Women's coaches push NCAA to limit summer scouting

Schools would benefit financially, but players would lose exposure

July 30, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- When summer recruiting halts Wednesday, women's basketball coaches like UMBC's Jennifer Bednarek will have been on the road for more than a month to scout events such as the U.S. Junior Nationals in the Washington area, which attracted more than 400 college coaches and 1,200 high school players.

But if proposals based with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association pass the NCAA's Board of Directors next week in Indianapolis, the summer evaluation period would be cut to a set period of 24 days -- July 8 through 31 -- beginning in 2000. Exceptions for scouting the AAU national tournaments have meant that coaches like Bednarek could travel for up to 41 days.

The Retrievers coach, whose team finished 13-13 last season as a member of the Northeast Conference, would be both hurt and helped by the change. On one hand, it means seeing fewer players not already considered prospects by top programs.

Conversely, UMBC's recruiting budget would take less of a hit because the staff would be away from home less.

Bednarek estimated the cost of attending the AAU 17-and-under national tournament in Dallas between $1,500 and $2,000, "and that's if you have staff rooming together and one rental car for the staff."

The UMBC staff traveled to Dallas after first hitting the AAU 16-and-under nationals in Kingsport, Tenn. After Dallas, the Retrievers staff went to Richmond, Va.; New York; Bethlehem, Pa.; and Philadelphia for tournaments before coming to the D.C. area this week.

"It's expensive," Bednarek said. "ACC programs have those budgets, but people in our conference don't have budgets to match that."

Junior Nationals organizer Mike Flynn said that while an intent of the proposal is to prevent the exploitation of high school athletes, coaches in support of the changes have economic motives at work.

"The coaches would rather stay home and open their own camp and have the top players come to them," said Flynn, who fears the evaluation period in the future could be reduced to a period shorter than 24 days. "The changes will not only affect thousands of high school kids, but there are also legal ramifications as well."

As event organizers like Flynn gnash their teeth, more camps run by colleges might be what pop up in place of independent tournaments.

Royal Webster, an assistant at Meade High School, said he takes a group of incoming freshmen to Sylvia Hatchell's team camp at North Carolina. Such an outing allows a college coaching staff to scout several hundred players, normally requiring six weeks on the road, in just a few days, with the added bonus of revenue from the campers, who get to see the campus.

Bednarek said that the Maryland state tournament at UMBC gives her a similar opportunity, albeit on a smaller scale.

"I come to my office and I have an unlimited number of staff that's here. That's why the state tournament is good for us," she said.

College coaches and high school players can still have the option of attending events such as the Junior Nationals, the AAU tournament and invitational camps like the Nike camp in Indianapolis. But next year, it's likely they'll have to choose among them.

"It's condensing so many events into a short period of time," Old Dominion assistant Juliet Schweiter said. "My fear is that you'll make the days longer to squeeze more events in."

Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, weighing in with another view, said: "Three weeks is plenty to see the people you need to see. Hopefully, [the change] will help the players to not be on the road for six to eight weeks straight."

Though increased competition among summer events could be the result, Virginia Tech coach Bonnie Henrickson welcomes the change. "We don't want to run anyone out of business," she said, "but we spend nearly 50 percent of our budget in the summer, chasing kids all around the country."

Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said she wouldn't mind a shorter evaluation period, but ODU's Schweiter said she likes the period as it is because it gives lesser-known players more opportunities to be seen.

Guy Coleman of Atlanta, coach of the summer club Georgia Dream Team, said his team will probably have one opportunity to attend a high-profile event next summer.

"We don't play AAU, so that will make it tougher for my kids to be seen," said Coleman, whose team features one player [Tasha Butts] who has committed to Tennessee and another [Nikita Bell] who will probably be among the top five juniors in the country. "We may not be able to do but one big event in the three weeks. Some of the kids who are invited to Nike might have to choose between Nike and the Junior Nationals."

Jim Stromberg, girls basketball coach at Seton Keough, had four players who participated in this week's Junior Nationals for the Maryland Waves, including Division I prospects Denise King, Meaghan Allan and Nikki Brown.

"As coaches with players, you hope to put them in a situation where they can be seen," Stromberg said. "If [the evaluation period] was three days, you would get them to an event where they can be seen."

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