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Pat Fitzgerald speaks out against NCAA's satellite camp ban

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Fitzgerald is disappointed with the NCAA's decision to ban teams from operating off-campus satellite camps for high school recruits.

"There was somewhere in between what we were doing and a ban," Fitzgerald said Saturday after Northwestern's final spring practice. "I think this is an overreaction."

After Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh drew considerable media attention this offseason around his camp in Florida, the NCAA Division I Council voted to ban all future satellite camps. Apparently the SEC and ACC had seen enough and decided to push against satellite camps. The Big Ten was the only power conference that voted in favor of satellite camps.

Northwestern operates an annual summer "satellite" camp in Evanston for various Chicago-area athletes. However, the program will no longer be able to attract any FBS recruiters to the event.

Fitzgerald argued that the decision would hurt athletes from low-income backgrounds who cannot make unofficial visits to Group of Five schools in the Midwest.

"Our camp last year, that falls into the satellite camps — it's on our campus... We started that to try to help the Chicagoland kids, especially those without financial means, to where they didn't have to try to go to Bowling Green, Kent, Akron... But if we brought all those schools here, the kids could go to one spot."

Fitzgerald indicated that the camp would continue, but the lack of FBS scholarships available coming out of the camp will reduce opportunities for high school football players.

"I don't think anybody in the SEC and ACC would be upset about Northern Illinois coming to our campus," Fitzgerald said. "We had coaches from Wyoming, Nevada, Air Force, Buffalo...That Group of Five full-ride scholarship opportunity is not gonna be a part of the showcase anymore, and I just think that it's wrong."

Fitzgerald was particularly annoyed that the decision was so rushed. He described the decision as a "kneejerk" reaction and wished that the NCAA could have taken more time to consider the issue.

"Why don't we sit here and have a discussion?" Fitzgerald wondered. "If you don't want the Power 65 schools to leave campus, then great. Then let the Group of Five leave."

While Northwestern would probably not have started a satellite camp in the South, this does show that SEC, Big 12 and ACC teams are worried about other conferences taking recruits from their home turfs. Northwestern has already made serious recruiting inroads into Texas and this decision blocks any chance that Northwestern could start a satellite camp elsewhere in the future. Fitzgerald was dismayed that the NCAA made such a sweeping, hasty decision without trying to develop a compromise.

Recruits who already received less exposure due to financial or personal constraints will now have a more difficult time getting recognition on a national level.

"Part of what our job is as college coaches is providing an opportunity, even to those who don't have the financial means," Fitzgerald said. "And I'm disappointed that it's gone this way."

Northwestern, in many respects, could be a good fit for many of these players as it generally doesn't get most of the top recruits to begin with. While Northwestern has not elected to run a satellite camp, it is one of the schools that could reap the benefits of an out-of-region camp. The decision may not mean much to a big name school like Michigan, but for Northwestern and other FBS programs, this does cut off a potential avenue for expansion.

As Northwestern has realized, going to football-rich southern states and adding talented players is a very useful strategy. The decision to ban satellite camps may not mean very much practically, but symbolically it shows that schools like Alabama, Florida and LSU are worried about the encroachment of the Big Ten into their turf, no matter what Nick Saban says about the camps being a "pretty ridiculous circumstance". But the main problem with the decision, as Fitzgerald opined, is that it seriously hurts opportunities for student-athletes in the future.