As the coach of the boys lacrosse team at The Haverford School (Pa.), John Nostrant has witnessed the effect of early recruiting on young high school students and their families and is in favor of any effort to curtail recruiting freshmen and sophomores by college programs.
As the father of John Nostrant, a midfielder who committed to Penn State in February 2014 as a freshman, Nostrant acknowledged that his family benefited from the absence of rules prohibiting early recruiting.
"I was in the same boat," he said. "It was like, 'Check the box, that's one less thing to do.' I have three kids and one of them is done, and he's happy with his decision."
Nostrant's situation illustrates the conflict facing college lacrosse, especially on the Division I level, where coaches are vying for the top prospects in high school. Many coaches say they hate evaluating and targeting high school freshmen and sophomores, but those same coaches acknowledge that they do it to keep pace in what Nostrant called "an arms race."
"I would say that we are as guilty as any other program with the early recruiting," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We have just felt that given the landscape, we needed to do it."
Said Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan: "As a competitor, I have to be involved with kids earlier than I want to be because I can't afford to concede that ground."
But Pietramala, Corrigan and their coaching peers are attempting to take a stand on the issue. After 85 percent of the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association adopted a measure in August asking the NCAA to ban any communication between college coaches and an athlete and her family before Sept. 1 of the athlete's junior year in high school, the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association followed suit, and 75 percent of the coaches approved similar legislation in December.
A month later, according to Florida Lacrosse News, Caitlyn Wurzburger, an eighth-grader from Florida, committed orally to play at Syracuse, becoming the youngest player to make such a commitment to a men's or women's lacrosse program.
"I think the precedent of having middle-school prospective student-athletes committing to college sets a really tough precedent for other prospective student-athletes who are just 13- and 14-year-olds," said Kerstin Kimel, who played at Maryland, now coaches Duke, and co-chairs the Recruiting Issues Committee for the IWLCA. "Our sense is that it puts undue pressure on really young players to be really thinking about things that are so far away. The college decision is not a four-year decision, it's a lifetime decision for most people. It's a decision that requires a lot of time and a lot of effort and, quite frankly, maturity."
On the men's side, LaxMagazine.com reported that attackman Payton Cormier agreed to play at Virginia in July before entering his freshman year at a high school in Canada. According to the same publication, the first freshman to commit orally to a Division I men's team was Haverford School attackman Forry Smith, who plans to play at Johns Hopkins next spring.
The spate of early commitments underscores the need for the coaches' proposals, Corrigan said.
"Frankly, it's unconscionable what we're doing," he said. "The way I look at it is, if we want to leave the rules to competitors, then we'll have guys recruiting seventh- and eighth-graders, and that's what's happening. That's not conjecture, that's fact. If we want to deal with this as though we're educators and not competitors, then we have to look at it and ask, 'Who is this good for? Is this good for kids?'"
Duke coach John Danowski said prospects and their parents understand the game of recruiting and are doing what they can to grab coaches' attention.
"We get emails right now from ninth-graders who played in seven tournaments over the summer," he said. "Who thinks that's a good idea in 95-degree heat with 60 percent humidity? We wouldn't ask college guys to do that. We wouldn't ask guys to play five games in two days. It's become a business of kids."
The proposals forwarded by both coaches associations are not foolproof, however. While the policy would outlaw communication between college coaches and high school athletes and their families until their junior years, there is no wording regarding contact between college coaches and athletes' high school or club coaches.
Bob Shriver, who stepped down last spring after 36 years of coaching at Boys' Latin, said the legislation would not change the status of high school and club coaches as "secretaries" who work as intermediaries between college coaches and prospects.
"The problem filters down right to us, and we get stuck absolutely right in the middle," Shriver said. "In a way, we don't belong being stuck in the middle."
Bill Tierney, coach of 2015 national champion Denver, said the proposal would empower club coaches more than they already are.
"Let's face it, there are going to be some winks, there are going to be some assumptions, there are going to be some conversations between college coaches and club coaches," he said. "You're not going to be able to control what you can't govern with a rule, and you can't govern club coaches."
Chris Bates, coach at Princeton and chair of a recruiting advisory committee for the IMLCA, argued that policy will at least cause parents to pump the brakes on committing to a school.
"If I'm a parent, I'm a little more cautious about having my son commit if I've never met the team, if I've never really gotten face-to-face with the coach," he said. "There's always going to be ways that people try to circumvent this, but it's a speed limit, and it's going to really curtail things, I think."
The measure still must get the approval of the NCAA's 10-person Student-Athlete Experience Committee this month and the Division I council in April before getting adopted for the 2016-17 academic year. Pietramala pointed out that the NCAA has been unwilling recently to add more legislation.
"So here we are trying to regulate more and they're moving towards deregulation," he said. "So there is a concern that they may not see things that we do, but the hope is that both the men and women are saying the same thing. We're both saying, 'Hey, this is not great for our sport and it's not great for the kids. We'd like you to consider adopting this rule.'"
Bates said even if the NCAA doesn't ratify the proposal, the movement to curtail early recruiting will continue to grow to levels that even the governing body might not be able to ignore. But is there a perfect solution to the matter?
Said Danowski: "I haven't heard of one."