Violations getting trickier to avoid 

June, 8, 2009
Well, isn't this interesting?

That is the reaction that seems to be coming from an increasing number of college football offices around the country after they get wind of some YouTube video, Internet recruiting story or message board thread. Usually, the "news" filters in on Monday morning after some rival school has gotten a little creative or overly aggressive, and that often prompts a phone call to the school's compliance office.

Turn 'em in!

Last week's story from the recruiting trail came out of Auburn's Big Cat Weekend, where the Tigers hosted more than a dozen of the country's top recruits on an unofficial campus visit. Of course, when cell phone video from Big Cat Weekend circulated around the Web, it wasn't just Tigers fans who got excited. The video showed the recruits getting to roll Auburn's fabled Toomer's Corner while being cheered on by at least 100 or so Tigers fans, as police, media and even Aubie, the school mascot, watched each recruit get introduced to the crowd. Reportedly, Auburn assistant Trooper Taylor was there for the event, which likely would constitute a few secondary NCAA violations stemming from something in the enormous NCAA rulebook under bylaw 13.10 regarding publicity.

The school is currently looking into the matter. "Any time we receive a question, we do our due diligence and look into the matter and take the appropriate action," Auburn spokesman Kirk Sampson said.

On Sunday, Lane Kiffin was back in the news. While appearing in an "Outside the Lines" segment, the Tennessee coach was seen talking to a recruit, and as host Bob Ley said after the piece ended, it is possible that contact with the recruit, while in front of the media, constituted a recruiting violation.

Truth is, almost every program has at least a dozen secondary violations a year. Until recently, they almost never made news. Kiffin hasn't been shy about saying that his program's staying in the news has been a calculated maneuver on his part so he can get the Vols' profile back in the minds of prospective recruits all over the country.

To some extent, that approach appears to be working. If you take Kiffin at his word, that he has mapped things out to get this effect, it's surprising that he would be so up front about it.

It should be noted that usually these secondary violations, such as the ones Kiffin has been flagged for repeatedly this spring, are for pretty innocuous things. And he's not alone in getting snagged. He's just been the most vocal and the most up front about it. From talking to a lot of administrators around the country, there's growing concern about coaches getting more and more ambitious because "they figure, 'Why not? It'd only be a secondary violation anyhow.'" The challenge, they say, is for the NCAA to try to decipher what is actually "gaining a significant advantage" in the rules people's eyes.

"That is one of the biggest problems I have with the NCAA," one college administrator said this past week when asked about things such as Big Cat Weekend. "All of the prospects enjoyed it, and they leave the campus having a great time. Auburn will report a secondary violation, which is nothing. In the end, they will probably get some of those players. They should put in a rule that if you have multiple reported violations with a prospect, you are not allowed to recruit him."

Another source reasoned that it's "easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission."

This issue is part of why the recruiting landscape gets murkier by the day. You have lots of rules, some seemingly ill-conceived rules, and coaches who apparently don't worry that much about the punishments associated with violating some of these rules, which leads to a very weird mix.

One conference official said the NCAA recruiting rules have not transitioned into the digital age to keep up with new media. I agree that's part of it, but it's also due to the fact that the NCAA rulebook is suffocating under its own weight. There is so much minutia that it leaves too much of a gray area, which creates perhaps as many problems as it solves.

Auburn recently was turned in for a secondary violation stemming from a Facebook post that recruiting coordinator Curtis Luper allegedly left on the page of a top recruit that read, " ... lost my cell, so call me on this number 405-***-**** asap please!" If Luper had sent this message via e-mail, it would have been within the NCAA rules. The distinction, at least from here, seems really, really silly. (Not to mention the thought that you could have bogus accounts triggering whistleblowers all over the place.)

At the core of the NCAA rules is the aim to keep a level playing field for all its members. The NCAA didn't want "game-day simulations" because they would, and did, turn into the proverbial arms race, in which the schools with the most assets kept trying to outdo each other to woo the biggest recruits. The publicity rule is equally sticky. You think Heisman campaigns can be over the top; imagine what some of these programs might do if it was open season on recruits.

The problem is the added focus on recruiting means there's a bigger gray area in the rules and in the enforcement of them. Recruiting is big business, but now so is covering that business, which means bylaw 13.10 is coming into play more. Although, if you try asking the NCAA a question about what might be a rules violation, you find out that gray area can be pretty tricky to navigate.

To read the rest of Bruce's blog -- including more information on secondary violations, some bad news for Minnesota fans, and the new blog of ASU DE Dexter Davis reviewed -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider