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Camp season is underway for Missouri. In the past, that meant a full week of traveling across the state of Missouri, seeing close to a thousand high school players from the Show-Me State and surrounding areas. Not this year. This year, it's the players that are doing the traveling.
The Southeastern Conference prohibits member schools from holding recruiting camps off-campus. For the Tigers, that means no more one-day events in Springfield, Kansas City and St. Louis. Instead, Mizzou had a one-day camp on Tuesday and will have another on Sunday, both on campus.
"We'd like to be able to go out in the communities. The day we got here, that was a big selling point for us," Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel said. "We're not going to send half our staff here and half over there. We're bringing our whole entourage into St. Louis Missouri. We started out with 200 kids, the rest is history. We got over 500. The numbers down in Springfield have grown, the numbers in Kansas City."
The St. Louis camp generally attracted between 400 and 600 players. Between 200 and 300 usually attended in Kansas City and another 150 in Springfield. Tuesday's camp at Mizzou had approximately 200 prospects in attendance. Sunday's event is expected to be more well-attended, with as many as 500 players potentially showing up. But that is still a smaller number than Mizzou would get at its three one-day events across the state in years past. Plus, it is now on the players to carve out more time and pay for transportation to and from the camp, as well as any expenses along the way. That means, quite simply, that some kids won't show up. High school coaches in St. Louis and Kansas City would frequently bring large portions of their teams all together. The chances of getting that same participation for a two-hour trip each way are slim.
The problem, Pinkel says, is that the playing field is not level. Pinkel said the SEC is the only league to prohibit off-campus recruiting camps.
"That's something we talked about in Destin (at the SEC meetings). It came up," Pinkel said. "I think we should all have the same rules. The SEC's looking into it. They understand."
But the elimination of the in-state camps are actually the lesser of two problems with the rule, according to Pinkel.
"The other issue of this is there's a lot of universities in the Big 12 that go to small colleges in Texas and really the small college runs the camp but they have their entire staff there and they're recruiting and evaluating basically," Pinkel said. "That's what's happening. Obviously that's a huge advantage."
For example, last year, the University of Oklahoma held camps in Tyler, Texas and San Antonio and Houston. Oklahoma State held a camp at Robert E. Lee High School in Texas and has long held one in the Dallas area. The events were technically run by the coaching staff from Mary Hardin-Baylor, but OSU coaches were in attendance providing instruction and players were tested in various combine and agility drills. Those camps are, in effect, satellite camps for the Sooners and Cowboys, even though those schools are not technically the hosts.
"That's what you're doing bottom line. You can turn and spin it all you want, but that's what you're doing," Pinkel said. "It's a huge disadvantage if you can't do some of the same things. I just think that it's a little bit like the combine rule. It's really a recruiting tool and that's kind of even the bigger issue, taking your camps and taking them to small colleges. It's a way of getting around the rule. That's like everybody in the SEC picking up and going into Dallas and having five camps and representing five different schools and picking them up and going. If you start doing that..."
The implication of the unfinished sentence is obvious. If you start doing that, where does it end?
"That's the real problem because if everybody starts taking their thing all around the country and starts doing that then it's a direct, certainly, an advantage," Pinkel said. "And if you're not from a very populous state but you want to go into Texas because of the numbers, then you can go in and have four different Universities to start moving and if you want to get that going nationally, it's just problematic."
It is even more problematic for Missouri, as well as Texas A&M and Arkansas. Those schools border Big 12 territory. While most of the SEC focuses its recruiting attention in the Southeastern area of the country, the Tigers, Aggies and Razorbacks all recruit Big 12 territory heavily. While the Big 12 schools are able to move multiple camps around to attract more recruits from various talent-rich areas--including out-of-state events like those attended by the Sooners and Cowboys--the SEC schools in the same region are holding all of their camps on campus. That means the players have to come to them rather than the other way around.
"The people that we recruit against, outside the SEC, we don't have the advantage that they have," Pinkel said.
There are two potential solutions in Pinkel's mind. Either off-campus camps are banned across the board, or the SEC relaxes its policy.
"Just nobody can have camps off campus and nobody can recruit players off campus so it's kind of protecting the integrity of the game. Or if they don't then the SEC has to decide whether they're going to allow us to do that or not. And then everybody can just go all over the country and start having their own satellite camps," Pinkel said. ""They're very well aware of the rule and I think we're looking into it. Mark Richt's a member of the AFCA board and they understand that too and we're trying to explain to them why it's an advantage."
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