Only time will tell if satellite camps are useful

Jim Harbaugh watches quarterback Brandon Peters. 

So far this week at SEC media days, Nick Saban and Gus Malzahn have each offered thoughts on one of the hottest topics in college football this summer: satellite camps.

Saban, the head coach at Alabama, said Wednesday his concerns are in regard to fairness: If SEC coaches can’t hold camps in other states, why should coaches from other power conferences be allowed to do so?

Malzahn, Saban’s counterpart at Auburn, stated Auburn and Alabama will never lose prospects they want from their state to northern schools anyway.

Saban’s point is probably, well, fair, but what about Malzahn? Are coaches such as Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, James Franklin at Penn State and Urban Meyer at Ohio State wasting their time by holding camps outside their home territories?

Only time will tell, but there are already a few clues available from the past year or so.

Proximity has always and figures to remain one of the biggest factors in recruiting — a look at the biggest winners and where they recruit will prove that — and that is because proximity plays a big role the No. 1 factor: relationships. The closer a prospect is to a school, the easier it is for him to visit and build relationships with the staff and players that can lead to an eventual commitment. Plenty of schools can go outside their zone and find players consistently, but proximity is still a big advantage — and a built-in one for many successful programs.

With more prospects in close proximity to schools in the South, Southwest and West, it only makes sense some northern coaches would try to find a way to get closer to them. Since no one is expecting Michigan or Ohio State to moving their campuses out of Ann Arbor or Columbus any time soon, satellite camps are a logical proxy.

And guess what? While Ohio State’s satellite camp at Florida Atlantic seemingly did little more than give Meyer a chance to visit with a couple of highly rated recruits in Florida who might already be heavy Buckeye leans, Harbaugh picked up a handful of commitments as he crisscrossed the country spreading the Michigan gospel.

One of those commits was Dytarious Johnson, a linebacker from Prattville High School. Where is Prattville? You guessed it — Alabama. Just a two-star recruit, Johnson’s best offers before Michigan were reportedly Troy, South Alabama and Memphis, but there is yet more to the story.

Getting to see Johnson in person likely clinched Michigan’s final decision to offer him a scholarship, but the Wolverines didn’t need the camp to recruit his school. They already had a commitment from Kingston Davis, a 2016 three-star running back prospect from Prattville who also has offers from LSU, Louisville and Mississippi State, among others. More over, they signed Keith Washington, a three-star cornerback from Prattville, in February as part of their class of 2015.

While none of those three had offers from Alabama or Auburn, future Prattville players might. Will Michigan’s influence there help get Harbaugh in the door to build relationships with those players, possibly even helping him steal a player Saban or Malzahn actually want? Perhaps. Having multiple players on his roster who can relate what it’a like to make the move certainly won’t hurt.

Then again, could Harbaugh have done all that without a satellite camp? We can’t rule that out, either.