Every summer it seems like we go through the same thing in the lacrosse world. Some of the elite level Division I coaches decide to recruit a player or two who is younger than any player they have ever recruited. For one reason or another, that coach decides that he has to get that player to commit to his school before the other coaches see him. The player commits, Inside Lacrosse announces it on their website, and people start to talk about how out of control the recruiting process has become in our game. And you know what? They are totally right!
I believe that I could have very easily climbed the ranks to be a Division I head coach somewhere by now. But, you want to know why I decided to be a volunteer assistant in college? Want to know what stopped me from living that life? Recruiting. I abhor the process. And I have done it for a few years when I was a full-time assistant at DU so I have some experience in it. I have also watched my father Coach T go through the process since I was in diapers, so I know what it is all about.
There are some things about recruiting that are totally innocent and innocuous that I personally, just could not stomach. I cringe at the thought of watching lacrosse for months on end in the fall and summer and calling high school kids to tell them how great they are. These things will never change nor do I believe they should. For many coaches and players, this is the part of the process that they find fun and enjoyable, so I am not going to knock it! I just did not personally enjoy these steps in the recruiting game.
However, there are some aspects about the recruitment process that I feel are completely unethical. I feel if the NCAA really cares about student-athletes, they will do something about it. This story line really only applies to the top percentage of lacrosse players, but it sets a precedent for the rest of the lacrosse world.
My biggest issue with recruiting these days is the manipulation that coaches use to get players to commit to their school. Coaches turn it around, though (again, manipulation) and say, "Well, we are providing these kids with an amazing opportunity to come to a great school and get a scholarship and play lacrosse. So we are doing nothing wrong." But, they ARE doing something that is immoral because they are basically forcing young men, in their sophomore or even freshman year in high school to decide where they want to go to college. This keeps them from seeing their other options, which might be better for them personally and takes away opportunities for late bloomers, who come into their own as players and athletes further down the road in high school. Those are two very unfortunate outcomes that the coaches do not recognize as valid.
Here is what happens for some of the elite
level players in lacrosse with some Division I coaches. And I swear that
I am not making this up. A college coach sees a player at a tournament.
The coach is not allowed to call the player, so the coach tells the
player's club coach to have the player call him. The coach tells the
player that he is very interested in him and he should come visit his
school as soon as possible. The player goes to visit the school and ends
up in the coach's office. The coach tells him that they are offering
him a scholarship, but he has to verbally commit to them right then and
there (or sometimes in a few days), if he wants a spot on their team and
to take advantage of that scholarship. The young player feels so much
pressure to make a decision, knowing how little scholarship money and
spots there are in the game of lacrosse, that many times, he has no
choice. This type of occurence, in one form or another, happens all the
time and if that is not manipulation, I do not know what is.
When I was playing in high school, the process was much more fair for everyone. Basically, the coaches followed the NCAA rules more closely and by the book. In my junior year, I started to get letters from coaches that were interested. I received letters from Maryland, Hopkins, Virginia, North Carolina and Princeton and was very excited about it. I had my junior year to look into the schools and learn more about their programs. Then, in my senior year, the coaches began to call me to talk more and discuss an official visit to their schools. By that time, I knew I wanted to visit Virginia, North Carolina and Princeton, so I went to all the schools, hung out with their players for a weekend, met with the coaches and had a great time with no pressure! Then, by December of my senior year in college, when I was ready to decide where I wanted to go, I chose Princeton for a number of reasons that appealed to me. I knew that school was the best fit.
Now, what we are doing to these young athletes is absolutely insane. Asking a high school freshman or sophomore to choose where he wants to go to college is absurd. That's why you see all these college teams with tons of different cool helmets, uniforms and gimmicks. It's like McDonalds putting toys in their Happy Meals. It allows them to target a younger audience and suck them in to their culture. I have actually heard a number of cases of recruits picking a school because they liked their uniform or helmet the best!
What's worse, is putting pressure on a high school freshman or sophomore to make a decision on college is not in their best interest, no matter how you spin it. They still need time to mature and see what their priorities are, what their academic interests include, what types of people they want to be around and other decisions that take a few extra years to answer in a young man's life.
Furthermore, it does not give other student athletes a chance to try and grow and develop enough to play for their dream school. Many kids at that age have not even hit their growth spurt and have no chance of getting noticed by the top programs. It creates a culture in our game in which most of the high school juniors and seniors became discouraged and disenfranchised with a game, at a time in their lives when they should be striving to be their absolute best!
I was sitting at a recruiting event talking to another Division I coach
and I said something along the lines of this : "You know…at the end of
the day, we should all realize that we are in this together. We are in
this for the benefit of young student athletes. Really, we are all on
the same team. So, if we just realized that, we would all chill out and
know that if we work hard and have solid programs, that we will all get
good players and they will all have opportunities to go to school and
play lacrosse. Competing for players and trying to manipulate them to
commit to us early seems silly if we realize we are all in this
together." Promptly, he looked at me like I had three heads and excused
himself from our conversation. Ah…the loneliness of idealism.
So, if I were the NCAA what would I do? I would try to get it back to the point in which student athletes were not deciding where they were going to college until senior year. Below are the rules that I would suggest. I am completely open to the idea that I might be overlooking something here, but I believe in making it simple and straight forward, so everyone would be on the same page.
RULE #1 : Student athletes are not allowed to verbally commit to any college. Verbal commits mean nothing and should not be used or recognized by any coaches or players. If a player is found to have verbally committed to a college, he will lose his first year of eligibility. Players may officially commit in writing to a school in their senior year on November 1st.
RULE #2 : Coaches may begin writing emails and letters to potential recruits on or after September 1 of their junior year. Coaches may call potential recruits on or after September 1 of their senior year. Student athletes are not allowed to call, email, write letters, talk or visit with coaches until September 1 of their senior year.
RULE #3 : Student athletes may take up to five official visits to schools after September 1 of their senior year.
What would rules like this do? First off, it would put the power back in the hands of the student athlete, where it should be. Coaches would still be allowed to sell their schools, but would have no power to manipulate and control young men and their families. Secondly, it would delay the process. This would give the top players time to make better decisions for themselves and would give EVERYONE a chance to grow as athletes and players for the chance of getting recruited in their junior and senior year. Thirdly, it would take the pressure off of young parents and players to spend all their time, energy and money on recruiting tournaments and instead, put it towards working hard to become a better player.
Will changes like this ever happen? I would hope so but probably not any time soon. If we really care about our student athletes like we say we do, this is the type of change that we should be asking for.