On the surface, it appears the NCAA made an intelligent move last week when it established a rule prohibiting early recruiting in lacrosse.
The details are coming, but the NCAA has confirmed that Division 1 coaches may no longer contact prospective student athletes until Sept. 1 of their junior year. In recent years, we’ve seen a rush to lasso middle-schoolers.
And the only people celebrating those awkward verbal commitments were name-dropping parents who suddenly had a conversation-starter at cocktail parties.
The idea of national powers competing for eighth-graders is ludicrous.
“It’s a smart move by the NCAA,” Bronxville (N.Y.) head coach Tim Horgan said. “We saw too many kids recommitting. The whole process needed to be blown up and I’m glad it was.”
For years, high school and college coaches have called for a change.
“Our staff has not liked the developments the past few years as D-1 coaches have begun recruiting younger and younger kids,” Yorktown (N.Y.) coach Sean Carney said. “When coach (Rob) Doerr and I were in high school, we had more time to consider our choices. Seniors would take recruiting trips paid for by the school, up to five trips. You were old enough to decide what you may want in a school.
“Now, calling a player in middle school and asking that child to pick a college seems insane. These are kids who still have recess and have not taken a high school class yet or even found where the weight room is at the high school. What is their work ethic? Will they grow? Parents are pushing for their kids to get in front of coaches as early as seventh grade now so their kid has the opportunity to be seen. Now parents can hopefully slow that down a bit.”
That’s not likely to happen.
Lacrosse scholarships are indeed rare. Most only match a tiny fraction of what parents invest in private coaching and summer travel. Even so, the competition for those scholarships is still off the charts.
And it’s largely driven by parents.
What happens if a coach points and gives a thumbs up from the sideline?
Bronxville midfielder Ara Atayan was the first member of the Class of 2017 to publicly commit to a college when he verbally committed to University of North Carolina coach Joe Breschi as a rising freshman.
Suddenly, it became all the rage.
“It was a really, really quick process for me,” Atayan said. “The summer after eighth grade I was playing for the Long Island Express and training around here. My goal was just to have fun. I went to North Carolina for their camp and played 14 games in three days. I wasn’t really nervous or anything, I just thought it was cool to meet coach Breschi and play down there. I was kind of stunned that I got an offer.”
What kid that age is going to say no?
“I know from seeing a lot of my friends go through it, other guys on my team and other athletes in the school, it can take a toll,” Atayan said of the recruiting process. “It’s a different experience for everybody. From what I’ve heard, this sounds like a good rule by the NCAA.”
The late-bloomers are left dealing with the most stress.
“Conor Gately was too small, according to most coaches when he was a sophomore,” Carney said. “And then he turned into one of the best attackmen we’ve had at Yorktown. I even had top D-1 coaches express regret that they had no money for Conor by the time he was a junior.”
It’s heady stuff, committing early.
“That was a strange experience,” Horgan said of the 2014 season. “Those early commitments put a lot of undue strain on the kids and the coaches. We won a state championship that year and there were kids playing in front of Ara. I know there was a lot of second-guessing. Everybody wants to make a highlight mix of their sixth-grader and send it off to college coaches. Everybody wants the best for their kid, but there is a lot of pressure there for kids and parents and it trickles down to the high school and the club coaches.”
So while the NCAA deserves some applause, let’s hold off on the standing ovation. We need to see whether the new rule only forces the process underground where questionable go-betweens operate in the gray areas.