By Ken Reed

College coaches are seeking commitments from high school athletes — and sometimes middle school athletes — at earlier and earlier ages, in some cases as early as seventh and eighth grade.

It’s yet another aspect of the win-at-all-costs (WAAC) mentality that increasingly drives college sports. Coaches, particularly in women’s sports such as soccer, lacrosse and softball, are increasingly trying to lock-up promising youth athletes before the kids even find out who their teachers are for their sophomore and junior years in high school.

It’s a “keeping up with the Jones’s” type of high stakes race. It’s bad for the young athletes, who are too young to know what college situation might be best for them, and ultimately, it’s bad for college coaches, who don’t know how these children will develop physically, mentally and emotionally.

In a recent New York Times article, Nathaniel Popper wrote that “a quarter of all women’s soccer players and a third of men’s lacrosse players in Division I received and accepted scholarship offers before official recruiting was supposed to begin.”

“This is getting out of control,” said Natalie Poole, softball coach at the University of Memphis. “Without legislation to back it up, there’s a free-for-all — no one is going to ethically do the right thing.”

A lot of coaches, like Poole, are upset with the situation but feel they must resort to the same early recruiting tactics as their peers in order to keep up on the playing fields.

For whatever the reason, the NCAA has been loathe to step in and establish regulations that would slow down the practice.

In a letter, Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise said the “N.C.A.A. needs to acknowledge the elephant in the room and engage in meaningful dialogue with its member institutions in order to find a workable solution to this alarming trend.”

The young athletes involved also want a solution to the problem. At first, they are often excited by the attention of college coaches. But as time goes on they often see the negatives in the early recruiting practices.

“This is incredibly important for the mental health of high school athletes as well as for our sport in general,” one current player said in the survey, which was shared with the N.C.A.A.

“Please, make the madness stop,” another player said.

Given the NCAA’s abysmal track record in doing the right thing for young athletes, it’s safe to say this early recruiting madness won’t be seriously addressed anytime soon.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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