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Experiences of Top Recruits Point to Need for NCAA Reforms

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Sports Illustrated and CBSsports.com earlier this month independently published separate analyses of top-100 men's college basketball recruits that respectively examine the rising number of high school decommitments and incidents of illegal contact between college coaches and student-athletes.

One look at these reports sheds a whole new light on why the NCAA suddenly has developed a case of reform fever.

CBSsports.com's report involved interviews about illegal coach-to-prospect contact with a dozen top-100 prospects. Four adamantly denied any illegal contact, and one "left the door slightly open," according to the website.

What about the others? One made three calls to colleges after finding out from his AAU coach that the schools were interested in him—currently an NCAA violation. (Prospects can't make calls while they're playing in AAU summer tournaments.) Duke men's coach Mike Krzyzewski recently found himself in some possible hot water after contacting a recruit between his AAU tournaments.

Another prospect told CBSsports.com that a college asked him to call during the summer, but he refused after hearing about Coach K's possible violation. A third told the site that certain coaches would "accidentally" text him to work around the NCAA's no-contact rule.

Lo and behold, the NCAA Division I Leadership Council decided to deregulate text messaging and other social-media communication between coaches and prospects two weeks ago.

As NCAA President Mark Emmert said at a press conference after his presidents retreat last week: "I don't think there's anyone that disagrees that the NCAA rule book is too big and too complex [currently]."

A Slew of Decommitments

Sports Illustrated went a bit further in its examination of commitment trends by tracking every top-100 recruit from the classes of 2007 through 2011, as determined by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index. (The RSCI combines roughly 25 recruiting experts' top-100 rankings to create a consensus ranking for each high school class.)

SI tracked each student-athlete's path through high school, the recruiting process, and college, counting the number of commitments/decommitments and transfers. What it uncovered, especially in terms of the number of high school transfers, may shock you.

In total, 39.2 percent of the 502 students in the data sample attended more than one high school, including stops at private prep schools. The trend only appears to be accelerating, too. Twenty-six percent of the class of 2007 attended more than one high school, with the average number of high schools attended in the class coming in at 1.4. In the class of 2011, 47 percent of recruits had attended more than one high school, and the average number of high schools attended jumped to 1.7.

Why do these numbers matter? According to SI's data, players who attended more than one high school were nearly twice as likely to decommit from a college than a player who only attended a single high school. While 38 of the 307 single-high-school recruits decommited in the five-year period (12.4 percent), 45 of the 195 multiple-high-school recruits had a decommitment on their record.

SI interviewed the players who decommited to understand their reasoning, and divided their explanations into two main categories: "school factors," where something about the college caused the player to change his mind (coaches changing jobs, postseason bans, etc.), or "player factors," where the player was the catalyst. In total, 37.4 percent of decommitments occurred because of "school factors."

Unlike the high school transfer numbers, decommitments have remained relatively steady over the five-year period, going from 14 percent in the class of 2007 to 18 percent in the class of 2011. Overall, 16.3 percent of top-100 recruits decommited from colleges in that time frame.

The SI reporters didn't find a correlation between high school transfers and college transfers in the data. Top-100 prospects who attended more than one high school transferred 23.7 percent of the time in college, while single-high-school prospects transferred 21.3 percent of the time in college.

But there was a correlation between top-100 prospects who decommited from colleges and players who decided to transfer in college. A player who decommited ended up transferring 30.8 percent of the time, while prospects who stayed with their first college choice only transferred at a 20.5 percent clip. Almost one-fourth of the top-100 recruits transferred in college; roughly 2.5 times the average Division I rate for student-athletes.

Unlike decommitments, college transfers for the top-100 recruits were largely player-driven—only 12 percent of transfers were attributable to school factors. SI did note that 15.7 percent of Division I head coaching jobs changed hands in the 2010 offseason, with that number rising to 16.1 percent of jobs in the 2011 offseason.

That's why it's worth listening when college powerhouses like SEC commissioner Mike Slive toss out ideas like boosting minimum academic requirements for incoming freshman student-athletes, going from a 2.0 to a 2.5 GPA. It's not exactly asking teams to maintain a Dean's List average, but it's nevertheless an improvement on the current model.

Will decommitments and transfers ever completely fade away in college sports, especially within the ranks of top-100 recruits? Just like concussions, the answer is almost certainly no.

But asking more of incoming student-athletes academically could cut down on some of the bouncing around currently occurring at the high school level. And look at that—the NCAA is expected to take the issue up in October.

Photo: Duke freshman Austin Rivers shoots during NCAA college basketball practice in Durham, N.C. on Tuesday. The Blue Devils are preparing for an upcoming trip to China and Dubai. Rivers originally committed to Florida back in 2008, then decommitted and chose Duke in 2010. (Gerry Broome/AP)

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