On a sun-baked Tuesday morning on the western fringe of the city of Doral, a grinning Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley stood surrounded by about 400 South Florida high school football players in the middle of a recreational park.
A sunny day in South Florida + Unrestricted access to this many players = a football coach's recruiting utopia.
Riley was in town to serve as a coach at a satellite football camp staged by Florida A&M University. His staff of 15 was working the camp along with college coaches from schools like Rutgers, UMass, Marshall and Colorado. And now they were running all of those kids through 40-yard dash drills and other basic football exercises to determine which South Florida players to take most seriously as the day progressed.
Nebraska would identify about six for further film review and possible offers. They awarded two offers on the spot, to Miami Southridge defensive back Decaprio Bootle, who wowed them with a 4.38 40-yard dash, and to 2017 Miami Columbus cornerback Trajan Bandy. They spent a lot of time with Miami Southridge receivers Freddie Pinder, who already had an offer, and Kemore Gamble. Miami Columbus 2018 CB Josh Jobe, two days off his commitment to Miami, also garnered a lot of attention along with 2018 linebacker A.J. Brathwaite from Pembroke Pines Flanagan.
"It's special," Riley said of the skill talent in Florida. "You look at this state overall in terms of top prospects and it's always in the top 3.The neat thing for us today is we saw kids from freshman year to senior year, so we got a pretty good overall picture today."
The trip to South Florida was one of five camps Nebraska coaches were working this week from coast to coast. They left Miami feeling it was well worth their trouble, the latest walking examples of why satellite football camps are one of the greatest controversies in college football right now.
NCAA rules permit football programs to hold camps on their campuses, inside their states or within a 50-mile radius of campus. But coaches can also work at the camp of another school unless their conference forbids attendance, which is why Nebraska was at FAMU's camp.
The Big 10, Pac 12 and Big 12 decided to also allow their coaches to attend satellite camps. The SEC and the ACC forbid the practice. So some schools, including the University of Miami, are not allowed to attend them for that reason and that disparity is creating unfair advantages right now on the recruiting landscape.
Everyone agrees that by next year there needs to be a uniform policy throughout college football. It's unfair that some schools get to go to try out recruits in areas too far away to attend the on-campus camps that most coaches operate and some schools do not. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and staff were working the FAU camp Wednesday and Michigan was also recently in Florida mining for talent.
But there is a lot of division on the subject. A school like Miami, which gets the majority of its talent in Florida, has less need to travel around the country for camps than a school like Nebraska, which gets more players from out-of-state. Other smaller schools like UMass, for example, find camps like these invaluable in identifying second-tier players that it can recruit.
"I don't even know why there is such an uproar about the travel camps or the so-called satellite camps," Riley told HuskerOnline Tuesday in Doral. "Really all it is is opportunity for kids. It's kids that maybe get a new door opened up because of a chance to work with some coaches in a different part of the country. There's nothing wrong with that.
"Everybody kind of comes at it from their own angle. If you are in an area that's fairly heavily populated or with lots of possible scholarship players in your state, then generally like the SEC or schools in Texas or South California, they don't have a need for it. So if they were to have vote, they'd vote against it. The way I see it, nobody should really worry about it, because it's just about the opportunity for the kids. It might open a door for a kid that really never would've had a chance before. There are guys that come out of the wood work at these camps that aren't on all the lists. The camp really helps them. I know everybody has what they think is ownership, but there really is no border in recruiting. Nobody has really ever talked about that. Kids have gone to school all over the country for years and years and years. If they're looking for an opportunity and you are looking for an opportunity, I'm not sure there's anything wrong with that."
Michigan has been showcasing its new coach, Jim Harbaugh, at a series of satellite camps around the country. Harbaugh is calling it his "Summer Swarm" Tour. Nine locations were picked for their proximity to strong recruiting areas. The schedule read like this:
June 4 - Bishop Chatard Football Camp, Indianapolis
June 5 - Prattville Elite Football Camp, Prattville, Ala.
June 6 - USF One Day Camp, Tampa
June 7 - Lauren's First & Goal Camp, Easton, Pa.
