NCAA nixes early lacrosse recruiting to the benefit of all

The Changing the Game organization has it right. Their slogan? “Return youth sports to children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’”  One of the big issues facing young athletes is ‘early recruiting’ – in every NCAA sport.

Lacrosse has been one of the primary culprits. Over the last decade, the college recruiting process has been trending earlier and earlier on an annual basis with 13 and 14-year-old players getting coaching visits and offers. A recently approved proposal applies exclusively to the sport of lacrosse and not other NCAA sports. 

Earlier this month, a new lacrosse proposal was passed, effective immediately, that will ban all recruiting contact, including phone calls, between college coaches and lacrosse players until Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school. The new rule causes some short-term issues for coaches, young athletes, and their families. In The Daily Collegian Penn State’s head coach said, “We are still trying to come to grips with the effect of the new rule,” coach Jeff Tambroni said. “The fact that it was effective immediately, it put every one of us that has recruits in the sophomore and freshmen class in a tough position without being able to communicate with the families who have committed to this institution.”

Short-term issues aside, the NCAA should adopt this requirement for all sports and end the nonsense. Coaches hate fighting over an unproven prospect in braces who can’t drive. It takes the educational focus away from adolescents who are ill-prepared for the attention and aren’t fully capable of making an adult decision about their future collegiate choice, sometimes 4-5 years before the decision needs to be made.

Finally, the parents. We have all met the parents of a scholarship athlete who fawn over the attention on their little star and revel in pitting adult coaches against each other as they fight over the athletic prodigy. Of course, many parents are just stressed by the process and would prefer to make these types of decisions at a later date and avoid 4-5 years of stress and pressure.

According to the New York Times , the athletics director at Harvard, Bob Scalise, wrote a letter to the Harvard community this fall pointing to the problems created by early recruiting — both for students and universities — arguing that the “N.C.A.A. needs to acknowledge the elephant in the room and engage in meaningful dialogue with its member institutions in order to find a workable solution to this alarming trend.” The article further said, “The N.C.A.A. (currently) bars coaches in most sports from directly contacting students before their junior year of high school. But coaches have, with increasing frequency, gone around those rules by reaching students through an intermediary, like a high school or club coach.”

Thus, the practice of early commitments by some gifted players in as early as the 8th grade.

Credit: New York Times – Haley Berg, then a 15-year-old high school freshman, in January 2014. She had already committed to play soccer at the University of Texas.

Unfortunately, hockey, DU’s top sport, is another sport that feeds on early recruiting of young prospects as well. Ironically, as LetsGoDU editor Nick Tremaroli discussed in 2015, the Big Ten conference spent serious efforts trying (unsuccessfully) to limit recruitment of older hockey players while ignoring the actual problem – youth hockey recruits.

According to The Hockey News, the recruiting arms race has reached incredible heights. Kids are committing to schools at 13, even though they know they won’t be donning the jersey for another five years – if not longer. “We try to wait as long as we can,” said Boston University associate head coach Albie O’Connell. “Some kids aren’t even shaving yet and they’re committing to schools.”

But long-term, this lacrosse rule is a great move for coaches, students, and parents who can begin to focus on more important priorities. That being said, the real test will be the temptation for coaches to do an end-run around the new rules. Especially in a sports like lacrosse and hockey where youth clinics and camps are often so closely aligned to various collegiate programs around the country. The new rule is wonderful, but enforcement is going to be the key to make this work.