SEC 1, Harbaugh 0: Satellite camps are done, and we’re all worse off for it –

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Whew. That was close.

It’s about time the SEC got a break in football.

In one of the all-time contrived controversies in college football, the SEC and ACC prevailed Friday by getting the NCAA Division I Council to ban satellite camps. You know, those camps that provided recruits relatively cheap access to exposure with prominent college football coaches to possibly get a major scholarship. Who would want that for players?

The whole debate, fueled by Jim Harbaugh’s creative marketing ideas and his desire to stick it to the SEC, was annoying from the start. Of all the issues in college football that we in the media chose to focus so much on, satellite camps takes the cake as one of the least substantive because so much of the topic was fluff.

Coaches had opinions; we wrote them down. Over and over and over again. This was the go-to story whenever there were dull moments in college football, even though I don’t think fans really cared that much.

And yes, I recognize the irony of writing one last column on this topic. In my America, you’re allowed to cross column borders.

Who cares if coaches spend their time trying to recruit players at off-campus camps instead of on-campus camps? And who’s to say it’s really even that beneficial to stage these camps? Last I checked, Rutgers went 4-8 in 2015 and fired its coach despite having satellite camps through the years in Florida, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

To recap this silly topic: Until now, NCAA rules stated that football programs could host camps on their campus, inside their state or within a 50-mile radius of campus. The SEC and ACC don’t follow the NCAA provision that allows coaches to “guest coach” at another school’s camp to get around the 50-mile radius, so they successfully got a ban on all satellite camps.

“The Council approved a proposal applicable to the Football Bowl Subdivision that would require those schools to conduct camps and clinics at their schools facilities or at facilities regularly used for practice or competition,” the NCAA said in a statement. “Additionally, FBS coaches and non-coaching staff members with responsibilities specific to football may be employed only at their school’s camps or clinics. This rule change is effectively immediately.”

So long, “Summer Swarm Tour.”

We hardly knew you, shirtless Jim Harbaugh.

In recent years, many schools have held satellite camps, such as Notre Dame, Penn State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But Harbaugh took the practice to a new level last summer by highly publicizing a 10-day, seven-state camp tour in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Alabama, Florida, Texas, California and Michigan. He was planning another tour in June with camp stops in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Texas.

The SEC’s stance against satellite camps was flawed from the beginning. For starters, the SEC portrayed satellite camps as awful “recruiting camps,” as if on-campus summer camps are held by SEC coaches simply to teach fundamentals to players, some of whom happen to be of high school age and who might find their way into a coach’s office with a scholarship offer. Please.

“Calling them satellite camps is a total misnomer,” LSU athletic director Joe Alleva said at the SEC spring meetings last year. “They’re not satellite camps. They’re purely and simply recruiting camps.”

Of course they are. So? Who’s being harmed if under-the-radar players get a little more exposure to high-profile coaches around the country?

The SEC, that’s who. Or at least that was the SEC’s fear, even though it’s probably misguided. The SEC enjoys overwhelming recruiting advantages: so many talented recruits in their footprint, warm weather, NFL draft picks, media exposure, on-field success, rabid fan bases and a ton of money. Those luxuries aren’t suddenly disappearing if Harbaugh spends one day in Prattville, Alabama.

This was Alleva last spring to 104.5 FM ESPN in Baton Rouge: “Mainly what I’m concerned about is other schools coming into our state and stealing our kids.”

That has always been the crux of the issue for the SEC. (Sidenote: I didn’t know LSU owns all of the recruits in Louisiana to classify one leaving the state as theft, but point duly noted.)

Jim Harbaugh is probably not going to be happy about the NCAA’s decision. (USATSI)

“I’m really not even thinking that it has that much value,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told reporters this week about satellite camps. “What would be a more interesting question for you to research — and I can’t answer this — the teams that have done them, what value does it serve? How many players did they get? They had some players commit to them and some of those players decommitted, and I know they even wanted to drop some of those players when they found out they could get better players.”

Saban isn’t wrong. For Alabama, a satellite camp likely wouldn’t have made much sense. Saban can already pick and choose from almost any recruit in the country. For another school, such as Michigan, it might be beneficial to try to get a foothold in a different part of the country. Or it might not. But there’s no harm trying.

Here’s a question: Why do some schools play neutral-site games? They have a large campus stadium. They have fans in the community willing to attend games at said large campus stadium. And yet once a year you play a game, such as Alabama vs. Michigan, inside an NFL dome in Arlington, Texas. Why? It’s a good payday plus great recruiting exposure.

As for Saban’s research request, recruiting analysts have said they don’t see much of an impact for schools with satellite camps. Michigan signed three players in February who attended a satellite camp. Rashad Weaver, who was spotted by Harbaugh at a Miami satellite camp, decommitted from Michigan because he said the coaches stopped contact with him and he didn’t view himself as a Plan B.

So to sum up Harbaugh’s first satellite camp experience: He signed a few players, got a lot of pictures taken with no shirt on, and created a whole lot of headaches from the bad PR of recruiting over a player he found at a camp. Talk about an unfair recruiting advantage!

One of the biggest concerns stated about satellite camps was proliferation. Some coaches understandably want to have lives in the summer. (Yes, the state of college sports is such that you must legislate so coaches can have lives in the summer.) There were also concerns about the costs and time involved for recruits if the camps kept growing.

The NCAA: Where time-demand issues get legislated on players before they’re even in college. Once you’re in school? You know the drill: Only 20 hours per week spent on football (wink, wink; nod, nod).

The Pac-12 actually had one of the more interesting ideas to get around the satellite camp debate. The conference suggested staging regional combines for recruits around the country each summer. It sounds like that idea didn’t get very far.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of the SEC’s argument was the fact that many of its coaches want to do them. Georgia’s Kirby Smart, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema were among those on record saying they were ready to stage camps if the NCAA ban didn’t happen.

Bielema told ESPN he was going to do an exclusive camp with the Dallas Cowboys that no one else in the SEC will do. He has also talked about going East with a Big Ten team.

“When I first got here, I was amazed at the restrictions the SEC puts on ourselves,” Bielema told ESPN. “Not being able to go to camps, not being able to go to clinics, not being able to have your staff be present at in-state clinics that are your home base. We do so many things, so many parameters that limit our recruiting base, which is good in some regards, but it limits our branding.”

Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer both announced plans for satellite camps in Georgia this summer. Smart recently told reporters the Bulldogs planned to hold their own if allowed. “I think it’s very smart on their part. They’ve got a right to do it,” Smart said. “Like I said, we’ve got a plan ready. You’ll see soon enough.”

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin told ESPN the Aggies had tentative satellite camps set on the calendar. “We’re not the only SEC team that’s doing that, too,” Sumlin said.

The SEC became a walking contradiction. While the league pushed to ban these awful recruiting camps, some of the SEC’s own coaches were very interested in staging these awful recruiting camps. Enough conferences agreed with the SEC’s overall position, so instead of trying to regulate satellite camps with a measured approach, they banned them altogether.

Any day now, I expect Michigan to find a loophole by announcing it’s building satellite campuses in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, thus allowing “on-campus” football camps in Miami. Because really, who wouldn’t want to attend the University of Michigan at Miami?

There are lessons learned from this satellite camp debate. In Harbaugh’s America, you’re allowed to cross state borders. In the SEC’s America, there are snipers trained at the border.

Or something like that. That’s how narratives go.

We’re all dumber for having spent so much time on where teenagers attend summer football camps.

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The SEC gets their way, again. (USATSI)

SEC 1, Harbaugh 0: Satellite camps are done, and we’re all worse off for it –