Committing to Play for a College, Then Starting 9th Grade
"In today’s sports world, students are offered full scholarships before they have taken their first College Boards, or even the Preliminary SAT exams. Coaches at colleges large and small flock to watch 13- and 14-year-old girls who they hope will fill out their future rosters. This is happening despite N.C.A.A. rules that appear to explicitly prohibit it.
"The heated race to recruit ever younger players has drastically accelerated over the last five years, according to the coaches involved. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed soccer and other recreational sports from after-school activities into regimens requiring strength coaches and managers.
"Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.
“In women’s soccer, there are more scholarships than there are good players,” said Peter Albright, the coach at Richmond and a regular critic of early recruiting. “In men’s sports, it’s the opposite.”
"While women’s soccer is generally viewed as having led the way in early recruiting, lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey have been following and occasionally surpassing it, and other women’s and men’s sports are becoming involved each year when coaches realize a possibility of getting an edge.
"Precise numbers are difficult to come by, but an analysis done for The New York Times by the National Collegiate Scouting Association, a company that consults with families on the recruiting process, shows that while only 5 percent of men’s basketball players and 4 percent of football players who use the company commit to colleges early — before the official recruiting process begins — the numbers are 36 percent in women’s lacrosse and 24 percent in women’s soccer.
At universities with elite teams like North Carolina and Texas, the rosters are almost entirely filled by the time official recruiting begins.
For girls and boys, the trend is gaining steam despite the unhappiness of many of the coaches and parents who are most heavily involved, many of whom worry about the psychological and physical toll it is taking on youngsters.
“It’s detrimental to the whole development of the sport, and to the girls,” Haley’s future coach at Texas, Angela Kelly, said at the Florida tournament.
:The difficulty, according to Ms. Kelly and many other coaches, is that if they do not do it, other coaches will, and will snap up all of the best players. Many parents and girls say that committing early ensures they do not miss out on scholarship money.
"The N.C.A.A. rules designed to prevent all of this indicate that coaches cannot call players until July after their junior year of high school. Players are not supposed to commit to a college until signing a letter of intent in the spring of their senior year.
"But these rules have enormous and widely understood loopholes. The easiest way for coaches to circumvent the rules is by contacting the students through their high school or club coaches. Once the students are alerted, they can reach out to the college coaches themselves with few limits on what they can talk about or how often they can call.
"Haley said she was having phone conversations with college coaches nearly every night during the eighth grade.
"Mr. Dorrance, who has won 22 national championships as a coach, said he was spending his entire weekend focusing on the youngest girls at the tournament, those in the eighth and ninth grades. Mr. Dorrance is credited with being one of the first coaches to look at younger players, but he says he is not happy about the way the practice has evolved.
“It’s killing all of us,” he said.
"Mr. Dorrance’s biggest complaint is that he is increasingly making early offers to players who do not pan out years later.
“If you can’t make a decision on one or two looks, they go to your competitor, and they make an offer,” he said. “You are under this huge pressure to make a scholarship offer on their first visit.”
"The result has been a growing number of girls who come to play for him at North Carolina and end up sitting on the bench.
"Once the colleges manage to connect with a player, they have to deal with the prohibition on making a formal scholarship offer before a player’s final year of high school. But there is now a well-evolved process that is informal but considered essentially binding by all sides. Most sports have popular websites where commitments are tallied, and coaches can keep up with who is on and off the market.
"Either side can make a different decision after an informal commitment, but this happens infrequently because players are expected to stop talking with coaches from other programs and can lose offers if they are spotted shopping around. For their part, coaches usually stop recruiting other players."
The article makes reference to a 2011 paper by Boston College Law professor Alfred Yen: Early Scholarship Offers and the NCAA
HT: Stephanie Hurder