By Jared Glassman, Mack Liederman
When WHS Athletic Director Ms. Sandra Mamary looked around the room on Signing Day last week, all she could see were her players’ shaky hands as they put pen to paper. On that day, all letters of intent were binding.
For most WHS students, choosing a college doesn’t happen until senior year. But for some of WHS’ top athletes, that decision is made before they are even halfway through high school.
In the new age of recruiting, Division 1 athletes have begun to verbally commit to colleges as underclassmen.
According to ncsasports.org, in 2014, on average 30 percent of lacrosse and soccer players committed before their official NCAA recruiting period. This commitment trend includes many of the elite athletes at WHS.
A New Recruiting Process
Senior Owen Colwell committed to Johns Hopkins University for lacrosse the summer before his sophomore year. He signed his letter of intent to Hopkins on Nov. 11.
Even though Colwell stuck to his early commitment, he believes recruiting shouldn’t start until junior year.
“People are committing early and changing their minds junior and senior year, switching schools. It’s not helping the sport,” he said.
Due to NCAA rules, most recruiting now takes place at the club level. Taylor Morgan, a junior soccer player who committed to the University of Alabama during her sophomore year, talked about the obstacle. “[College] coaches aren’t directly allowed to talk to you, so they have to talk through your club coaches,” she said.
Mamary added: “For every sport, the big recruiting showcases happen at the club level. Schools can’t fight this battle; that’s just how it is.”
Pressure on Athletes
Although most see recruitment as a validation of a young athlete’s ability, it can also be very stressful.
Colwell said that his early commitment was partially driven by the fear of being left behind. “There is a lot of pressure with other kids committing around you to the same schools,” he said.
Mamary said: “The recruiting pressure is never good. I have been on all different sides of the recruiting phase, and I wish the NCAA was more thoughtful of the high school student athlete.”
Athletes who commit early rarely receive a full scholarship. Under the NCAA’s policies for lacrosse, each Division 1 program can give a maximum of 12 scholarships for each team, according to uslacrosse.com. The University of Notre Dame, a well-funded athletic program, splits these scholarships among the 48 players it has on its men’s lacrosse roster, according to und.com.
Although Colwell was contacted by a coach at the beginning of his freshman year—before he’d even played a high school game—many other athletes don’t have the same experience. Sophomore lacrosse player Matt Mineo said that high-pressure recruiting is not fair to many players.
“It can be a disadvantage to kids that aren’t as developed,” he said. “It puts a lot of pressure on kids and makes them feel they are not as good as others.”
Early commits are also driven by collegiate coaches.
Title IX is a federal amendment requiring that athletic programs give an equal number of scholarships to both genders, according to justice.gov. With fewer female athletes at the high school level, there are more scholarships than qualified players, according to nytimes.com. This creates competition among college coaches to secure early commitments from a limited pool.
WHS alumna and Monmouth University Women’s Soccer Coach Krissy Turner said: “The trend is being driven by the elite programs. The coaches are the ones making the offers, and I think they’re doing it because they’re always worried about the next class, and they’re afraid if they don’t do it now they won’t get any players. It’s not a healthy trend.”
Although Turner said that Division 1 mid-major programs have to secure commitments in tenth grade in order to keep up, she believes that this is problematic.
“If I could change the rules, I wouldn’t allow any verbal commitments until junior year at the earliest,” she said. “I don’t feel that someone who just enrolled in high school has a grasp of what they’re looking for.”
Hannah Liddy, a junior lacrosse player who committed to the University of Denver last year, said early commitment is simply the way the game is played today. “If you want to play in college, you need to [commit] early,” Liddy said, adding that if you delay, “You are not going to get recruited, the classes are going to fill up and you won’t have a spot. It’s a little crazy how it starts so early, but it’s just the way it is.”