June 8 - Aldine "Elite" College Football Camp, Houston
June 9 - Dallas Showtyme Elite Football Camp, Grand Prairie, Texas
June 10 - Mission Viejo Football Camp, Mission Viejo, Calif.
June 11 - DB Guru Football Camp, Fresno, Calif.
June 12 - Sound Mind Sound Body Camp, Detroit
To say satellite camps have been good to Harbaugh and the Wolverines would be an understatement. When Harbaugh took his shirt off at the camp at Pratville High in Alabama, the pictures went viral, garnering him an enormous amount of publicity he never even counted on. Michigan got a couple commits from Alabama in the process, running back Kingston Davis and linebacker Dytarious Johnson.
Michigan also picked up two Sunshine State commits as a direct result of its participation at the USF Camp -- Delray Beach Atlantic's Antwaine Richardson and Cooper City High DE Rashad Weaver, an under the radar recruit because he played quarterback in Indiana as a sophomore and because Cooper City is not a heavily recruited school. He played defensive end and some tackle last year.
Weaver's entire recruitment from Michigan happened over a few days. On June 6, he camped in front of the Michigan staff in Tampa. He made the trip largely because he noticed they would be there. He had never spoken to anybody from Michigan before that night. But when players were stretching, the Michigan staff noticed him. At a lanky 6-5 and 245 pounds, he was hard to miss.
Weaver started out at defensive end and then was moved to tight end by the coaches to showcase his abilities at that position. Two days later, he picked up a Michigan offer, learning from coaches that they liked him as an athlete who could play on either side of the ball. Four days after that he committed to the Wolverines even though he has never even visited the campus.
"Thankful to say after taking the time with my mom to make this decision in my life, I have decided to commit to the University of Michigan," Weaver posted on his Twitter account. "I would like to thank Coach Harbaugh and the Michigan staff for seeing my potential and accepting my commitment."
The only other contenders for Weaver were Illinois and Syracuse. He attended the Al Golden camp at Miami a couple weeks ago, but did not receive an offer. He is expected to be at the Miami camp again this weekend.
"I could have not went to that camp and talked to Jay Harbaugh or coach (Jim) Harbaugh. and they probably never would have found me," Weaver said. "Once I learned [more about] the Michigan coaches, there was no reason for them not to be number one. It's a big decision, so I [didn't want] to rush. It's also time to get the decision out of the way a little bit, so it's not a distraction during football season. I still have the last year of [high school] football, and that's what I'm focusing on right now."
All of this satellite camp debate first became a big issue last summer when Penn State's James Franklin partnered with camps at Stetson and Georgia State, ruffling the feathers of ACC and SEC coaches. Harbaugh raised the bar this summer with his nine-stop national tour.
"If we're all going to travel all over the country to have satellite camps, you know, how ridiculous is that?" Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "A head coach is not allowed to go out during an evaluation period in the spring, but you can have a satellite camp anywhere in the country to bring your staff in and bring players to it. Does that make any sense to anybody."
Allowing coaches like Harbaugh and Meyer free rein in Florida impacts the built-in advantage that Miami, Florida and FSU have in one of the nation's hottest states for prep talent.
The SEC is expected to soon propose national legislation that would ban participation in satellite camps. The SEC has said that if the measure banning satellite camp participation doesn't pass that it will join the fray next summer. The ACC presumably would also dive in and then you would have a satellite camp free-for-all in college football that would make a mockery of established recruiting periods.
"Right now we intend to keep our conference agreement [with the SEC] as is and push for a national rule that prohibits it," ACC Commisioner John Swofford said. "We just don't feel like it's a healthy part of the recruiting process in college football. We may have to ultimately reconsider it if the rules continue to allow it, because we're not going to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting if we were to feel like we were disadvantaged. But our primary purpose right now is to try to gain support for a national rule that prohibits it."
Al Golden told me he can't imagine taking his staff on the road for 10 days and leaving the home base of South Florida unprotected. Miami is constantly receiving unofficial visitors at this time of year and has been stacking up commitments for 2016, 2017 and even 2018.
It will be interesting to see who wins this debate in the coming months. But the disparity they are creating right now is indisputable.