With the state of college athletics in 2018, early recruiting is a factor in nearly every sport.
It seems that college football programs are practically in a race to see who can offer the youngest players. In July alone of last year, Illinois made an offer to 10-year-old Bunchie Young and Florida Atlantic went even further in offering 9-year-old Havon Finney Jr.
But while those offers may grab the headlines, early recruiting is even more prevalent when it comes to female athletes, primarily in basketball and softball. According to NCAA research, 43 percent of softball players had received their first contact from a college coach, be it directly or indirectly, before they even started high school. That was the second-highest such percentage among all sports, male or female.
On average, most softball players saw their recruitment start in the latter half of their freshman year. While the NCAA’s research did not make any statements on why exactly girls, specifically softball players, were recruited earlier, likely reasons include the earlier physical development of girls as well as a talent pool that simply isn’t as deep as other sports, causing coaches to feel they have to reach out earlier. On average, softball players made a verbal commitment in the latter part of their sophomore year, as opposed to the end of the junior year in boys’ basketball and football.
But is this even a problem? Instead of going through a protracted recruiting process, perhaps girls who get it out of the way earlier won’t have to stress about it for the rest of their high school careers. However, is the recruiting process too big of a burden for young athletes, especially if they haven’t even started high school yet?
Regulate Early Recruiting
While coaches are the ones doing early recruiting, they also are major voices against the practice. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association has come out strongly against early recruiting, advocating for greater NCAA regulations such as limiting contact to no earlier than Sept. 1 of a player’s junior year. Many coaches feel forced to recruit early, but would rather not be a part of the arms race.
One of the major reasons why they and others advocate for regulations is to ensure student-athletes are prepared mentally, academically and emotionally to make an informed college choice. The numbers in the NCAA report bear out the potential hazards of committing too early. Nearly a third of softball players who made their commitment in ninth grade or earlier had “no idea” what they wanted to major in. A quarter of them saw their college coach leave the program before they even got there. Those numbers decline significantly the later a player commits.
Leave It up to the Athletes
Proponents of early recruiting say that if a student-athlete knows where she wants to go, then why wait? Some players, particularly ones with strong ties to a school through family or friends, know their entire lives where they want to go and should be able to commit whenever they want, then take the pressure off for the rest of high school.
And the financial factor cannot be discounted. More scholarship money is available early as opposed to at the end of a recruiting class. If a coach wants a player, he or she will have an easier time offering a scholarship years early and fill in the rest of the class later. And once a player commits, they become a part of the program, and can look forward to the day they first take the field.
So what do you think? Does there need to be some kind of regulation on how early and often coaches can recruit players? Or does the system self-regulate, and should kids and their parents be able to commit whenever they feel ready? Have Your Say in the comments below.
From GameChanger and Todd Kortemeier