A proposal to rein in recruiting practices in college lacrosse – where players as young as rising high school freshmen commit to Division I programs – has crossed a major hurdle toward being ratified.
Last month the NCAA Division I Council recommended legislation to prohibit contact with potential athletes before Sept. 1 of their junior year in high school. If approved by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors in April 2017, the laws could be enacted as early as Aug. 1, 2017.
Kerstin Kimel, who played at Maryland, coaches Duke, and co-chairs the Recruiting Issues Committee for the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA), said it's an important step to get high-level decision-makers to consider this topic.
"I think when administrators kind of wrap their head around what we're doing and what the culture is in the sport of lacrosse, they agree that it's crazy," she said. "I think we've put enough time and energy into the crafting of this proposal and clearly were able to get significant support both on the men's and women's sides and from the greater lacrosse community that it became very hard for them to ignore the common-sense approach that we're trying to take to this problem."
The measure – first adopted by the IWLCA in August before getting similar backing from the Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) in December – has been endorsed by 75 percent of the coaching membership on both sides, including the very coaches who are skirting the rules to scoop up young, blue-chip talent.
"If this legislation does get passed, I just think it puts everybody in a position where they can have more information, everybody can take a deep breath, and these younger guys will have a chance to develop and grow and blossom a bit more, and we as coaches will have more of an opportunity to evaluate," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "This is a very good step, and I think it would be a positive for all of us. I say that given that we are a guilty participant of the process now, but I think for all of us, it would be beneficial moving forward."
Joe Breschi, a Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate who guided North Carolina to the 2016 NCAA championship, is also a proponent of the possible rule.
"I think it's fantastic," he said. "The goal of the committee and the coaches' organization was to do our best to get the NCAA to jump in and allow this proposal to grow legs."
The proposal's movement to this point is an important development considering that the NCAA has trended toward deregulation, not adding more enforcement.
"If you look at the NCAA rulebook, it's started to decrease in size," Pietramala pointed out. "Given the fact that they seemed to move in that direction, I am surprised, but pleasantly surprised that they would begin to move in this direction."
The legislation's passage did encounter a major hiccup. The NCAA Student Athlete Experience Committee and its subcommittee initially voted to remove a restriction regarding coaches fielding incoming phone calls from prospective athletes. But in June, the Division I Council overruled the committee's suggestion and re-installed the measure regarding incoming phone calls by a vote of 56-7 with one no-vote cast.
J.B. Clarke, the former Washington College and current Limestone College coach who is the president of the IMLCA, said permitting the phone calls would have curtailed the rules' effectiveness.
"We felt as a collective group that it made no sense," he said. "It basically went back to where we are now. To think that it's easier to regulate off-campus, in-person contacts than it is to regulate phone conversations was kind of silly to us. We pushed real hard to get that piece back in, and obviously, the vote was overwhelming to move it forward to the D-I Council with the restriction on the telephone being included. We feel real good about that. We were a little nervous that was not going to be part of the legislation."
The measure will now go back to member institutions for further comment and review before the April vote. But Kimel agreed there is more optimism now than before that recruiting will finally get the boundaries it has needed.
"Our hope – given the support this has on the front end – is that there's no opportunity to really derail it in the next nine months," she said. "And our committees on both sides are going to work really hard to make sure that it stays on track. We're not going to take anything for granted because you just never know what people's agendas will be and you want to make sure this stays on the track it's been put on at this point."