Despite widespread objection, early recruiting is the new norm in college lacrosse.
College coaches can’t help themselves, nor do they seem willing to police themselves. The NCAA, meanwhile, wants to deregulate the process, giving coaches even more latitude to communicate with prospects through text messages and social media.
The natural byproducts of early recruiting affect both sides of the courtship. Players will be targeted at a younger age, more will change their mind, and coaches will start to poach players from their colleagues.
A closer look at these externalities:
1. The courtship will start (even) earlier.
How do college coaches even know about so-called rising freshmen? They evaluate these players at recruiting events and communicate directly with their club coaches.
In some cases, the coaches contact them before they even reach high school. Since NCAA recruiting regulations apply only to high school athletes, coaches take advantage of this loophole.
Look for more recruiting events catering to eighth-graders so they can get on the radar prior to high school and more instances of college coaches contacting players directly to express their interest before they get to high school.
2. Prospects will be more fickle.
Most teenagers barely know what they want for dinner, let alone what they want out of their college experience. But if they’re good enough at lacrosse, college coaches may pressure them to commit early, leading to ill-advised choices and more frequent reversals of decisions.
Reuben Foster might be the most infamous flip-flopper. He plays football at Alabama, but has a tattoo of the Auburn logo on his right arm. Foster committed to Alabama in July 2011, switched to Auburn in July 2012, got the tattoo, decommitted from Auburn after the coaching staff was fired, and then signed with Alabama.
Two notable lacrosse prospects reversed course in the fall. Smithtown East (N.Y.) senior Brian Willetts, who initially committed to North Carolina, signed instead with Notre Dame. Boys’ Latin (Md.) senior Devin Shewell shifted his commitment from John Hopkins to Syracuse. Their initial decisions came during the intensely pressurized and scrutinized early commitment process. As they matured during high school, their priorities shifted.
Expect more players to have second thoughts — and act on them — as a result of early recruiting.
3. An end to the gentlemen’s agreement.
More frequent decommitments will create unexpected openings within recruiting classes previously considered closed.
Scott Ratliff, now a long-stick midfielder for the MLL’s Boston Cannons, originally committed to Navy. But in spring of his senior year at Walton (Ga.) High, a position suddenly emerged at Loyola due to academic issues with a committed player. Loyola came calling, Ratliff jumped at the opportunity and won an NCAA championship with the Greyhounds.
Until recently, coaches rarely approached committed players. Early recruiting has compromised that tradition.
This will continue, especially at colleges with higher academic standards, where coaches cannot recruit a player until he knows if the prospect has the grades and test scores to qualify. At that point, even if the player already has committed to a school, the coach would be foolish not to let him know he’s interested. Furthermore, if a prospect has an opportunity to upgrade to an academically superior college, shouldn’t he be entitled to do so?