Taking (and failing) the most important test all NCAA coaches must pass

It’s a 30 question test. You can miss up to six answers and still pass. Seven or more incorrect, you fail.

I missed seven.

Guess I’ll never be a football coach, after all. Or any coach, for that matter.

Tuesday, June 23, 9 a.m., Mississippi State football team meeting room

Once a year, every coach in the NCAA has to pass a recruiting test. If you don’t pass it, you don’t recruit. If you don’t recruit, you don’t have a job.

unnamedGil Grimes is the Assistant SEC Commissioner for Legislative Services, easier explained as the compliance guy for the Southeastern Conference, and it is he who A) proctors the tests for conference staffs and B) allowed me to sit in and take the exam at Mississippi State Tuesday morning. Perhaps I should add that he is also C) the one who failed me.

“You were close, though,” he said with a laugh.

Darn close. Of course, if I were actually a coach, I could take it again soon and [hopefully] pass.

But the test didn’t happen until 10. At 9, Grimes began speaking to the group present to take the test that morning. A few head coaches, many assistants and several members of support staffs. Baseball, tennis, track, football, basketball – most teams and sports were represented, but not all. Those coaches will take the test another day.

For the next hour, Grimes held a review session with those who were there, hitting the high points of what the test is likely to include, going over some verbiage that has commonly caused issues and reviewing changes to the new manual which had just been handed out to those who didn’t have it, myself included. Typically, he says, they review new legislation, but there actually wasn’t any this time.

“There will be several changes next year, however,” he told the group.

It’s good he reviewed some of the specifics beforehand, though, or else I would have failed by much more. For example, Grimes explained, the NCAA manual and the test it gives uses the word “commit,” but not in the verbal and relatively meaningless sense most of the public use it for.

“If you see the word commit, that means someone who has signed their Letter of Intent,” he said. “That’s where we’ve had a lot of people miss questions.”

Additionally, if you see reference on the test to a “representative of athletic interest,” that refers to a booster. Many people, Grimes shared, see that phrase and interpret it to be a coach or athletic administrator of some sort.

From there, Grimes guided us on a quick journey through the NCAA Division I Manual, a thick, detailed and mentally exhausting compilation of NCAA laws, by-laws, regulations, exceptions and the like.

Section, he reminded us, serves as notice that coaches cannot endorse recruiting services.

13.6.3 is the rule requiring that recruits must present proof of completion of a standardized test before they can take official visits.

“That one seems to be hard for us,” MSU Director of Compliance Bracky Brett interrupted to say, mostly joking but subtly reminding his coaches. – permissible reasons to cancel aid (ineligibility, fraud, serious misconduct or volunteering), and just below, reasons you can’t cancel aid agreements (performance, injury/illness).

Several pages earlier, refers to exceptions in the recruiting calendar where coaches can attend events like the Olympics or the World Cup.

Carrier pigeon: probably not an NCAA-approved method of communication

Carrier pigeon: probably not an NCAA-approved method of communication

There’s even an entire section on the definition of a phone call. Spoiler: you can make a phone call without using a telephone.

There are by-laws on envelope sizes, collect calls and even on how one can use various Microsoft products.

“It’s kind of an antiquated by-law,” Grimes said, “but we have restrictions on PowerPoint.”

I laughed and darted my eyes to MSU baseball coach John Cohen, the famed PowerPoint presenter who was sitting in the front row directly in front of Grimes.

Around 9:45, I saw another head coach on the front row look into his empty coffee cup, rub his eyes with both hands, then pick his pencil back up and continue taking notes. They must think I’m crazy to sit through this and take the test of my own accord.

It wasn’t all bad, though.

“We’ve de-regulated transportation to and from the airport!” Grimes happily shared.

Indeed, these are the best of times.

10 a.m., team meeting room

Finally, it was test time, and there are several versions. If you’re a football coach, you get one version. A women’s basketball coach, you get another. Then there’s the all-sport test, covering the basics across the board, which I decided to take, given that I cover every sport at MSU. Might as well see how much I’ve picked up. Not enough, as we now know.

The test is also open-book and open-note, and while I did consult my notes, I opted not to take advantage of the open-book allowance. I’d like to proudly state that it was to give myself the true measure of the test and its difficulty, but really, that manual is more involved and confusing than Moby-Dick. I just didn’t want to fool with it.

Right away, the review proved helpful. Question two quizzed me on previously-mentioned by-law

Question three involved a “commit” and asked about their ability to make visits during dead periods. Commits as most people know them cannot. Commits under these guidelines are now fully allowed to do so.

Question four had to do with the definition of a phone call. Good thing I studied.

However, I was not prepared for them all. I guessed at a few, getting some right and missing several more. I didn’t know, for example, that courier service is a permissible way to send a recruit his paperwork for National Signing Day. Fax, email and certified mail are all acceptable, too, I learned.

10 minutes in, one apparently confident coach had already finished. Another walked up front to check with Grimes on the verbiage of a specific question.

Slowly, I worked my way down. I wasn’t close to the first to be done, but I was far from the last, either, as many were poring through pages in their manuals, determined not just to pass but to get every question right.

Grimes quickly graded my scantron sheet before giving me the bad news. I had failed by one measly question.

“You were close!” Brett said as he reviewed my wrong answers for me. “If this were the basketball test you would have had this one right … “

“… We changed that one a couple years ago. Technology caught up to us…”

“… No chance that one’s legal. We’d have all kinds of problems…”

Close as I may have been, there are no letter grades. It’s pass or fail, and I failed, even if I did so respectably.

But hey, there’s always next time. And at least my job doesn’t depend on it.

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