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Ivy League pushes for NCAA legislation to limit early recruiting

11/23/2016, 2:00pm PST
By Tom Mauldin

When is too early for student athletes to be verbally committing to colleges?

It depends on with whom you are talking? Coaches, parents or the athlete.

Many college coaches are opposed to wanting verbal’s prior a student’s junior-senior year. Verbal commitments, however, are coming in earlier each year, some as early as eighth grade.

One Northwest D1 college coach said. “When I was a sophomore in high school, I was still trying to figure out high school. No way was I mature enough to choose a college.”

Another said, “I don’t really like the early recruiting because I feel like I have a responsibility to those who commit, yet, they are far from being under our control.”

And another said, “It is a gamble. There are too many changes in physicality, growth, commitment and academics. I think recruiting too early sends the wrong message.”

But the coach admitted “that everyone is doing it and if we don’t, we could miss out on some special players who could help our program.”

Early commitments have a domino impact on all levels of softball from D1 to two-year schools.

The early recruiting skyline could change dramatically if the Ivy League convinces the National Collegiate Athletic Association to make a few changes when it meets in January for its annual meeting.

Ivy League administrators have offered a series of proposals aimed at limiting early recruiting in college sports, urging other NCAA members to “change the culture of recruiting that forces prospective student-athletes to commit earlier and earlier.”

The proposed DI rule changes would prohibit verbal offers from coaches to potential recruits until Sept. 1 of the student’s junior year of high school. 

The proposed changes would also prohibit players receiving or initiating telephone calls with and from college coaches. And ban any recruiting conversations at camps or clinics until thatSept. 1 date.

The Ivy League hopes the proposal will slow the the recruiting process to include the timeline for verbal commitments. The proposal has no input to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). The NAIA has not seen the epidemic the NCAA is facing.

Current NCAA DI rules differ among sports, but most prohibit players from receiving phone calls from a coach, going on official campus visits or getting an offer before their junior or senior year. Prospective athletes are allowed to initiate phone calls with coaches, however, and are allowed to visit campuses and meet with coaches prior to their junior year, as long as the trip is an unofficial visit not paid for by the institution.

“We’re trying to close those loopholes,” Robin Harris, executive director of Ivy League, said in an official statement. “The current culture is putting more and more pressure on prospective athletes to commit, because they’re talking to coaches and making unofficial visits earlier and earlier. You think about freshmen and sophomores and how much they still have to grow, physically, athletically, academically, emotionally, and our concern is that prospects are making decisions they come to regret.”

Harris pointed to increasing transfer rates in intercollegiate athletics as evidence athletes are making recruitment decisions too early. According to the NCAA, one-third of college athletes transfer to another program.

“There’s a lot of talk about there being a transfer problem,” Harris said. “Well, I would say a lot of the problem with transfers is the fact that we have individuals making decisions too soon that are too rushed.”

The most important thing to remember when hearing of an athlete “getting a scholarship” before they are a senior in high school is that the offer is unofficial. This means the school doesn’t have to provide a written offer come senior year. 

More times than not, schools honor their commitment, but there are many reasons an offer might not materialize; the coach leaves, the recruit changes their mind, you get injured, they get a commitment from am recruit they think is better.

You may ask, if an unofficial offer doesn’t have to be honored why are they made? As previously mentioned, coaches feel they have to offer early or they will lose the recruit. Athletes like to commit early because it gives them a sense of security that an offer is there waiting for them. 

The race to recruit ever younger players has gained momentum over the last five years. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed youth sports from recreational activities to sports requiring advanced coaching, strength coaches and managers.

Thus, the early recruiting timeline has far-reaching impacts: fewer multi-sport athletes as early specialization in one sport promotes participation on club and travel teams at younger ages. And, in some cases, encouraging the growing practice of repeating an academic year in hopes of gaining an athletic advantage of being bigger, stronger, more experienced and more mature.

According to a survey recently conducted by the NCAA, more than 60 percent of DI college athletes said they started specializing in their sport by age 12, with many saying they did so hoping to play for in college.

Never forget that verbal commitments are at best, a gentleman’s agreement. A player promises to attend a college and the coach promises to provide some sort of scholarship.

According to the Ivy League report, 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.

“The pressure coaches exert on young students to make life-changing decisions in haste erodes their ability to make the right choice, and is therefore in direct conflict with the purpose and process of higher education,” Bob Scalise, Harvard University’s athletics director. “The NCAA 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.”

“We expect there to be some negative reactions to our proposals, too,” said Harris. “But our goal is twofold. We want to change the rules to change the culture, but we also want to at least push the NCAA to have these discussions. We’ve been trying for several years. We think the time is right.”

If your desire is play collegiately, it’s not too early to start gathering information. Start with educating yourself on rules and requirements, understanding the role of academics and athletics, thinking about the types of schools you might be interested in and talking with high school and club team coaches about your goals in high school.

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