Passionately popular in the South and the Midwest, 7-on-7 football has yet to gain momentum in Western New York. Nationally, there's no mistaking the influence of this new phenomenon and the controversy surrounding it.
Nike, Under Armour, and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. are among the organizations/people connected with large 7-on-7 tournaments in Texas, Florida, New Jersey and elsewhere at which top players from across the country are on display.
The New York High School Athletic Association doesn't have jurisdiction over 7-on-7 competition, in which players wear neither helmets nor pads, and there are no linemen or tackling. The game helps with chemistry and conditioning and, as more college programs adopt the pass-heavy spread offense, eases a player's transition into college.
After the high school football season ends in November, players generally don't receive any practice reps until training camp the following summer. Now they can take part in spring and summer passing scrimmages against quality competition, with the bonus being they get exposed to college coaches, thereby enhancing their chances for a scholarship.
It's probably only a matter of time before someone sponsors a 7-on-7 program in Western New York. There have been several Division I prospects from the area in recent years, especially at the skill positions. Last year, Williamsville South's Joe Licata and Niagara Falls' Dale Stewart signed with the University at Buffalo and Williamsville North's Glenn Gronkowski picked Kansas State.
This year, St. Joe's quarterback Chad Kelly picked Clemson, Sweet Home quarterback Jordan Johnson gave a verbal commitment to UB and St. Francis tailback Akeel Lynch picked Boston College.
But some feel 7-on-7 doesn't have a positive effect on the sport or on recruiting.
The NCAA is apprehensive about the impact of third parties, including non-high school coaches, on prospects who play for the teams. The fear is that the third parties -- which some refer to as "street agents" -- will take control of the recruiting process and eliminate the high school coach from the process.
"You don't call the high school coach anymore and it's like, 'Hey, you've got to call this other guy,' instead of the high school coach," UB coach Jeff Quinn said. "That's always a concern to me because the other guy who should know the most about a kid, his character and what he's all about, is the high school coach or the position coach, the guys who work with the kid every day. Not the guy who runs around with them a couple of weeks during the summer who's trying to get in on the action."
One incident that caught the attention of the NCAA was Oregon reportedly paying more than $28,000 to two scouts with connections to Ducks recruits. One of the scouts runs an elite 7-on-7 football camp that was attended by other Oregon recruits.
Recently, the Southeastern Conference voted to ban 7-on-7 tournaments and games from the campuses of its schools, along with the involvement and attendance of its coaches.
"Ethical practice is still a driving force in our business and you have to have it," Quinn said.
The NCAA is so concerned about the potential of 7-on-7 football turning into another AAU basketball-type operation, that the NCAA enforcement staff reportedly spent months recently attending 7-on-7 camps around the country.
"There are in-between people getting involved starting 7-on-7 camps, and they are literally putting kids up on auction blocks so people can get a look at them," Penn State's Joe Paterno told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently. "And there are guys who are soliciting kids to go to a camp and getting paid to bring certain kids to camps."