Prospects, Parents and Coaches Breathe a Sigh of Relief

In a surprising, but long-coming announcement, the NCAA last week said that legislation would be introduced which, if passed, would bring an end to the controversial practice of verbal offers from member coaches to prospects.  The proposal would pertain to all NCAA sports and divisions.  With passage, the new rule will usher in a more competitive age for college recruiting.

The Division I Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet on June 24 released plans to present the legislation for NCAA full body review and perhaps membership vote at the upcoming NCAA Convention to be held in San Antonio, Texas, January 12-15, 2011.   

Much will be debated in the meantime, but it appears the measure has a clear path for immediate adoption, especially with the simultaneous announcement of an adjunct proposal which would allow coaches to begin contacting prospects by telephone on or after July 1 following prospects’ sophomore year in high school, a year sooner than is now allowed.   This concession will most likely appease coaches, but it may also signal a new round of concerns from parents and NCAA student-athlete advocates.                  

However broadly accepted, the custom of early offers has not escaped frequent criticism over the years, most often revolving around a central issue – pressure.  From a prospect’s viewpoint, the pressure to commit is palpable and can be emotionally debilitating, exhilaration aside.  Many argue that placing youngsters under such intense stress unfairly skews their high school experience, academically as well as athletically.  Many parents who experienced their children’s anxiety over making an early decision, say there is not ample time to properly evaluate all the options which may present themselves.  Moreover, they assert that their children should not be subjected to tactics which could distract from being able to enjoy high school.  Coaches opposing verbal offers, faced with media pressure to get involved and get commitments from top prospects around the country or within their region, say they do not have the proper time to develop relationships with prospects.  To them, making verbal offers is a gamble which has only about a 50-50 chance of working out for the best. 

Gillespie's offer was called "exploitive."

A cloud of uneasiness has been wafting over journalists and bloggers covering and commenting on college sports for a number of years.  Eamon Brennan on Rivals.com described the offer then-Kentucky head basketball coach, Billy Gillespie, made in 2008 to eighth-grader Michael Avery from Lake Sherwood, California, as “creepy” and “exploitive.”  Referring to DePaul’s offer this past year of a basketball scholarship to 14-year-old Jahlil Okafor, blogger Matt Norlander said, “Listen, this kind of courtship is greasier than a muffler-shop floor.”  So, when this past February, Southern Cal’s head football coach, Lane Kiffin, made a verbal offer to 13-year-old, Delaware middle school quarterback, David Sills, and Sills committed, eyebrows were raised as the writing on the wall was big enough to see from Los Angeles to Indianapolis – soon the practice of early offers will  be out of control. 

The NCAA apparently sees the road ahead, doesn’t like the landscape and plans to put a stop sign in the middle of the freeway.  Apparently, they have had enough.  The new legislation should bring fast moving NCAA coaches to a screeching halt.  But, what residual impact should we anticipate?

It is widely known that coaches at every NCAA level make offers to underclass prospects.  It is more than a fad, though.  It has become a part of the culture of college athletic recruiting — moreso than may be apparent on the surface.  With the new ruling, however, we should expect the dynamics of recruiting to change significantly as coaches will line up ten deep each year on July 1 to make offers to rising seniors.  The pressure which the NCAA hopes to lift off everyone concerned may actually become more intense.

There could be as many fireworks on July 1st as July 4th in the future.

It is not a stretch to predict that coaches will be scrambling to get their calls through to prospects on that day.  Expect creative coaches to find ways to circumvent the rules as they strain to be the first to reach their most prized recruits.  Meanwhile, prospects and parents will be nervously sitting at home waiting on ”the” call while coping with what could be a flood of other offers.  

 

It likely, then, that July 1 will become the most nerve racking and anticipated day of a recruit’s life.  Will the call come?  When it comes, what do I say?  All that pressure which previously would have been spread out over time will now rumble through living rooms around America like an midwestern tornado.  It will be Nutszoid City, especially the first year, and then it will get really crazy.  If nothing else, it will be awfully interesting, if not fun, to watch.  But, if you are in it, that is, a recruit in the middle of it, well, there’s no way to predict what it all might be like.  But, to use a popular ’80′s phrase — buckle up sports fans!   

Oh, and expect July 1 to take on a name, or a clever, catchy tagline to excite fans and perhaps make or break recruiting classes and, in the end, some coaching careers.  Every sports broadcaster in America will point toward 7/1.  The hoopla will be over the top.  It will be bigger than huge and, of course, somebody will figure out a way to make Hummer-loads of money from this new Holy Cow Day.  It will be something to look forward to and something to remember – that’s for sure.

 

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