agreement, and under NCAA restrictions, Arkansas can not work a camp in Texas without a host school.

One might speculate that Texas A&M Commerce backed out of the agreement after pressure was applied directly or indirectly from other Texas collegiate programs. Again that’s just speculation, but the situation smells fishy.

Southeastern Conference chancellors, athletics directors, administrators and key head coaches are making their annual Memorial Day migration to Destin, Fla. for their spring meetings next week.

No doubt more than a few will take the chance to frolic in the white sands and the cool blue-green surf this weekend before getting down to business next week of setting the league’s agenda for the next year is set.

While there are a number of championships yet to be decided for the 2015-16 athletics year, the meetings are somewhat of a demarcation for the end of one athletic year, and the beginning of a new one for the administrators and the head coaches of the major revenue-producing sports.

Next week, the lucky media members afforded the opportunity to travel to Destin will begin to report on some of the discussions and outcomes that transpire, and savvy administrators and coaches will take advantage of those media opportunities to get any message out to their respective fan bases they see fit.

What is more than a little ironic is that one of the key players in setting a portion of the SEC’s agenda doesn’t even work in SEC territory. Yes, for the second year in a row it seems Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh and his aggressive, publicity-drawing tactics have the SEC reacting to him.

Make no mistake, SEC coaches and administrators by and large aren’t in favor of unregulated satellite camps, in which collegiate coaches participate in camps for school-age athletes at sites other than their home campus. That was clear when the SEC teamed with one of its rivals the Atlantic Coast Conference last year to propose that the NCAA ban the camps. For a time it seemed that the South’s two power conferences had squashed satellite camps with their efforts.

However, in April the NCAA scuttled that proposal as media outcry began to question why the camps should be banned. No doubt the SEC and likely ACC plan to redouble their efforts to have satellite camps banned or at least regulated this year. It seems the SEC might make its stand against the satellite camps on the grounds that they will occur outside the NCAA’s established recruiting calendar, according to comments made by SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey to The Associated Press.

Harbaugh and members of his staff participated in camps in the South and other sites last year, and plan to do so again this year. No doubt the SEC and ACC do want to protect their territory, but the real rub for coaches, as Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze admitted earlier this year, is that they also want to protect their vacation or family time in the month of June.

Between the actual season, spring and fall training camps and recruiting, June is basically the lone month where collegiate head coaches and assistant coaches can get away for an extended period of time.

You might scoff at that reason at first blush, and comment on the salaries that head coaches and even assistant coaches make at the Power Five Conference level. No doubt most are well compensated.

However, put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if someone were attempting to rob you of your vacation time?

The argument for the camps is that they give athletes who might have been overlooked in the recruiting process the chance to rise to the top and possibly garner scholarship offer they might not have received without participating the camp. There is no denying that camps do give kids who participate the chance to be seen.

But kids already have that chance. Most if not all college football programs already have camps on their campuses each summer. The camps originated years ago as a way for head coaches to put extra money into the pockets of their lower-paid assistants and grad students in the summertime. Over the years the camps morphed into recruiting opportunities for the programs and scholarship opportunities for the most talented kids that participate in them.

Of course, the difference in working a satellite camp and one on the school’s campus is the time and expense of travel. It’s a lot easier to drive to work to coach at a camp than it is to board a plane or drive to another campus to work one.

From reading the landscape, it would seem satellite camps in some form or fashion are here to stay. What remains to be seen is exactly how they will be regulated.

The NCAA does attempt to level the playing field among its members with regulations. For example, when Texas and Notre Dame’s media guides — or recruiting brochures as legendary former Razorbacks track coach John McDonnell referred to them — grew to 600 pages and began to be printed in full color, the NCAA stepped in. Most programs could not afford such excess, and it was deemed a recruiting advantage. Something similar could happen with satellite camps.

This year the regulations are minimal. That’s why Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema joked earlier in the spring about holding satellite camps in Europe or the Bahamas. On a more serious note, I admire Bielema for saying he would not require his assistants to work satellite camps this year because of the time it would take away from their families, but I’m guessing some of his assistants will work at them.

From a fan’s standpoint, my greatest concern about satellite camps is that the wealthiest programs could press an advantage on the issue, and a program like Arkansas might not be able to keep up with the programs it already trails. The U.S. won the Cold War in part by forcing the Soviet Union to try to keep up in the arms race. We see this now in college athletics with the expenditures on facilities.

But, I’m guessing the NCAA will step in with some sort of regulations in the near future to maintain at least a perceived détente.

I do think the June 5 camp Arkansas State is hosting at Little Rock in War Memorial Stadium in which the Razorbacks along with other state programs will be participating is a great idea. A camp in a central location featuring most if not all state programs might truly create opportunities for Arkansas athletes who are under the recruiting radar.

I also think the camp Arkansas and Texas A&M Commerce are holding at AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys, in Arlington, Texas, on June 12 could help the Razorbacks’ recruiting efforts in Texas (Update: Arkansas will no longer participate in this camp).

However, I am a bit skeptical whether Bielema making an appearance at satellite camps in Michigan, Florida or Ohio would be all that profitable for the program. That said, I do like how Bielema embraces opportunities. It’s just another way he shows his dedication to pushing the Razorbacks program to greater success.