Rise of 7-on-7 football teams raises questions

Some high school coaches worry about NCAA violations, but 7-on-7 proponents say tournaments offer important platform for players to colleges

July 21, 2011|By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun

As the father of a promising football prospect, Reginald Riley has no qualms about meddling in his son's affairs.

He believes his son, Donovan, a Poly defensive back, has sweated his way through too many workouts on muggy afternoons to risk having his football career derailed by accepting any freebie — "even a Gatorade bottle," he says — that could arouse NCAA suspicions.

So when the elder Riley heard there might be issues with 7-on-7 nonscholastic football teams, he picked up the phone earlier this year and checked with the NCAA before allowing his son to continue to participate with a 7-on-7 travel team. "I started hearing a lot of buzz going around and I wanted to hear for myself," said Riley, an assistant school administrator. "You don't want to have kids hurt by those who have an ulterior motive."

Riley was not the only one concerned. The rise of 7-on-7 traveling all-star teams has created a ripple of anxiety among area high school coaches, college coaches and parents who fear that top players are being increasingly exposed to third parties who are not under the NCAA's purview and may be seeking influence in the college recruiting process.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall is pushing for changes in state rules to allow high school coaches more contact with their players over the summer — partly to keep the players away from outsiders.

"What is happening in the sport of football right now is we're going to end up being like AAU basketball," Edsall said. "I really fear that our high school coaches in every sport are losing the kind of control that I think is needed. When you're putting other people — a third party — in there, the third party is starting to become more important than the person who is dealing with them on a daily basis. We need to make sure the high school coach is the most important person."

Edsall has communicated his concerns to the state organization overseeing public school athletics, which has no current plans to change the rules.

Edsall's concerns are shared by Roger Wrenn, Riley's coach at Poly. When Wrenn learned that Riley and two Poly teammates intended to play for a 7-on-7 travel team, he talked with the players.

"I've expressed my concerns to them and their parents, trying to caution them," Wrenn said. "I said, 'Don't take things that aren't offered to everybody. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is.'"

Donovan Riley, who has committed to Virginia Tech, said he'd already heard the same cautionary message from his protective father. Wrenn "was preaching to the choir," said the younger Riley, who played on Team Dream, a 7-on-7 travel team overseen by Calvert Hall assistant coach Cory Robinson

Robinson is co-founder with fellow Cardinal Gibbons graduate Devin Redd of Next Level Nation, a nonprofit organization. The pair is involved in 7-on-7, combines and other football activities to develop high school talent. Robinson said it's unfair to refer to him as a "third party."

"I'm good enough to be a high school coach, but I'm not safe enough or good enough [in 7-on-7]?" Robinson said. "Our job is to instruct and change lives. Am I off the clock the moment I step off the field at Calvert Hall?"

Robinson recently appeared on an ESPN segment in which travel team members were shown in a photograph posing for the camera aboard a yacht.

"It wasn't a yacht, it was a boat," Robinson told The Sun. "I guess people want us to go somewhere and sleep in a tent or something."

Robinson said funding for his players' trips comes from a variety of sources. "We get out and do car washes, stuff like that," he said.

He said many of the donors are parents paying for their sons' travel and hotels. Some donors, he said, "want to be anonymous and not out in the public."

Robinson said he has taken players on a number of trips, including training camps at Penn State and Temple, a combine in Texas, and 7-on-7 games at Rutgers and South Carolina.

In June, the Southeastern Conference banned nonscholastic, 7-on-7 tournaments from its member-school campuses, effective Aug. 1.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has not yet taken a position. "It's a little early to tell exactly how folks would react to it, but obviously it's an issue that I'm sure they'd look into based into similar things that have come about with other sports," said ACC associate commissionerMichael Kelly.

The NCAA has been monitoring the rise of 7-on-7, and Robinson said he met with an NCAA representative earlier this year. He said the NCAA was merely being "proactive" and that "there is no NCAA investigation of any kind of Next Level Nation." The NCAA had no comment, spokesman Erik Christianson said.

Donovan Riley said traveling on Robinson's team "allowed me to showcase my talent against other players in the area and in the country." Among his 7-on-7 teammates was Dunbar receiver DeonTay McManus, a Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro selection at safety.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.