The point is it’s pointless. Pitino and other coaches’ words are just words. They have no meaning. College basketball conferences don’t matter anymore. It’s 2012, and college athletics is big business.
We have schools with good basketball programs and subpar football programs bolting for “football superconferences.” Cast aside are the long-term ramifications of culture and tradition, replaced by the short-term lure of money.
You can’t sell conferences anymore. Back in the day, you could. Now, don’t even bother.
Rick Pitino led the Louisville Cardinals to a Big East tournament title in March. In 2014, his team will leave the Big East for the ACC.
Raise your hand if you know definitively the new conference allegiances? We ask our coaches to take NCAA compliance tests. How many of them could redistrict the country perfectly?
If following realignment is difficult for the insiders, imagine what a 17-year-old kid with hobbies, a social life and other interests thinks of this whole thing. The Big East will welcome two football schools from the Mountain West in 2013. Say that out loud. Better yet, explain that to a 17-year-old while he’s getting constant text messages from his girlfriend.
We aren’t raising a generation of ACC or Big East fans. We’re raising a generation of players who will grow up with less conference affiliation and more loyalty to specific programs.
My take is that the programs that individually promote themselves will be better served. We can’t expect colleges to hitch their wagon to a rent-a-conference and try to sell a recruit on allegiance to the league. The ACC isn’t as powerful a brand name as it was 10 years ago.
The new brand name with the most power is Kentucky basketball. But Kentucky basketball isn’t even the most powerful brand in its conference. That honor is bestowed upon SEC football.
To recruit in today’s culture, you’d better have a detailed plan that is easily differentiated from your peers. Don’t expect any help from your conference.
To succeed in today’s recruiting game you have to do the following:
1. Construct your own brand. Conference allegiance will not win a recruiting battle for the best point guard. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a recruit say, “I think I’m the best point guard and I want to play in [insert 1990s best league here].” Recruiting, now more than ever, is based on individuality and differentiation. The Syracuse 2-3 zone, Michigan State’s rebounding, VCU’s Havoc defense, Kentucky’s pipeline to the pros. If you can’t be easily identified, you’re dead in the water.
Think about the coaches on the hot seat. I’d be willing to bet the ones who get fired never established an identity unique to their program.
2. Sell player development. Today, high school kids have more trainers than coaches. The culture is individual player development. That’s what the kids want to hear they will receive from college programs. Winning games gets you in the door. Showing kids you will make them better gets you out of the living room with a commitment.
3. The NBA. Saying you produce players isn’t enough. Remember, this generation deals on the Internet in 140 characters or less. You’d better be able to show them how many draft picks you’ve had. Better yet, you’d better be able to show them how many lottery picks you’ve coached. Without these chips in the game, you’re way behind.
4. Take advantage of your facilities. Ten years ago, college basketball engaged in an arms race. We built colossal practice facilities, weight rooms and player lounges. Guess what? Now everybody has those. Not everyone sells it as well as the Wildcat Lodge in Lexington, but there are comparable structures. The winning programs find a way to sell it. If you have it and you’re not flaunting it, why’d you build it anyway? Take Oklahoma State. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve spoken with who have watched the YouTube clip of OSU’s players showing off their version of the Taj Mahal.
5. Strengthen your program from the inside out. These kids talk. They text. They tweet. They might not communicate verbally, but they do communicate with each other. Whether it’s recruits, coaches or parents of recruits talking, information is constantly exchanged and easy to obtain. The 13 guys you have on scholarship can make or break you.
It comes down to this: Will those guys you have in your program sell your program to the next kid on campus visiting? You’re a text message away from losing a kid. Scary, right? Every year coaches have to recruit their team back and plan for the future. That’s just the way it is.