On January 19 the NCAA Division I board of directors approved a large package of rules changes—effective August 1—aimed at creating more “common sense” policies in areas like recruiting. The most notable changes are Proposals 11-2 and 11-4, which wiped out an entire section of the Division I rulebook restricting certain recruiting functions to coaching staffs. Without these limitations, schools may theoretically employ any number of outside staff to scout, contact and recruit players.

The existing rules limit “recruiting coordination functions” to the coaching staff. In the bowl subdivision, a school cannot employ more than nine assistant coaches and four graduate assistants—and only seven of these coaches may recruit off-campus. Proposal 11-4 eliminates the off-campus limit, while 11-2 removes any reference to “recruiting coordination,” meaning those functions no longer have to be performed by one of the 14 coaches (the head coach and the maximum 13 assistants).

Proposal 11-4 only eliminates the off-campus recruiting distinction with respect to coaches, however, so non-coaching staff still cannot watch a potential recruit play in-person or conduct home visits. But under Proposal 11-2, staff can do just about everything else, including make telephone calls or send e-mail and text messages to recruits. As NCAA rules expert John Infante noted last August when the proposed changes were announced, this is already taking place in spite of the existing prohibitions:

If you were to rank which rules are broken most often, I would put [limits on “recruiting coordination functions”] right near the top, especially in football. If you asked most non-coaching football staff if they can watch film of a recruit or call a recruit’s coach, they would almost universally say they could. That especially applies to schools with large and sophisticated recruiting operations which heavily involve non-coaching staff.

we may be looking at the early development of NFL-style personnel departments at the college level

In conjunction with another measure adopted last week, Proposal 13-3, we’re seeing a significant retreat from the NCAA’s traditional micromanagement role. Under 13-3, there are no longer limits on the number of telephone calls or electronic communications a school can make to a recruit. As with recruiting coordination, the NCAA acknowledges it’s simply become too difficult to police every school’s calls and messages.

It’s certainly too early to know how the new rules will transform recruiting, but as Infante suggests, we may be looking at the early development of NFL-style personnel departments at the college level:

The potential model of recruiting that develops is very clear. A general manager/director of player personnel will have a staff of recruiting coordinators who do much of the early grunt work in recruiting. They’ll watch film, gauge interest, rank prospects, and evaluate needs. The coaching staff will go see top targets in person, invite prospects on visits, and go see recruits at home or at school. The player personnel staff and the coaching staff will then meet to make decisions and send offers.

This would alter not just the relationship between schools and recruits, but also the colleges and the NFL. Building new personnel infrastructure will naturally lead many schools—especially in the SEC —to lure away scouts and personnel evaluators from the NFL. Just as we’ve seen significant movement by coaches from the pro to college ranks (particularly among assistants), we may now find eager young front office talent looking for better opportunities with Alabama or LSU instead of the lower tier of the NFL. And we may see an even greater exodus of assistant coaches from the NFL as one of the biggest drawbacks to working in the college game—recruiting minutiae—is shifted to a full-time personnel department.

Of course, this also means schools spending even more money on football, something the NCAA bureaucracy and smaller conferences constantly fear. This new “deregulation” is clearly an attempt to appease the football and basketball powers: We’ll cut out the rules we can’t enforce anyway, and you promise not to cause any more major scandals. More likely, we’re witnessing the first stages of NCAA breakup. Now that the bureaucracy is in full retreat on recruiting, the SEC and its sister conferences have every incentive to seek further deregulation.

It’s also important to note that the conferences may step into the void and adopt new regulations themselves. There’s nothing to stop the SEC, for example, from limiting the potential growth of outside recruiting staff. Now that the conferences are free to experiment with such rules, it may facilitate development of a new college football alliance that will eventually displace the NCAA altogether.

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