For the last few offseasons, college football’s “satellite camps” have found the national spotlight. That’s a term for skills clinics conducted by college football coaches somewhere other than than a staff’s home campus, which are often attended by coaches from other schools.
The regulations here are hard to follow; one coaching staff can hold a camp at its own facilities, and other teams’ coaches can show up, and we call those camps “satellite camps” for everyone else involved. The camps give players a chance to learn valuable skills and gain the notice of college coaches, and they give coaches a chance to recruit the players who attend the camps. In that sense, they’re a win-win.
The NCAA briefly banned and then unbanned satellite camps before last season. The debate was sort of complicated, but the basic dynamic was this: coaches at schools in talented recruiting areas (like the Southeast, in particular) wanted the camps banned, while coaches in more barren footprints (like Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh) wanted the camps to survive. The idea was that coaches in the areas with the most elite high school talent would prefer to keep outside coaches as far away from their geographic areas as possible. The SEC was firmly against satellite camps, on the whole.
In 2016, Alabama coach Nick Saban said satellite camps were “bad for college football.” He called the camps the “wild, wild West” and said they weren’t well-regulated.
Here’s Saban then, via ESPN:
"Until this satellite camp issue came up, you still had to go to the high school, go through the coach, and players came to your camp if they were interested in learning," Saban said. "By doing what we're doing now, we're doing what we do in every other sport that we're complaining about every day -- AAU basketball and all this.
"Anybody can have a camp now. If they have a prospect, they can have a camp. Then you're expected to go to that camp and they can use you to promote their camp because Ohio State is coming, Alabama is coming, whoever else is coming.
"Someone sponsors the camp, they pay them the money. What do they do with the money? And who makes sure the kid paid to go to camp?
Saban’s description of the satellite camp ecosystem is not incorrect. Coaches from smaller schools regularly invite coaches from bigger schools to attend their camps in their states. The idea is that if high-profile coaches show up at a given camp, it makes it likelier that better players will show up there, too. And even if a coach at a big school woos the best players, the rest of the coaches on hand still get better recruiting chances. Opportunities about for both players and coaches.
Last year, the existence of the camps was in doubt. And earlier this year, the NCAA limited the camps so they could only be held on college campuses. (That means, for instance, that a college can’t hold “its own” satellite camp at a local high school.) But the camps are still surviving, and now Saban’s showing up at them.
Charlie Strong, the former Texas and Louisville coach, is now in charge at the University of South Florida. Strong’s USF Bulls held a camp on Saturday, and look who showed:
Nick Saban arrives to his first satellite camp pic.twitter.com/fX4GtrprYA— Josh Newberg (@joshnewberg247) June 10, 2017
Ohio State’s Urban Meyer Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen were also set to appear. Alabama assistants were previously expected to show, but it appears Saban’s presence was a surprise. Meyer’s Buckeyes are one of the few programs who can recruit on a level anywhere near Saban’s in Tuscaloosa. Maybe Meyer’s presence lured Saban.
College football recruiting is a weird industry. Its rules and protocols change often, with the most obvious recent examples being satellite camps and the introduction of a December signing day for the 2018 recruiting class. That means coaches have to adapt on the fly, and if you’re worried about looking hypocritical, you’ve got no shot.
But the one thing that never changes is that coaches will go where they need to go to find the best players. If there’s talent at satellite camps, coaches will find their way there — no matter what they’ve said publicly about the camps in the past.