Recruitment & Retention

NCAA Allows Middle School Recruiting to Continue

By Bryan Toporek — January 20, 2011 2 min read
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The NCAA legislative council has voted down a proposal that would have barred college coaches from offering scholarships to recruits in all sports before July 1 of their senior year in high school. They rejected the ban at the NCAA national convention in San Antonio last week.

“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.

Let’s take a short trip back in the history of recruiting to dissect why some might find Lyons’ claim disingenuous.

A few years back, ESPN’s Pat Forde broke down the pitfalls of offering scholarships to underaged recruits, asking, “Do the kids actually know what they’re doing?” Forde believed the process of recruiting middle schoolers would destroy the meaning of the word “commitment,” as recruits are already currently free to break their verbal commitments to schools on a whim.

Others are concerned that so much emphasis on recruiting at such an early age might interfere with students’ academic aspirations and social development as well.

In early 2009, the NCAA voted to change the definition of a prospective athlete—for men’s basketball only—from 9th grade to 7th grade. Ever since, college coaches have been flocking to the younger waters, searching for the next LeBron James. (They’ve had help: Websites like Hoop Scoop Online list player rankings up through the high school class of 2016.)

As national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer told Sports Illustrated back in 2008, “It’s like an arms race. You’ve got to offer first.” Keep in mind, a 13-year-old quarterback in 7th grade committed to USC just last year, and that wasn’t the school’s first walk in the park in terms of offering scholarships to middle schoolers.

There’s some question about Lyons’ justification. The 2009-10 NCAA bylaws are all neatly contained in a 431-page manual

online. There are 50 pages of rules dedicated to recruiting alone. Is every rule in that 431-page rulebook enforceable?

Would this ban be any less enforceable than the current NCAA rule limiting telephone contact between recruiters and prospects? (Ask Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl about that one.) What about the limit of seven “recruiting opportunities” per prospective student-athlete for all sports other than football and basketball? Is an NCAA official tracking every contact that every school makes with every prospective athlete in every sport?

In reality, many of the NCAA’s rules appear to fall under the same “nonenforceable” definition that caused the demise of last week’s ban on recruiting middle schoolers. In fact, some might argue that this rule would have a better chance of being enforced than those detailed above.

Hypothetically, say the rule had been adopted. And say that you’re a middle school coach that warns your players at the beginning of each season that it’s a violation of NCAA rules for college coaches to approach them (which means they’d be risking their college eligibility every time it happened). Wouldn’t you be conditioning your players to run away from those coaches like they were strangers with candy?

It very well may be impossible to stop all coaches from recruiting prospective athletes in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. And it’s likely impossible to completely stop under-the-table scholarship offers, also. But letting middle school recruiting continue unchecked certainly raises questions about the NCAA.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.