LARGO – Hours before the first tipoff of recruitment showcases around the country on June 22, Gwynn Park High School boys basketball Head Coach Rob Garner sent a message via his Twitter account that reflected his thoughts on how state public school officials handled the new rules in terms of college recruitment.
The tweet showed a video of his team completing summer workouts with the message “We create our own LIVE PERIOD!!!” When asked about the message, Garner said he wanted to make one thing clear: Maryland public schools are losing out.
“For some kids, this was their one opportunity to be in front of college coaches,” Garner said. “And the state dropped the ball on this one.”
As the final set of live recruitment period games finished up on June 28-30, Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) coaches voiced their frustrations at the process which did not allow their players to participate, stating that their student-athletes missed out on an opportunity to compete for college scholarships.
Following the 2018 FBI investigation in college basketball recruiting, the NCAA, the organization that runs college athletes, introduced a new event that would “reduce the leverage of harmful outside influences on high school recruits and college student-athletes,” according to a press release.
Live period events, scheduled for the last two weekends in June, were established and needed to be approved by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) or the NCAA itself. The events would be organized by groups affiliated with the federations or their coaching associations.
As guidelines were released, the NFHS announced the decision to give power to each state association to decide if they were going to run an event.
“Every state is unique in their athletic structure and resources,” Senior Director of Operations, National High School Basketball Coaches Association Dave Archer said. “Therefore, each state athletic governing body and state basketball coaches association will ultimately decide if they want to seek NFHS approval to host and operate a D-I men’s basketball June Scholastic recruiting event.”
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) is the arm of the NFHS that represents all the public schools in the state. They ultimately decided not to run a live event or have their schools participate in events happening locally.
Virginia joined Maryland and did not participate as well, declining to join private schools in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association for a joint event. Washington, D.C. public schools had their own event and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, a non-NFHS member, ran their showcase event out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville called DMV Live with the permission of the NCAA.
While not speaking for MPSSAA’s final ruling, PGCPS Athletics Coordinating Supervisor Earl Hawkins said that insurance liabilities and Title IX implications played a factor in the decision. The showcases are intended only for boys basketball and no girls equivalent was established. Once the decision was made, all athletic directors were to advise their coaches, Hawkins said.
Sanctioning also played a huge role in the state’s decision. Currently, players and coaches are not affiliated by the schools when they play in summer league tournaments, which are viewed as non-sanctioned events outside of normal competition hours. The threat of an injury during a non-sanctioned competition is a huge concern as it leaves the question of who is liable, Hawkins said.
“The NCAA put in a stipulation that the state associations would sanction these school teams,” Hawkins said. “Number one, we do not have school teams in the summer and number two, the state cannot sanction those teams in the summer.”
Before the NCAA’s rule change, players would play together in high profile tournaments, sponsored by shoe companies, with their AAU teams. However, most travel teams require out-of-pocket expenses that many public school children cannot afford, Garner said.
Bladensburg High School Head Coach Antonio Williams agreed, adding that the live period “evens out the playing field” and allow more students to be looked at by more coaches that would have not recognized them before.
“What we got to understand as well is that these are the kids that are the cream with other students as well academically because not only are they basketball players, they are student athletics,” Williams said. “They have the grades; they do the necessary things, they are the leaders of the school and in most cases, leaders of the community as well.”
A future concern could be students electing to transfer out of their current public schools to head to a private school for better athletic opportunities. One week ago, Willie Rivera was a part of the building blocks for another 4A state championship run for Eleanor Roosevelt.
On June 29, it was confirmed that the rising sophomore transferred to Rock Creek Christian Academy and participated the second weekend of live periods in front of college coaches. Meanwhile, his former teammates played against DuVal in a Summer Madness Summer League game where no college coaches attended.
“I think this puts us in a disadvantage,” Williams said. “This gives the private schools another advantage to use at a kid and tell them ‘hey you cannot even play in a live period’ and if I am a parent, I am very interested in that topic as well.”
When asked if a solution would come soon, Hawkins said he is unsure if state officials will adopt a complete rule change before the next live period session next year. For coaches like Williams and Garner, the solution should be simple: let them play.
“We are supposed to be in positions to service our kids and I’m just having a hard time trying to figure out why we could not get this together to service the kids,” Garner said. “How many kids did we disservice in two weekends? We are talking about hundreds of kids…But this was a free opportunity for a child, a gift that can be life-changing.”
Frederick Douglass High School boys basketball Head Coach Tyrone Massenburg said he remains optimistic. While frustrated that a solution could not have been reached before the first live periods began, he hopes that more coaches are participating in the law-creating process moving forward.
“We just need to find a different way,” Massenburg said. “We know the situation and I am not whining about it. I can still find schools for my kids while trying to help find a solution to the problem. Instead of just talking about it, we got to put something in motion.”
MPSSAA officials were reached out for a request of an interview or comment. Emails and calls were not returned.