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Putting the breaks on accelerated recruiting

January 12, 2011

I've written previously about the recruiting process in college golf and how it has "accelerated" over the last decade. What I mean is that high school golfers have begun taking unofficial visits to schools and making verbal commitments to colleges at a younger and younger age (late sophomore year or early junior year). Simultaneously coaches are encouraging these visits and making offers to younger and younger golfers (I won't get into the chicken-or-the-egg part of how this happened, except to say both side are equally involved in the actual acceleration).

This phenomenon is not isolated to college golf but taking place in other sports as well, which explains how Proposal 2010-42 became drafted and now is up for a vote by the Division I delegates in San Antonio attending the NCAA Annual Convention that begins today. The proposal, among dozens being reviewed, would prevent coaches from making verbal offers of financial aid to prospective student-athletes before July 1 following their junior year in high school. Additionally, it would require schools to have a PSA's first five semesters or seven quarters worth of high school academic information on file at a university before a coach could extend an aid offer, thus better identifying whether the PSA is a reasonable academic fit with an interested school.

Several golf coaches at last month's GCAA and NGCA annual meetings in Las Vegas chuckled upon hearing about the proposal, primarily because they couldn't figure out how the prohibition on verbal offers could actually be enforced by the NCAA. It's a legitimate question, but one for another day as it strays away from the point behind the measure.

Coaches concerned about accelerated recruiting contend that PSAs who make verbal commitments to colleges as early in high school are making decisions too hastily and before they can engage in any significant dialogue with coaches much less properly research the alternatives available to them. They don't even bother taking official visits in their senior years, forgoing the valuable information that can be gleaned on these trips.

Moreover, concerned coaches argue that as the trend continues, PSAs feel pressure if they don't make an early verbal commitment, suspecting that possible scholarship opportunities will evaporate without a quick decision, which then perpetuates the cycle of the accelerated decision. Thus, Proposal 2010-42's supporters say that by preventing coaches from being able to make a verbal financial-aid offer until after a PSAs junior year of high school, the breaks can be applied on the accelerator.

I'm on record as saying I too am concerned with the accelerated recruiting process, for the reasons stated above as well as the fact I believe another year or two of high school, and the maturity that comes with it, will allow PSAs to make better, more educated college choices. However, I have had worthwhile conversations with a handful of coaches who question my stance. They raised at least one possible flaw in my argument in that I might not be properly acknowledging that many PSAs who make early verbals aren't doing it haphazardly but are putting in as much due diligence in their search, if not more, than before. They're just doing it earlier. Fair point, and I need to be careful in painting too broad a brush in questioning the decisions of anyone who picks a school early.

Texas A&M men's coach J.T. Higgins made a point that I hadn't given any real consideration to before but is worth throwing out there to see what people think. Higgins starts from the premise that PSAs are the ones that are in favor of/pushing the accelerated recruiting process; they want to have their choice made and done with in order to return to focusing on their golf games. Rather than try to force them to delay their decision making, Higgins wonders if NCAA legislation should be drafted/passed to give PSAs the tools to make more educated decisions when they're younger. If the official visit is so important for a PSA in choosing a school, why not allow them to be taken during a player's junior year of high school instead of just his/her senior year? In other words, instead of applying breaks, provide an airbag so that PSAs can make their selection of schools when they want to but have the all resources to make sure it's the right selection.

I can't say Higgins has swayed me to switch sides on this debate, but he makes a point worth contemplating. Curious to get other thoughts on the matter.

*EDITOR'S NOTE, Jan. 18--Proposal 2010-42 was defeated at the NCAA Convention. Among the reasons given was a difficulty in monitoring and enforcing the new verbal commitment date. *