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UPDATE: College Lacrosse Recruiting – Is Change Coming?   by Connor Wilson

Update: the college lacrosse recruiting world saw a significant vote go down yesterday at the coaches convention. IMLCA members voted to support the same proposal that the women’s coaches had put forth three months ago at the IWLCA meetings. The proposal would limit all contact with recruits to September 1st of a student’s junior year or later. Currently, there are loopholes that allow for communication and even verbal commitments from middle school students.

The next step for the proposal is that it will head to the SEAC, which is a student experience committee, headed by Harvard’s President, Bob Scalise. Scalise is an outspoken proponent of reigning in the recruiting world so the proposal looks solid in that regard. However, in order for this proposal to mean anything, the NCAA will need to take action, and that is a totally different question. According to IL, the IMLCA will try to “join” the existing proposal put forth by the IWLCA.

Original Story: Is the college lacrosse recruiting world going to change overnight? Probably not, but the New York Times ran a story this week on proposals from sports within the NCAA to create a change in timelines, and lacrosse played an important role in the article. Interestingly enough, it was not men’s lacrosse being discussed this time around, and instead we heard from some of the women’s coaches, which was quite refreshing. The article is well worth a read.

College Lacrosse Recruiting

Let’s be honest, while there are a good number of NCAA men’s lacrosse coaches who want to see a change take place in college lacrosse recruiting, few real steps were ever successfully taken to remedy what was widely seen as problematic. When steps were taken by men’s coaches, and a proposal was sent to the NCAA, the NCAA declined to take any action. When the NCAA put forth a moratorium on all new recruiting rule changes, it was logically seen as something that couldn’t be changed. A number of coaches wrote off early recruiting as part and parcel to modern college athletics.

This weekend, at the IMCLA convention in Baltimore however, the topic will once again be raised by the men’s coaches, and there does seem to be more movement towards addressing this issue on the women’s side. Hopefully, some complementary moves will be made on the mens’s side, but this conversation has happened before, and did not really lead to anything once it got to the NCAA level.

The somewhat resigned reasoning for early recruiting that I heard from college coaches, along with many others involved in the process, has always been interesting:

“What’s the harm? If a kid commits to a good school when he’s in 9th grade, isn’t that good?”

“We would consider recruiting later, but since our competitors won’t, we can’t afford to actually do it.”

“With all the talent out there, you have to start looking at kids early. Why not lock up the good ones?”

“It works in basketball, and we want to be on that level as well.”

“It’s a competitive world out there. More years of visibility mean that we more accurately know what we’re getting.”

“NCAA regulations are made for the big revenue sports: basketball and football. We just play by their rules. Lacrosse creating change will be an impossible battle, and we tried, so why continue to waste our time on it?”

“We actually like early recruiting because it means that the kids who have slipped through the cracks of D1 now come to us on a more traditional time scale.” (some NCAA D3 Coaches on being able to recruit later, e.g. Juniors and Seniors)

None of the above are direct quotes, and this is not an exhaustive list of reasons. I don’t take notes or record conversations during an interesting talk. I do however look for larger trends and thoughts, and by compiling numerous conversations, the above rationale explains a lot of the past, and current, mindset of college coaches (and others!) mired in the recruiting muck, and helps to explain why the coaches on the men’s side have not been overtly strident in their call for any actual change.

Now, some of the points from the coaches above are quite strong, and can be argued with success. To me, this means that college lacrosse recruiting, and college athletics recruiting in general, is not completely broken. There are good aspects to the current process. However, I am not sold on the idea that recruiting for college athletics could not be regulated better than it is now, and neither are the women’s coaches. Good! I’m intrigued as to how the men, and more importantly the NCAA, will respond.

Some may float the idea of “it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it“. If that were true, we would all still be driving Model T cars around and flying in prop planes made out of balsa wood, but we don’t. We improved on the Model T and we invented jet engines and aluminum rivets, and we can improve on college lacrosse recruiting. Also, “ain’t” is terrible grammar. We are talking about recruiting for COLLEGE, right? Right. We can, for the most part, admit that college lacrosse recruiting is far from perfect.

So what is being proposed over on the women’s side of things to fix things? Since NCAA-wide legislation typically impacts almost everyone, you probably want to know this stuff!

How does early recruiting work? According to the Times:

“The N.C.A.A. bars coaches in most sports from directly contacting students before their junior year of high school. But coaches have, with increasing frequency, gone around those rules by reaching students through an intermediary, like a high school or club coach.

“That has given way to an unofficial but well-traveled route of gifted athletes’ committing to college teams before official recruiting begins.”

So what would change under the new proposal coming from the women’s side of the game?

