USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft. Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
Verbal offers to very young players (like University of Tennessee’s early bid for eighth-grader Jacorey Brooks) always seem to capture headlines and the imagination of dads and moms everywhere. Yet now, there’s a growing group of kids and parents who are betting that being older will better their odds of getting an athletic scholarship. It’s called reclassifying. That’s when a student-athlete and their parents make a conscious choice to be “held back” in high school, (and in some states, as early as middle school). It’s registering with a graduating class later than your original, with the intention of developing better grades and test scores. And, from a sports perspective, giving the student-athlete another year to get bigger, stronger, taller, and more mature.
Opinions are sharply divided on the subject. Some see reclassifying as a shrewd move to help their son or daughter gain a competitive recruiting advantage, while others see it as simply unsportsmanlike–exploiting a loophole and gaming the system. It should be noted the NCAA approves of reclassifying provided all its rules governing the process are followed. The purpose of this article is not to pass judgment one way or the other but to share the advantages and disadvantages to reclassifying when it comes to your student-athlete.
A year of getting bigger, better, and wiser
As we all know, the teenage years are a time of transition. For example, it’s not uncommon for a teen to grow several inches in height in a few short months. (See our related article on late bloomers.) So, imagine what an extra year of development could mean for a student-athlete. It could mean putting on more height, muscle mass or weight, in addition to becoming more experienced and better at their sport. That size and experience is something that’s going to show up when coaches review highlight video.
Reclassifying is an academic improvement opportunity
Another year also means another chance to sharpen study habits or take a course over to improve academically. Even a slightly higher GPA can boost the quantity and quality of college recruiting opportunities.
Buying time for rest and recovery from an injury
High school offers a short window of time to exhibit your athletic ability. An injury can put a serious dent in any athlete’s college dreams. Reclassifying, however, would give them an obvious advantage of recovering from injury and getting the year or season they missed back.
One other aspect is that the social stigma once associated with being held back a year in school has lessened. In fact, in some communities it’s just the opposite. Reclassifying is a sign that you’ve got talent worthy of re-ordering your schooling for a shot at a big-time college program or even the pros.
While it’s easy to see why many parents are drawn to reclassifying, it’s not without its down side.
Reclassifying is tougher than you think
It’s complicated. Like, NCAA-core-curriculum-time-limitation-Bylaw-126.96.36.199.1 kind of complicated. There are many, many rules and regulations to follow and to be aware of before you make any decision. Making the wrong move at the wrong time could adversely affect not only your child’s college eligibility but their high school eligibility as well.
Breaking away, saying goodbye to your peers
Even though the social stigma has diminished, it’s still something that can be felt when you are sitting in a classroom full of younger students. And, your child will have to deal with watching friends and classmates, many of whom they may have known since grade school, move on and graduate ahead of them.
Reclassifying can get expensive
Rolling over your child’s grad year can get expensive. Remember, another year of school may mean picking up the tab for tuition at a private or prep school for their senior year, add another year of club sports, camps, equipment, etc. Even though you’ve put graduation on hold the expenses can keep adding up.
Your student-athlete may regress
Reclassifying comes with no guarantee your child will dominate play and rack up rock star numbers against younger opponents. There’s always a chance they could fall back and play only at the level of the younger group they just joined.
A worn-out strategy?
Lastly, reclassifying is nothing new and it may be quickly reaching a point where it is no longer an effective strategy. Early on, a smaller group–outliers, may have given themselves a legitimate edge. Now, as more and more athletes reclassify the gap begins to close and that edge becomes smaller. Truth is, we can’t all be outliers.