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Mike Preston: Lacrosse coaches all for restricting the early recruiting process

The NCAA announced Friday afternoon that it was curtailing the early recruiting process, news that was long overdue and eagerly welcomed in the lacrosse world.

There needed to be a change because the process had gotten out of control, especially when 13-year-olds or eighth graders were making oral commitments to colleges and universities.

What was next? On-campus visits by blue-chip pre-schoolers?

It was time to slow the process down. Steve Stenersen, the CEO of US Lacrosse, wanted a change and Friday it was announced that coaches cannot contact a player before Sept. 1 of their junior year. Practically every high school coach want this change and even the most guilty parties — Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala and former Virginia coach Dom Starsia — were in favor of tighter scrutiny.

With Pietramala, the problem had become personal.

"I am very pleased. As a father of two seventh graders right now that are headed into eighth grade and that play the game, I see it from their friends, I see how they're reacting and I know how I feel," Pietramala said. "We would love more information about their ability to play, more academic information, more of an opportunity to get to know them and to have them make a decision when they're probably more mature and maybe a little clearer on what they're looking for from a school."

Ninth and 10th graders aren't mature enough to make decisions about which college they will attend, and to be honest, neither are most juniors and seniors. Heck, a lot of them can't remember to wear their arm pads or insert a mouthpiece much less pick a Virginia or Maryland over Towson or Loyola.

Duke coach John Danowski used to joke about how recruiting would eventually trickle down to sixth graders and they would pick a school based on the "cool" logo on the team shorts.

The pressure was enormous, not just for the kids who were recruited early, but for their lacrosse teammates or buddies who waited.

"The pressure on kids to commit before they have even reached physical and mental maturity is beyond counterproductive," longtime former Boys' Latin coach Bobby Shriver said. "On top of that, maybe the greatest pressure is for those kids who aren't recruited or given the chance to commit.

"How many of those kids do things like take steroids, focus on only one sport thinking they have to get better at lacrosse instead of playing multiple sports, which would be way better for them in the long run, or think they have to go to every money-grabbing camp/tournament to put themselves in front of the college coaches?"

A lot of the camps and the publications that list the top 100 freshmen were part of the problem and the hype. Despite the growth in the sport, lacrosse still has its own little world. And for the most part, Division I coaches are good, quality people, but they lose control more than any other coaches except those in college basketball.

They are extremely competitive, so if Pietramala was going to call a recruit at one second after midnight on the first day of recruiting, so was Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan. None of them liked doing it, but it was about oneupmanship.

"We've sat as a college coaching group talking about, 'Well, maybe we could do this on our own with a gentlemen's agreement,' and invariably within a few minutes, we laughed it off because we needed an enforcer," first-year Virginia coach Lars Tiffany said.

With the new rule, parents can have more rational discussions about colleges with their children. In high school, one year makes a big difference in a player both on and off the field.

So, imagine what it is like when an eight grader committed as opposed to a junior or senior?

Shriver liked when his players went through the entire recruiting process. But sometimes parents were as eager as the student-athlete when it came to early commitments.

"I have maintained a consistent comment to parents over the years about all this, 'If you are good enough, they will find you and work something out,'" Shriver said. "That may not mean you are going to Hopkins or Maryland, but there is a place out there for you. This removed some of the anxiety, but it is far easier for me to say that then it is for a kid and family to say, 'That's great. We'll just wait it out.' You know that isn't going to happen."

The timing for a change is right. Regardless of the consequences, Pietramala said he believes halting the early recruiting process will only help the sport, and most importantly, the youngsters who play it.

"What is going to happen — and this is one of the consequences — is that things will slow down in the eighth grade, freshman and sophomore years, but it is going to be a dead sprint when Sept. 1 of that junior year comes?" Pietramala asked. "There are going to be different kinds of pressures. The pressure of, 'Gosh, I've got to visit these four or five schools because they're coming after me hard and offering me scholarships, but I've got to make a decision. How does that impact football? How does that impact soccer? How does that impact basketball and hockey and wrestling?'

"I just think we're slowing things down early, and that pace is really going to pick up on Sept. 1. Are the phone calls going to come at midnight once again? Who's going to be the coach sitting by someone's front door at 12:01? Who's going to be the guy who sits there with a scholarship offer?"

Regardless, this will lead to better decisions by families and the schools.

"I think it's a positive for our sport," said Pietramala.

Tiffany agreed.

"All for it. I am all for slowing down the recruiting process," he said. "I understand that it's a daunting task for the NCAA because monitoring other people's phone calls that they initiate is much more difficult than monitoring phone calls initiated by the college coach that comes from the coach's land line or cell phone. But let's do this and if there are some people violating, they'll be caught eventually. Let's slow this down. I hope that the NCAA will provide consequences."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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