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Recruiting reform must be new focus for officials


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College athletes are thought of first as students.

Ha, ha, ha. He, he, he. Ho, ho, ho.

I have no problem with the business aspect of collegiate sports. I understand it. Universities today often are more known for their athletic prowess than Rhodes Scholars.

Such is life. This arms race, that has everything to do with biceps, has been fueled by a nation that cares about sports like no other.

So we have to expect that spiking a volleyball is going to take precedence over calculus.

Make no mistake about it, recruiting is about putting as much talent on a field, or in the gym, so universities can put butts in the seats. Attendance pays the bills, along with those ESPN contracts and allows Rick Pitino to earn $4 million a year.

So don’t be shocked when an organization like the NCAA, which governs more than 1,200 universities and their athletic programs, does little to stop college coaches from recruiting eighth-graders.

Yes, for the record, the NCAA doesn’t allow high school students to sign a Letter of Intent until they are seniors. The Letter of Intent is the contract that has some teeth in it, making sure that programs don’t renege on scholarship funds. It also protects the programs by taking punitive actions if a student who has signed on decides to try greener pastures.

Since the letter of intent doesn’t happen until a student’s senior year, everything that comes beforehand really doesn’t exist.

Think of those verbal commitments like global warming. It just isn’t happening.

The reality is that recruiting lives and breathes on verbal commitments. Coaches set their lineups years in advance and for that luxury, in general, are honest to the core about honoring those verbals.

This is not indictment of poor coaching practices. Again, in general, coaches are Abe Lincoln when it comes to their verbal agreements. They have to be. Coaches who go back on their promises turn into evil villains on the recruiting trail. That stuff can ruin you, or at least force you into becoming an NBA assistant.

So what’s the problem then? Students are getting wonderful educational and athletic opportunities, parents are being relieved of significant financial strain and everyone is being as honest as the day is long.

The problem is that the student part of student-athlete is being ignored. Is it in a student’s best interest to decide upon a university, a direction for life, when they are 15, or younger?

The NCAA is made up of a lot of very smart people. Those people know the answer. So do we.

What to do?

It’s simple really. Tell coaches and representatives of universities they can’t contact or watch recruits until they leave their sophomore year of high school.

Students can receive all the written or promotional material that a university wants to send, but with no correspondence to that recruit about how he or she would look in crimson. And no conversations with a college coach or any of his representatives. None.

Can such a system be supervised? Sure. If a college coach or one of his representatives gets caught at a junior high track meet so the phenom sees him/her in the stands, the program gets punished. Will there be cheaters? Sure. This is, after all, college sports.

Overall, such a rule will allow students to delay their choice until their junior year at the earliest. Sure, there is going to be a feeding frenzy at the beginning of their junior year. But it’s happening already, only earlier.

The other step is easier. No more punishment for transferring.

If a student succumbs to recruiting pressure and later realizes his/her choice is a poor fit, it’s off to another school. Yes, that can be tough on a program.

Then again, the student comes first.

Right?

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at jheater@therepublic.com or 379-5632.

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