College Sports and Middle School Recruitment

Scout

What grade is too young for college recruiting to start? 9th grade? 8th? 6th?

On July 26, the University of Washington announced it had received a verbal commitment from 14-year-old quarterback Tate Martell. Yes, a 14-year-old. The following day, LSU jumped in on the action by offering a scholarship to Dylan Moses, who hasn’t even started 8th grade yet.

Middle-school recruitment has occurred for years, but it’s time for the NCAA to step up and tell college coaches to leave these middle schoolers alone. Middle schoolers deserve to spend their time playing the game for fun, not thinking about a college scholarship, and should not get their hopes overinflated by an offer from a school, just to see it revoked in the following years. Once players reach high school, coaches can begin recruiting, but until then, stay away.

Players are not allowed to sign their letters of intent – a 100 percent commitment to attend the school – until July 1st after their junior year. That means for Martell and Moses, they won’t be signing until 2017. So what’s the rush in recruiting them?

Over the past decade, the rise of summer sports leagues has offered coaches further opportunities to evaluate players. As college sports have become more and more competitive (and lucrative), coaches are looking for any advantage they can get in the recruitment process.

Some coaches believe that offering a scholarship to a player early gives them an edge later on in the process: recruits will look more favorably upon schools that have been doting on them for a longer period.

However, many people around high school and college athletics – other coaches, administrators and parents alike – are very concerned with the practice.

“I think it’s too dang early,” said John Walsh, coach of Denton (Texas) Guyer High School, to ESPN. “It’s way too early, because so many things can change.”

“I’m not for it,” said coach Rush Propst of Colquitt County (Ga.) High to ESPN. “When you’re dealing with a 14-year-old kid, he is a kid. For a collegiate coach to offer a kid that young, what’s the validity in it? I just don’t like where that’s going.”

Most parents are not happy with the practice as well. They want their kids to just be kids and to play the sport to have fun, not to impress various coaches in the crowd. Other coaches are worried that offering a scholarship to a middle schooler can cause the player to lose the focus and hunger that would otherwise drive him to get better.

In addition, many middle schoolers may not realize that the school may revoke their scholarship offer at any time. Many young players may get their hearts set on an institution only to see it all fall apart if they don’t develop as the college coaches expected. It’s not fair to toy with players’ emotions at such an early age.

In an ESPN online poll, more than 50,000 people responded to the question of whether middle school was too early to start recruiting players for football. Eighty-one percent said that such recruitment tactics were “unacceptable.”

In January of 2011, the NCAA legislative council voted against banning middle-school recruitment, because it could not enforce it.

“The concern is how is that enforceable? You don’t want to adopt legislation you can’t enforce,” said Shane Lyons, chairman of the legislative council and the ACC’s associate commissioner, according to the Associated Press.

It’s time that the NCAA found a way to enforce it. Tell middle school coaches to report colleges that have scouts at their games. Tell middle school parents to report scouts who try to recruit their kids. Lack of enforcement is not an excuse for allowing these recruitment tactics to continue. It’s time for NCAA to reconsider that 2011 vote and enact such a ban before middle-school recruitment becomes so engrained in college athletics that it becomes impossible to remove. [Image via Shutterstock]

Danny Vinik

Danny Vinik is an intern at the Washington Monthly.