- Monday, November 15, 2010 5:17 PM
- Written By: SportsFanLive Reports
By DJ SIXSMITH
David Sills is just 13 but already knows where he will be attending college in 2015. The Delaware quarterback is headed to USC after verbally committing to a scholarship offer from head coach Lane Kiffin in February. The agreement made Sills the youngest athlete ever to verbally commit to a Division I school.
The rise in the number of athletes committing to a college at a younger age has become one of the hottest and most controversial topics in high school sports.
“It’s ridiculous. Most kids haven’t even kissed a girl and now they have to make a decision about where they want to play in college,” said MSG Varsity’s Mike Quick, who has 25 years of experience covering high school sports.
With the amount of pressure colleges are putting on athletes, recruiting can be so intense that the NCAA presented a proposal in June to push back the process to protect the younger high school players.
Created by the Division I Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet, the new rule would ban colleges from making verbal -- or unofficial -- scholarship offers to recruits before July 1 in the summer between junior and senior year. In addition, athletes would be forced to provide coaches with academic records of at least five completed high school semesters.
There is a separate proposal to eliminate early verbal offers altogether, which would give coaches more time to evaluate players athletically and academically while also allowing students to thoroughly investigate the school.
The NCAA is hopeful that it can slow down the “arms-race mentality” that has led to earlier commitments by unproven prospects.
“When you’re in seventh grade, how can you make a commitment to college?” cabinet chairwoman Petrina Long said. “You don’t know physically if you’ll be ready. You can’t know.”
Although a decision will not be made on verbal commitments until January, the NCAA has already made progress in slowing down recruiting. Under a new rule, which went into effect in August, schools must wait until the fall of an athlete’s senior season to make an official scholarship offer. Schools had been allowed to make offers to high school players at the start of their junior year.
Under the old rule, this summer the Texas Longhorns would have already given official offers to the 22 football players who made verbal commitments last year for scholarships starting in the fall of 2011. But this year, Texas -- a school historically known for locking up high school juniors -- had to wait until the fall when those players became seniors before making its official offers.
“We try to look at the offer and the acceptance of a scholarship as that of an engagement between a couple,” Longhorns coach Mack Brown said in an email. “When you get engaged, you don't date other
people, and the commitment is firm as far as we are concerned. We will not withdraw a scholarship offer except in very unusual circumstances, and we expect the same from the student athletes.”
The personal relationship that Brown establishes with his recruits early in the process is just one of the many reasons why Jason Hickman, a reporter and editor for the high school sports website MaxPreps, believes that schools like Texas are able to get the top recruits in the country.
“With so much competition between schools, coaches are now recruiting two and three years down the line,” Hickman said. “The early recruiting allows them to get that worry out of the way and focus on winning.”
Time For Situations And Preferences To Change
The increase in earlier recruiting creates a greater likelihood that a deal between a school and player will not work out. Michael Avery’s story is indicative of that. Standing 6-foot-4 in eighth grade, Avery verbally committed to play basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats and head coach Billy Gillispie in 2008.
After Gillispie was fired in the spring of 2009 for breach of contract, Kentucky quickly backed out of the verbal agreement with Avery. Despite the breaking of the deal, Michael’s father, Howard, remains a proponent of keeping verbal commitments free from the proposed NCAA rule change.
“I would rather those kinds of decisions be left between the coach and family,” he said.
The accelerated recruiting, such as those of Sills and Avery, has put athletes in the position where they feel they cannot pass up an opportunity to sign. Consider Brendan Lesch, the soccer captain at Staples High School in Connecticut.
The striker went to visit Notre Dame on a snowy Tuesday in January and a month later made his verbal commitment. A part of Lesch’s recruiting process since early December, Staples head coach Dan Woog said jumping on a sure thing is why players make such a quick decision.
“The fear is that many involved feel the opportunity will come and go and if they don’t commit, the opportunity will slip away,” Woog said.
Woog has been coaching for 10 years. Before last year, he had only one player make a verbal commitment. Then he had two in one year with Lesch and his co-captain Frankie Bergonzi, both recruited as early as their sophomore year.
“I have changed the way I operate in terms of the way I talk to kids about college,” Woog said. “In the past I have spent the spring of junior year helping kids put together soccer resumes. However, now I’ve already started talking to a few of the sophomores on the team about college.”
Like soccer, lacrosse is a sport that is beginning to see sophomores heavily recruited. With very few scholarships to offer, Division I lacrosse schools are really beginning to expand the start the recruiting process.
Staples High lacrosse captain Kip Orban committed between his sophomore and junior seasons to play for Princeton.
“For me, Princeton University has been my dream school for a long time,” Orban said. “When presented with the opportunity, it was easy to commit.”
More Pressure On High School Coaches To Manage Recruiting Process
With the increase in recruiting intensity, the responsibility placed on a high school coach has never been greater. In addition to guiding a player through the process, coaches are now forced to deal with keeping recruits healthy and out of harm's way.
Last year, linebacker Khairi Fortt of Stamford High School was the top football prospect in Connecticut. He committed to Penn State in early October while he was recovering from a knee injury. Stamford's coach at the time, Kevin Jones, faced the struggle between wanting to win and keeping the player healthy.
"With Khairi the hardest part with his situation was to determine when he would come back," Jones said. "I didn’t want to be the guy to ruin it for him.”
After dealing with Fortt’s situation last year, Jones said it is necessary for an athlete to have the right people around when making a verbal commitment.
“I think that athletes should feel lucky to have parents help them make the decision," Jones said. "Unfortunately some don’t have a strong home structure with many only having a single parent.”
With a decision coming on the NCAA’s proposal in January, this may be the last time that schools have an opportunity to get a head-start on recruiting. Although the intensity of early recruiting can be overwhelming, some say verbal commitments allow athletes to relieve a huge burden from their lives.
For Christian Suntrup, a quarterback at Chaminade College Prep in Missouri, the sense of relief was the best part about the process. The 15th-best quarterback in the nation, according to Rivals.com, verbally committed to Boston College, allowing him to enjoy his senior season.
“It is great to get the decision out of the way," Suntrup said, "because now I can focus on the season and, most importantly, focus on helping my team win.”