Don’t Blame the Coaches: Recruiting of Middle Schoolers Another Symptom of Broken System

September 18th, 2017 | by Francis Giknis
Don’t Blame the Coaches: Recruiting of Middle Schoolers Another Symptom of Broken System


Coaches recruiting freshmen and sophomores who are still years away from setting foot on campus is not a new phenomenon, and with the proliferation of social media and YouTube, this trend is skewing younger. Whereas this has been relatively commonplace in basketball and, to a lesser degree, football, other sports are following suit. Men’s ice hockey has become a bastion of tween recruiting, with Minnesota recently receiving commitments from 13 and 14-year-old brothers Chaz and Cruz Lucius, and women’s sports are not exempt; lacrosse and softball are receiving middle school commitments regularly. Many are bemoaning this movement towards colleges vying for the attention of 13-year-olds, and rightfully so. It has been shown that early recruiting like this is detrimental to both athletes and colleges.

However, the tide seems to be flowing the opposite direction. Rules that established a minimum age of contact have been changed (hockey, for example, has moved its date of the first contact back from Jan. 1 of junior to sophomore year), and with prized basketball recruits being mandated into one year of college (or play abroad), it is an arms race to scoop the next generation before your rival.

While it is coaches’ responsibility to adhere to rules and care for the well-being of their charges, it would be difficult to tell them not to recruit in the same venues as their competitors and then hold winning as the standard by which they keep or lose their jobs. In this regard, the issue surrounding early recruiting is a systemic one, rather than simply a few overly-ambitious coaches breaking common practice. When rules that limit when recruits can be contacted are adjusted, recruiting class rankings are trumpeted nationally by institutions, and winning becomes the top criterion by which a staff is judged, no one should be surprised that 14-year-olds are showing up at college talent showcases.

For those outraged by the early recruitment of middle school student-athletes, wagging a finger at the coaches is missing the point. The larger issue that should be the focus of ire is two-fold; the first part is the relaxing of NCAA year-of-first-contact rules. If the NCAA tells a coach she can contact a recruit on a certain date, one shouldn’t be outraged when the coach then does so. This is due to the culture that pervades college athletics at the present, the “win-first” mentality that pervades programs. True change happens when college athletics finds a greater balance between scholarship, athlete well-being, and performance. If a coaching staff’s employment rests entirely on the win-loss column, what is best for recruits and enrolled student-athletes will unquestionably suffer.

In this way, fans and boosters that scream for regime changes based solely on the scoreboard or who support corrupt programs because they consistently win must consider how they contribute to a climate that enables and encourages questionable practices like early recruitment, which ultimately hurts both sides.

About Francis Giknis
Francis Giknis joins College AD as a contributor after seven years of teaching and coaching throughout the east coast. Prior to writing for College AD, Francis earned an English degree from the College of William and Mary and his masters at Columbia University. Raised in a cable television-free household, he remembers binge-watching ESPN while on vacations away from home, much to the chagrin of his parents.

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