Written by Dave Dulberg, USC blog contributor
On Tuesday afternoon, the USC athletic department held a thought-provoking conference featuring college coaches (Jim Mora Jr., Steve Sarkisian and Urban Meyer), high school coaches (Crenshaw's Robert Garrett and Mater Dei's Bruce Rollinson), athletic directors (eight of which hailed from the Pac-12), administrators from several of the BCS conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) and members of the NCAA enforcement committee on the rise of 7-on-7 football leagues and its effect on college recruiting.
"We want to be thought leaders on intellectual topics such as 7-on-7 football," USC's AD Pat Haden said. "Last year, we held a similar summit on agent awareness and wanted to continue focusing on issues that particularly effect collegiate sports. Today was a great learning experience for me, because everyone who talks about 7-on-7 does so with a negative connotation. But, there are a lot of good things that go along with it."
Former USC wideout Keyshawn Johnson was in attendance and stood at the forefront of conversation pertaining to how these alternative leagues could actually benefit some high school athletes in the long run.
"There are certain kids that just don't fit in with their high school schemes," said Johnson, who coaches a Westlake Village 7-on-7 team called the 1925 All-Stars. "If you have a wide receiver who is looking to go to a school like Washington State, where Mike Leach is going to throw the ball 100 times a game, but he plays on a high school team that runs the veer-option, how is he ever going to get the chance to showcase his skills? He's not and that's where 7-on-7 comes in."
While several of the attendees issued concerns about how third parties were corrupting these supposedly beneficial leagues, Johnson said the label "third party" needs to be cleared up when it comes to 7-on-7 football.
"I hear the term a lot 'pay for play' and it always is associated with these 7-on-7 coaches or operators but that's just not the case," said Johnson. "The people that we should all be concerned about are these off-season trainers who want to make our kids bigger, faster and stronger. As 7-on-7 coaches, we spend a few days each month with these kids. These trainers spend hours on end with them."
On top of issues dealing with 7-on-7 football, several of the college coaches voiced their concerns about the limitations put on recruiting schedules under the current NCAA rules.
"We can talk about 7-on-7 football all we want, but the real disconnect is the relationship between the college coaches, the athletes and their parents," said UW coach Steve Sarkisian. "As a coach, it's hard to really build a relationship with these players given the time frame we are allotted and the number of players we have to look at."
The summit ended by participants splitting off into small groups, in an effort to form some short conclusions on the role 7-on-7 football should play in recruiting down the line. The general consensus was that the communication lines need to improve between the NCAA and coaches at the high school, 7-on-7 and college levels.
"I'm a coaches' coach," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. "Whatever I can do to make the process easier for high school coaches, I will. College basketball has already been lost due to AAU basketball. We cannot afford to have the same thing happen to college football."
After an afternoon of intense debate and impassioned speeches, everyone left Founder's Room optimistic about the event's long-term effects.
"We couldn't be happier about the turnout and the quality of people that were in this room," said USC's senior associate AD Mark Jackson. "When you get this many experts on the front lines from a variety of angles you're never quite sure where the conservation will go. But, I think everyone's eyes were opened a little bit today."