'Open gym' closed to scouts Doors shut amid worries of athletic 'meat market'


October 12, 1990|By PAT O'MALLEY

For those of you around the county who may have noticed college coaches and scouts in gyms recently to watch and talk to kids playing basketball, you should know it hasn't gone unnoticed by the state governing body of athletics.

You should have seen the last of those talent scouts by Wednesday, because that was the last day they were allowed to have open contact with the athletes.

Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association head Ned Sparks is concerned about "open gyms" becoming meat markets for college coaches and scouts.

Sparks says the open gym that allows student-athletes to play in the evenings at their respective schools or others throughout the county "has gone beyond anything we thought it would become, and the last thing we wanted was flesh peddling."

The state athletic boss was referring to the convenient way to recruit that was created by state high schools allowing open gyms. Sparks has received a lot of phone calls from around the state on the college talent seekers' showing up in force at various public school gyms.

In a call to the NCAA, Sparks has learned that the college guys' showing up is not illegal, but he is not happy that the situation is escalating.

"From Sept. 11 to Oct. 10, it's what the NCAA calls an open contact period, in which the coaches can talk to kids in the sport of basketball," said Sparks. "That open period is perfectly legal, but I don't care for it proliferating more and more. We didn't intend to make open gyms a chance for college coaches to deal in flesh peddling."

Sparks says the problem is not limited to just the state but is happening throughout the country as college coaches try to get an early edge on each other.

The subject of open gyms has been a topic of conversation among coaches, some of whom agree with the policy and some of whom don't. Not every school in the county has an open gym (Annapolis and Arundel don't), but most do.

South River started one last week. It runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Nov. 14 for both basketball and wrestling, but athletic director Jim Haluck made it clear that "it's for high school students only and no coaches are available."

Haluck feels like many other county athletic directors in that he doesn't want to put his school in jeopardy of violating any rules, so he's eliminated the coaches.

High school coaches can sit and watch but are not allowed to coach or organize practice.

"They can talk to the kids but can't coach out of season," Sparks said. (The official starting date for winter athletics is Nov. 15.) "In other words, they can tell the kids what time the lights are going out and things like that.

"What they can't do is tell the kids to run certain plays, set screens or 'Show me that again,' that kind of thing."

In addition, the coaches, including junior varsity types, aren't allowed to break up the kids into groups so as to have varsity and JV players conveniently practicing separately. That's called organizing a practice.

"Coaches have to be very careful about what they do in open gyms, and it's not worth the chance or I would turn Gerald Moore [Arundel high basketball coach] loose at our place," said Arundel High athletic director Bernie Walter.

Any coach who violates the MPSSAA rules by organizing a practice or actually coaching one or more kids out of season puts his team in jeopardy of being disqualified from the playoffs. And, of course, the coach would be reprimanded accordingly.

Annapolis coach John Brady is in favor of eliminating open gyms because, he says, "it is an invitation to cheat."

Brady got phone calls from college coaches on a couple of his kids they wanted to see, and those college scouts were disappointed to hear he doesn't have an open gym at Annapolis.

In contrast, Northeast High basketball coach Johnny Barbour sees the open gym as "a chance for the kid not playing a fall sport to play in the evening."

"It helps me keep in contact with former players who come back to play and say hello," he said.

As for the high school coaches setting up the college scouts with the boys they want to see, Sparks said there is a fine line on whether that is technically organizing something.

"I'm not sure if that is a violation or not," he said. "I guess a coach can conveniently say that Joe So-and-So is going to be playing Jimmy So-and-So one-on-one on Thursday night, can you make that?"

Sparks said coaches organizing viewings for the college scouts is questionable but at this time apparently not a violation. Of course, that was through Oct. 10, and anything after that date is illegal.

"I've been told that a lot of the kids being seen by college coaches during this open period [Sept. 11 to Oct. 10] are Division II or III types who need the exposure and not the big pTC Division I kids," he said.

Another interesting thing is the matter of school uniforms, shirts and pants, etc. They are not allowed during out-of-season practice.

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