How young is too young?

The Baltimore Sun

One day soon, the Division I lacrosse powers might be recruiting middle school players.

It sounds impossible, but unless the NCAA does something soon, that's where lacrosse is headed. Loyola High coach Jack Crawford and Boys' Latin coach Bobby Shriver say recruiting is one of the sport's biggest problems.

"It's gotten out of hand," Shriver said.

In some respects, lacrosse recruiting is worse than big-time college football and basketball because the sport is played in the spring. At least football and basketball players get to play through their senior seasons in high school. Because lacrosse is played in the spring, senior seasons are basically worthless, so the hunt for talent begins during sophomore and junior seasons.

What's next, freshmen?

Don't laugh. An assistant coach at a traditional lacrosse power told me recently that he had to turn away a freshman player who wanted to commit early. The traditional "Junior Day" visits on college campuses are being replaced by "Sophomore Day."

It's getting crazy.

The two suspects usually blamed for this recruiting madness are Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala and Virginia's Dom Starsia. North Carolina's Joe Breschi has joined the list because of the rash of oral commitments he received last summer from rising juniors.

There really is no need for Starsia or Pietramala to recruit so early. When they talk to a recruit, few programs command as much immediate respect. But other schools have to keep pace with them.

There is no end to the madness because everybody has to play the game, from the college coaches to club coaches.

It's easy to point fingers at Pietramala and Starsia, but they aren't doing anything illegal. They are just taking advantage of the opportunity provided by the system. The only real group that can do something is the NCAA, and the solution is simple: Don't allow recruiting until the start of a player's senior season. It would create a more level playing field and allow the players to mature mentally and physically.

That's the major gripe from Shriver and Crawford. Tenth-graders are just getting their driver's licenses. They still have pimples and are more concerned with the latest clothing style or dance step than college.

"The young kids haven't thought about it," Crawford said. "They think about college in a nebulous, almost abstract way. They don't think about the right things: if the college is the right fit academically or if it is the right fit socially. They don't think about if it is the right fit financially or geographically."

Shriver is also concerned about the pressure on the athletes. He points out that some players develop later than others and those who don't commit early feel pressured because they aren't sure whether there will be scholarships available. Even those who commit early feel pressure because if they don't take the scholarship when it's offered, somebody else will.

"It's hard for kids to be patient when a player sees a sophomore or junior being heavily recruited," Shriver said. "This started happening about 10 years ago. I don't see Starsia or Pietramala as the culprits. They are no different than the rest of us. Actually, you have to give them credit. They recognized opportunity, and then it started snowballing."

Lacrosse recruiting is like the economy. It's going to get worse before it gets better. Lacrosse parents like to believe the sport is on the same level as major college basketball and football. They believe there is an endless amount of scholarship money to fund the sport.

You often hear parents claim their son is on a full scholarship, but in fact, most are fortunate to receive only a few thousand dollars a year.

High school coaches are aware of the situation. Because of the early oral commitments, we'll see more and more players changing their minds later. That's because of the early pressure, pressure that really isn't needed. All the NCAA has to do is stand up and move back the recruiting date.

It would even the playing field and make a tough decision easier for a bunch of young players.

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Fox Sports 1370.

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