On a slow spring day last week, the Utah Utes announced they are spending $8.5 million to build 10,502-square-foot video board at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which will be the largest of its kind in Pac-12 football.
By comparison, Arizona’s once-mammoth video board is now, by Utah’s standards, a puny 5,264 square feet.
College football never shifts into neutral and shuts down. Competition within the Pac-12 forever rages: Who’s got the best breakfast buffet at their $75 million football plant? Who built the best barber shop next to the players’ video lounge?
USC, which lists 28 full-time positions on its bloated football coaching staff, has created jobs for “director of NFL research” and another for “chief of staff.”
Once you get past all the excess, nothing matters more than recruiting. Since Arizona was absorbed by the Pac-8 in 1978, the Wildcats have been encumbered by a recruiting deficit that is inherent to Tucson’s geographic isolation.
Do you realize that Rich Rodriguez’s five Arizona recruiting classes have included just four players from Tucson who weren’t walk-ons? Salpointe Catholic’s Kaelin DeBoskie, Cam Denson and Justin Holt, and Tucson High’s Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.
By comparison, Cal’s last five recruiting classes have included 43 players from the greater Northern California territory, including franchise quarterback Jared Goff, who was found in nearby Kentfield, California.
Do you know when Arizona last found a full-time starting quarterback in Tucson? It was 40 years ago. Jim Krohn, Amphi, 1976.
Sometimes you wonder how Arizona is able to compete with those in vast population centers.
Finally, last summer, RichRod and his recruiting lieutenant, Matt Dudek, were successful in getting a bigger piece of recruiting turf. The Wildcats staged so-called “satellite” evaluation camps in Honolulu, Phoenix and in seven California cities: Fresno, Sacramento, Oceanside, Harbor City, Temecula, Newbury Park and Corona.
It helped to put Arizona on the map, even if it really isn’t.
Alas, last week the NCAA made all of that illegal.
The loudest objection came from Washington State’s Mike Leach. Good for him. No one in the Pac-12 is more isolated than WSU. Unfortunately, the NCAA’s decision all but said, in capital letters:
LOS ANGELES BELONGS TO USC AND UCLA. KEEP OUT.
This will forever be known as the Jim Harbaugh rule. That’s because Michigan’s coach boldly held satellite camps all over SEC territory, a rich-gets-richer ploy that triggered almost unprecedented hurry-up legislation from the NCAA.
The SEC was aghast that schools like Michigan were aggressively raiding their recruiting borders. Even Rutgers held satellite camps in Florida. So did Nebraska and Ohio State, although they were more discreet, unlike Harbaugh, who probably brought too much in-your-face attention to the traveling camps.
Now a school can’t hold a camp unless it’s on campus, or at its local football stadium.
As with many things in college football, this rule change hurts the Little Guys. It hurts Arizona, it hurts Washington State, and it hurts Utah, no matter how big its scoreboard will be.
Leach’s WSU staff spent a week in California last summer, holding recruiting camps in San Diego, Los Angeles, Sacramento and in the Bay Area. He estimated that the Cougars were able to introduce themselves to about 600 California high school prospects; almost none of them would have been able to afford a get-to-know-you trip to faraway Pullman, Washington.
If you like the underdog, you admired the spunk of the schools not named UCLA, USC and Stanford.
Arizona teamed with the Nevada Wolf Pack coaching staff to hold camps in Fresno and Sacramento.
Colorado State staged two camps in Texas and another in Los Angeles. So did Utah.
Oregon State, hoping to get a piece of the rich Polynesian recruiting turf in Utah, held a summer camp in Salt Lake City. Little old Portland State held a camp in Seattle.
Arizona realized an immediate profit from its Hawaii 2015 summer camp. It forged a relationship with four-star offensive lineman Michael Eletise, who in February became the marquee signee of the UA’s class of 2016.
ESPN reported that the Pac-12 voted against satellite camps. If true, it must’ve been a contested issue. It’s difficult to imagine Arizona, WSU, Oregon State, Colorado and Utah agreeing to give up a bridge to more up-close recruiting contact.
If there is any good in the ban of satellite camps it’s that high school coaches might’ve gotten too chummy with the traveling coaching circus, third-party conflicts that have contaminated the summer AAU basketball operation.
“I’ll bring my top four players to your camp instead of the Oregon camp,” a coach might say. “But, you know, they’re paying me $2,000 as a consultant. Can you beat that?”
The greater loser is probably the fringe high school prospect. He’ll now be evaluated by and introduced to fewer college coaches.
For the last 30 years, Arizona has worked the backwaters, discovering fringe prospects like Chuck Cecil, Tedy Bruschi and Scooby Wright in places where USC and UCLA did not tread.
Arizona has always had to work harder to outrecruit the other guy, and sometimes it works. But most of the time those who sign with the Bruins and Trojans don’t know if it’s Tucson or Tuscon.