Words About the Early Recruiting Apocalypse

Jim O'Connor-US PRESSWIRE

I usually have answers about stuff. I have no idea where to go with this.

The fervor surrounding early recruiting hit its apex last week with John Hopkins getting a verbal commitment from Forry Smith, a freshman -- that's right; he hasn't even played a varsity game at the high school level yet -- at Haverford School. When the news broke, I obviously treated the situation in very mature way:

We're just months away from a coach getting a medical degree so that he can deliver a future recruit and make first contact with the player and family.

This isn't an area that I'm particularly good at addressing. I follow recruiting in the least intensive way possible: News pops up on my Google reader, I scan the article to see if it relates to Division I lacrosse, and link to the story in the daily news roundup that publishes every morning. My exposure prep lacrosse is even more limited, going only to local playoff games featuring powerhouse schools. As a result, recruiting isn't something that I'm sophisticated about, and I don't have an especially strong competency around the issues that are attendant in recruiting kids that haven't even sent break up notes to their sweethearts. So, take that as a heavy qualifier to what follows.

I'm not sure that early recruiting is the biggest issue in college lacrosse. (That honor rests with how the game is played and, alternatively, substance abuse in the sport.) I don't think it's necessarily healthy that high school freshman and sophomores are under pressure to pick a college before they've picked out what shirt they're going to wear for their driver's license photo, but I also believe in freedom of choice and the ability to go about your business as you see fit as long as it doesn't cause injury to others. I'm in a bind attempting to reconcile all of this, and I think coaches are in the same position (although they have the added element of dealing with competition). Here are some bullet-pointed thoughts on the subject:

  • The recruiting calendar -- not just with respect to contact, but in the overall -- probably needs some tweaking. Coaches are on the road way too much in the summer and fall, and that's not a healthy situation for a profession that is already rife with issues that can lead to physical and mental fatigue and degradation. With more and more camps popping up all over the place, coaches feel the need to hit everything in every viewing cycle. Truncate this all (eliminate the fall period? limit the summer period?) and let coaches actually see their friends and family every once and a while. This has the residual effect of actually letting prep players focus on things other than lacrosse every once in a while and the (wayward?) feeling that they need to be seen all the time. Control burnout, people.
  • If there is going to be a restriction on contact age -- which I'm not sure is the answer to all of this, but seems to be the force driving the discussion -- I'd probably put a contact prohibition on all players that haven't completed two spring prep seasons. That gives coaches an opportunity to evaluate players starting in their rising junior summer when players have started to physically, emotionally, and mentally mature. It also allows some older prep players that maybe haven't had an opportunity to be seen for whatever reason to get some heat on them. I think that this puts the focus on players that are ready to make an informed and comfortable decision while also allowing coaches to work with recruits that are more apt to understand situations fully (which is good for both parties). There is also a potentially strong residue to this: The summer transfer window in Division I may not become as hectic. Late-bloomers would end up in places they would feel more comfortable in and they'd be competitively challenged without looking around; early commitments that pledged above or below their level would also be in a similar situation.
  • My conflict with putting in a hard contact restriction is that there are 14, 15, and 16 year-olds that are more than capable to make a college commitment that early in their development. Why should they have an opportunity taken from them if they are able to make a solid choice? To limit that would spit at American democracy and freedom. Now, when I was 14 I was barely able to put on matching socks in the morning. But that's just me. With a solid support system kids can make good decisions early in their high school careers with little consequence. In fact, you can argue that kids that make early commitments provide themselves with important life lessons and motivations: If you commit to Princeton early, you now have a carrot to keep your grades up to ensure admission and to continue to work on your game so that you're ready to step in and contribute at the highest level. This teaches responsibility and time management, skills that all parents should want to instill in their children.

What do you guys think? The comments are yours to provide some thoughts.

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