"Under a new recruiting rule adopted this week, male basketball players in the seventh and eighth grades are now defined as prospective athletes, a move designed to prevent overeager college coaches from recruiting them," reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.
This is a classic good news/bad news. The bad, of course, is that the NCAA needs to expand the rulebook to prevent college coaches, sports-minded alumni, and others from mining 13-year-olds. The good is that the NCAA finally is acknowledging that the recruiting wars begin that early, amazing as that may be. All the abuses/excesses/distortions that we've come to expect of blue-chip high school athletes are occurring - not in rampant fashion, but frequently enough - in, yes, middle schools.
We've commented on the problem before in this space. And I recently had an interesting conversation with someone who deals with dozens of high school athletes every day. He told me some hard-to-believe stories of eighth graders committing, unofficially, to college programs before they've dressed for a single high school game, much less proven themselves at that level or the next.
One (among many) negative effects is that these kids totally lose focus. They've reached the ultimate goal - to catch the eye of a college coach - set by their parents, club coaches and others, so what's left to prove? My friend tells me these kids often kind of sleep walk through their high school sports lives, convinced that they already have the talent, skills and a guaranteed future. Perfectly understandable.
Does the NCAA need to extend its no-recruiting-eighth-graders zone beyond basketball, to football and even women's lacrosse? From what I hear, absolutely.