Under the new scenario, coaches would not be able to talk to recruits at ALL before Sept 1 of their Junior year. That means no contact. The student can’t call the coach. The coach can’t reach the student through a high school or club coach, and no one will be committing before September 2nd of their Junior year. Even that early date might raise some serious eyebrows.

From the looks of things, this proposal would not mean that coaches couldn’t watch younger players play the game at tournaments and showcases. It also wouldn’t stop sites like LacrosseRecruits.com from providing a service. If coaches can still look at kids when they are in 8th, 9th, and 10th grades, they can still build a list of kids to contact on September 1st of their 11th grade year. Coaches will still be able to do their homework, the club scene will continue to exist and provide value, and top quality kids will still go to top quality programs.

The supposed benefit here is that the process of committing earlier and earlier slows down for everyone.

Players can keep their focus on developing their talent, and not worrying about who is committing where and when. Coaches can create recruit lists for years, and then everyone starts on the same footing when it comes to making contact. Instead of heavily focusing on 3 classes at a time, coaches can focus on filling one class and research the other two without feeling the pressure to actually fill those slots. The process will seemingly accelerate in terms of speed as commits and contact will happen over a shorter window, but if coaches do their homework, as they do now, the time table really won’t change all that much for them. For players, a commitment is not binding in any way, so doing so during the junior year is materially the same as doing so as a freshman. Sure, it’s nice to “know” you’re going to a top level program as a freshman, but since it’s not a binding commitment, it means next to nothing. So why do it at all?

Would this one rule change fix all the problems of early recruiting, and an early commit-driven landscape? No, it would not.

Here is one loophole: Colleges host young players on their campuses for Summer camps. Head Coaches make speeches, and sometimes even coach the kids. What happens if an unbelievable 8th grader comes to your instructional camp? How would anyone know if a coach “lightly” recruited them? Would anyone know if a coach recruited a kid hard? Would any coaches secretly use their on-campus camps as early recruiting breeding grounds? That’s all a little devious…

So what if the coach didn’t even lightly recruit the kid? What if the kid just really liked the campus and coach and now wants to go there? How do you guard against that? Do you guard against that? Does being a D1 coach mean you can’t directly coach or interact with kids at all? What about the D1 assistants who run club or youth programs? How does that work now? I am not advocating for this approach, but it is likely to come up in discussions.

There are a number of other examples which could be seen as causing problems, not only in lacrosse, but in other sports as well. A new limitation or restriction is not a panacea, and can not be viewed that way. However, a new regulation on early recruiting, if done with an open-mind, cooperation, and foresight, could improve our current situation, and help us all move on from the current Model T of college lacrosse recruiting. It could be just the push we need.

There would be people who break the new rules, whatever they may be, but there are people who break the rules now! Does that mean we just throw out the rules? No, it means we work from the inside to clean things up proactively. Throwing up our collective arms and giving up is not an option when we can make things better off for everyone involved on average…

I keep saying things could be better, don’t I? So what do I envision here?

Well, kids love seeing their name in lights. They love being talked about as “the future”, and parents eat it up too. ALL THAT CAN CONTINUE! It just continues without the contact from coaches, and without the commitment news for kids who are still going through puberty. The lists of top freshmen and sophomores can continue. The analysis of middle schoolers can continue. Ty Xanders and Casey Vock can still talk about ALL of these kids. That won’t change.

In fact, if kids couldn’t even contact coaches until September 1st of their Junior year imagine how much MORE exciting all these showcases and tournaments would become. NO ONE would know where they were going. EVERYONE would be playing for something. Recruiting talk would take on a new level of importance, and it would provide more fodder for speculation about who will have the strongest class. News of commitments would come fast and furious each year, on a more predictable schedule, and all of a sudden, NLIs would increase in importance, and so would signing days, which would benefit high schools and club teams alike. Writers like Ty and Casey would become even more important as sources of info and opinion and when they did drop commitment news it would be huge.

Even more importantly, kids would value their time on the field more. Without a supposed spot wrapped up, kids would want to learn more, improve more, and prepare more. Grades could go up, dedication could go up, and a real sense of patience could be developed in ALL of the athletes who want to play college sports. If the idea here is higher quality, a later start to recruiting actually helps. Since 8th graders wouldn’t even be thinking of getting recruited, they could actually focus on developing their skills on the field and in the classroom some more, instead of worrying about whether they will commit to a big-time program before they ever take the SATs.

EVERY coach could see players develop for a longer period of time. Late bloomers would find appropriate homes, and early developers who plateau might drop down a bit, and find a better fit. It would give kids a better chance to present a long-term resume to the coaches, but it would also allow them to think about what kind of college experience they realistically want to have.

On average, is a 17 year old more qualified to make a decision about college than a 15 year old? Is a college coach able to evaluate a 15 year old better than a 17 year old? Do we really have to ask these questions? For now, it seems we still do.

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