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NCAA to consider banning early recruiting in lacrosse

Bay Shore freshman Brennan O'Neill committed to Penn

Bay Shore freshman Brennan O'Neill committed to Penn State as an eighth-grader. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A proposal to curtail the growing trend of early recruiting in lacrosse — which has reached down to 13-year-olds — is a major agenda item at the NCAA Division I Council meeting Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis.

Proposal 2016-26, if approved, would ban all contact, including phone calls, between college coaches and prospective lacrosse student-athletes until Sept. 1 of their junior year in high school.

Long Island, a hotbed of boys and girls lacrosse and fertile recruiting territory, would be affected greatly by any new legislation. There are several early signees currently playing on the high school level. Brennan O’Neill, a ninth-grade attack who transferred from Bay Shore to St. Anthony’s, committed to Penn State as a 13-year-old eighth-grader a year ago. Attack Isabelle Smith of Westhampton (Boston College) and midfielder Justin Brown of Half Hollow Hills West (Michigan) also committed as eighth-graders last year.

Those three, plus several other Long Island eighth-grade commits from the 2016-17 school year, are examples of student-athletes who have made their college choice before entering high school, based mainly on their summer club-team performances. In some cases, the athlete’s high school coach was not part of the recruiting process.

“The positive culture of youth lacrosse is being destroyed and the best interests of children are being ignored as a result of early recruiting practices,” wrote US Lacrosse CEO Steve Stenersen in a letter to the NCAA D-I council in support of the proposal.

For many, the proposed change is welcome.

“We shouldn’t be allowed to recruit players that are not really of an age to be recruited,” Hofstra men’s coach Seth Tierney said. “We have laws about driving; we have laws about drinking. It’s because kids haven’t developed a certain set of skills yet in terms of responsibilities. Yet we’re allowed to have them make the biggest decision of their lives [choosing a college] before they have that set of skills. Eleventh grade is early enough.”

St. Anthony’s boys coach Keith Wieczorek said, “It’s a wonderful thing to legislate. It’s much too hard to project if a 14-year-old is ready to choose a college.”

If the proposal is approved, it could take effect Aug. 1, 2017. But even those in favor of its passage wonder just how much it would affect the early recruiting process, referred to by Stenersen as “a scourge” in his letter to the NCAA.

“It’s a good thing in theory,” Chaminade boys coach Jack Moran said, “but people will still let it be known to the student-athletes that a university is interested.”

“The trick is to be able to enforce it,” Wieczorek said. “People have found ways to get around the rules in the past and they’ll find ways again.”

As Tierney said: “How do we put the genie back in the bottle? We’ve let so much out now [in terms of scholarships already committed and colleges contacting players through club-league coaches], it’s going to be hard to pull it back in. How are we going to regulate it? Is it going to be like a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit where you can do 65 in the left lane and no one is going to pull you over?”

The NCAA D-I Council can adopt the proposal this week, amend and adopt it, or reject it. In the past, the NCAA typically has not reconsidered defeated proposals for two years.


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