Ivy League proposes new legislation to combat early recruiting

by Alex Leibowitz | 11/14/16 12:20am

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Nationally, men's and women's Division I lacrosse teams have participated in early recruiting.

by Eliza McDonough / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

On Sept. 21, the Ivy League proposed new legislation to the NCAA to combat early recruiting. If approved, the legislation would close the various loopholes that allow coaches to make contact with recruits before their junior year. Instead, recruiting, especially through phone calls and conversations at sports camps or clinics, would be prohibited until Sept. 1 of a student’s junior year of high school.

Currently, coaches are technically barred from talking to athletes until their junior year, but through a variety of technicalities, they may start the recruiting process as early as eighth grade.

The legislation would prevent coaches from giving young recruits promises about financial aid and help with admission. Furthermore, coaches may not talk to players about recruiting at camps and clinics, call or receive a call from younger players. The concept behind this legislation is that it tightens up the rules about early recruiting already on the books, which differ among NCAA Division I sports but allow early recruits to visit campuses through an “unofficial visit not paid for by the institution” according to the NCAA.

The aim of the proposed legislation is twofold. First, the proposal argues early recruiting hurts players, who can become essentially locked into a verbal commitment, well before it is clear if they have the academic or athletic talent to play for the school. A player may enter his junior year feeling safe due to the verbal commitment, only to find out his grades are not acceptable. The legislation also prevents coaches from entering into arms races with other coaches for younger players.

Jake Munick, assistant athletic director of compliance, worked on the proposal, noting the adverse effects that early recruiting may have on high school athletes specifically.

“The whole intent is that the act of recruiting early, or recruiting freshmen and sophomores...is a detriment to their experience in high school, and their schooling, and their time to develop,” he said.

According to a 2014 study conducted by The New York Times in conjunction with the National Collegiate Scouting Association, 36 percent of women’s lacrosse players, 31 percent of men’s lacrosse players and 24 percent of women’s soccer players gave commitments before they were juniors.

Several men’s lacrosse players made headlines for verbally committing to play for different colleges, including Brendan O’Neil, who committed to Pennsylvania State University in 2015 in eighth grade, and Joey Epstein, who committed to play for Johns Hopkins University in 2018.

Although The New York Times study discovered only 5 percent of men’s basketball recruits and 5 percent of football recruits received and accepted a scholarship before reaching their junior year of high school, early recruiting is still an issue for these student-athletes.

In 2010, Lane Kiffin, the offensive coordinator for the University of Alabama football team, recruited a 13-year-old quarterback for the Class of 2015. Earlier this year, Jesus Machado, an eighth grade linebacker, received offers from the University of Alabama, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, North Carolina State University and West Virginia University.

Due to the high media coverage for March Madness and the NCAA College Football Bowls, the recruiting process has also become sensationalized with websites such as ESPN dedicated to ranking recruits and predicting where they will attend.

Despite the various levels of early recruitment in Division I sports, the call to end the practice is not a new issue for coaches. In 2009 and 2012, the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association proposed a rule change regarding recruiting, but the NCAA declined to vote on it.

In 2014, Brian Voelker, Drexel University’s men’s lacrosse head coach, wrote an open letter, asking high school and players and their parents to “stop the madness” and “put some sanity back in this process.”

However, as Munick noted, the Ivy League realized the only way to end the issue effectively is to enact legislation.

Brendan Callahan, men’s lacrosse head coach, said that the men’s and women’s lacrosse coaches had voted earlier on proposed legislation that would have stopped early recruiting.

“What used to happen in your freshmen and sophomore year was all about development and growth as an athlete and as a student,” he said.

Now, younger athletes are focused more on “where they’re going to college instead of sophomore English,” Callahan noted.

Furthermore, the legislation is a necessary step toward ending early recruitment, he said, because it is impossible to ensure coaches would not break the lenient rules in order to gain a competitive advantage by contacting potential student-athletes early.

Many of the cases concerning early recruitment come from Division I schools in competitive conferences. Haley Berg, a 14-year-old soccer player, received full scholarship offers from the University of Colorado, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas, schools in the Pac-12, Southeastern and Big 12 conferences, respectively.

Currently, the Pac-12 is one of the most successful conferences in the NCAA. Three of its schools — the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University and the University of Southern California — have won the most NCAA Division I championships, followed by schools in the Big 12 and the Big 10 conferences. Yale University is tied for 17th place with the University of Wisconsin, with 28 NCAA championships.

The call to curb early recruiting, though, occurs among these athletic powerhouses, too. Former UCLA softball coach Sue Enquist noted that issues have arisen where a student-athlete commits to multiple schools or coaches offer the same scholarship to multiple recruits. Instead, she argues for verbal commitments, which are “honest and transparent.”

The New York Times reported that Ivy League coaches avoid recruiting high school freshmen due to the standards for admission. Currently, the Ancient Eight schools do not offer athletic scholarships due to their promise to offer outstanding financial aid in its place. Coaches may only assist prospective athletes with obtaining a financial aid award by contacting the respective school’s admissions and financial aid offices.

Callahan also noted the change in recruiting has led parents to become significantly more involved in the process and created more issues if athletes transfer or decommit. For example, some players who commit early to play for a specific coach may choose another school if the coach leaves the program before he or she starts playing.

In the announcement for the proposal, Robin Harris, executive director of the Ivy League Council of Presidents, cited the increasing transfer rates in the NCAA as a reason to ban early recruiting.

From a coaches’ perspective Callahan also discussed circumstances where an athlete may not develop enough or may suffer an injury. Unfortunately, he said, these circumstances may force a coach to rescind their offer.

Harlan Smart ’20, a member of the men’s lacrosse team, also saw some of the issues with early recruiting and the benefits of the proposed rule.

“Shifting the pressure from tournaments and SATs back a year or two would definitely have some advantages,” he said.

However, Smart also acknowledged that it was good for him personally to know early where he was going to school.

Members of the NCAA may vote upon this legislation during its annual meeting in January.