Months after the SEC joined the satellite camp craze, the conference still isn't sold.
The fad has been growing in 2016 -- thanks to Jim Harbaugh's braggadocious 2015 summer tour -- and SEC coaches have been traveling all over the country, working with thousands of high school athletes, but the visits are still more of a pain than an instructional endeavor.
“It’s about recruiting, it’s about exposure," said Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who said he and his staff reluctantly participated in a double-digit number of satellite camps this year. "If you want to spend millions of dollars and run around and put your logo all over the place to recruit one kid, go right ahead."
The reality is that while these camps bring in hundreds of prospects at a time, only a couple at each camp are actively recruited by major Power 5 programs. Coaches say that's where the trouble begins, and it continues as camp participants start to run into gray areas.
Coaches say that the organizations or high schools running these camps open the door for more improprieties to occur. While not all camps are created equal, many coaches had questions about the way registration is monitored, whether prospects and their families are prevented from improperly communicating with coaches, the presence of third-party individuals who become de facto recruiters, and where the money paid by schools to work these camps (which can run thousands of dollars) goes and who's in charge of it.
“I want no part of that," said Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who didn't attend any satellite camps this year. "It’s going to become AAU basketball ... that’s why I didn’t go and I won’t go.”
Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't care for satellite camps or denouncing schools that participate. However, he does denounce the sketchiness that can arise when camps are run outside the jurisdiction of college campuses, most notably the possible third-party influences on prospects.
“When you introduce a third party in doing these things, do you allow somebody to make money who influences a player to do something? That’s what we’ve always tried to eliminate," Saban said.
When it comes to money spent by schools, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said conversations become "troubling" when those running camps tell coaches that in order to see certain prospects, they must pay. The arrival of money and the middlemen with direct access to prospects bother coaches.
"To be able to pay somebody X amount of dollars to have them at your camp so you can get exposure at that camp is silly," Stoops said. "To think that’s not trickling down to somebody is stupid.”
SEC coaches were also frustrated that these supposed fundamental camps are merely summertime loopholes used by coaches to get in front of a few prospects outside of the spring recruiting evaluation period, which runs from April 15 to May 31. There isn't supposed to be contact between coaches and players not participating, but SEC coaches mentioned seeing illegal contact -- whether coaches knew it or not.
“You can say what you want, that’s an unfair hit," Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said. "It’s illegal, and that part needs to be corrected.”
SEC coaches also worry about satellite camps taking time away from their own players, especially with the offseason time restraints already placed on coaches and their teams.
“You want to be around your players, don’t you? That’s the most important thing," said Auburn's Gus Malzahn, who didn't attend any satellite camps. "Yet coaches are gone 30 days and aren’t around our players. What? Who would want to play in that atmosphere? I wouldn’t.”
Not all SEC coaches condemned satellite camps. Florida's Jim McElwain, who attended five camps, is mostly indifferent, but would rather host them than travel to them. Arkansas and Missouri both attended a double-digit number of camps and grabbed commitments because of them. Bielema even praised a camp run in Atlanta by the Minority Coaches Association of Georgia's Football Academy because of how organized it was and the way athletes and their families were educated about the rules on communicating with coaches.
“They had this announcement that kept playing every three minutes, five minutes," Bielema said.
Missouri's Barry Odom understands these camps' pitfalls, but he insists that he used the time as a coaching opportunity.
“It was great for the game of football because you get to go coach ball for three hours and provide those kids the chance to learn," Odom said. "That’s awesome. That’s a great part of it. I know the guys that came through the linebacker drills, I know they got better because we coached them hard."
SEC coaches agreed that holding their own satellite camps, which would cut down on middlemen and disorganization, would be ideal. McElwain suggested a return to showcases during the recruiting period. Saban and Freeze agreed that holding camps during the recruiting period with bowl game or NFL backing would lead to less disordered environments. Freeze recommended possibly extending the evaluation period by two weeks to accommodate for camps and to allow coaches from around the country to participate.
The future of satellite camps is unknown, but the SEC is looking for change, whether that involves more NCAA monitoring or a conference takeover of the process. Change could come slowly, but Sankey feels confident that it's on the way after the Division I Board of Directors said it was looking to improve camp environments and ensure that recruitment stays in scholastic environments.
"The expectation is there that there should be change," Sankey said. "So if the notion is, 'Let’s completely turn over recruiting so we can just get more athletic information,' I’m not interested in that happening at all. I don’t care who sponsors it.”