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Q&A on new recruiting guidelines for NCAA lacrosse

Stony Brook head coach Joe Spallina reacts as

Stony Brook head coach Joe Spallina reacts as time runs out for a 13-5 win against Northwestern in an NCAA women's lacrosse game at LaValle Stadium on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

On April 14, the NCAA Division I Council passed an early recruiting proposal regarding men’s and women’s lacrosse, designed to curb a trend that saw colleges making scholarship offers to eighth graders as young as 13 years old. The effective date was termed “immediate,” although final details of the new ruling won’t be official until an NCAA Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday.

Here is an explanatory Q&A about the new ruling and its potential impact on a sport that is immensely popular on Long Island on the youth, high school and college level.

Q: What are the key elements of the proposal?

“Any recruiting contact with younger PSAs (prospective student athletes) is impermissible under the new rule” until Sept. 1 of his or her junior year in high school, according to the IWLCA and IMLCA (Intercollegiate Women’s/Men’s Lacrosse Associations), which had made the joint proposal to the NCAA. This means that Division I colleges may not make off-campus contact with PSAs, nor reach out through telephone calls, social media or on unofficial campus visits. Additionally, club and high school coaches may not be used “to circumvent recruiting contact rules” by communicating verbal offers from colleges to PSAs.

Q: How was the proposal received in the lacrosse community?

There was an overwhelmingly positive response, especially among college coaches. “I’m pleasantly surprised,” Virginia men’s coach Lars Tiffany told US Lacrosse Magazine. “I didn’t think the NCAA would have the courage to pass a piece of legislation that is drastically different from the current state of affairs and is not easy to enforce.”

Duke women’s coach Kerstin Kimel told the same publication, “It restores my faith in the NCAA. We’re not football or basketball or a money-generating sport, but we have legitimate problems that we needed to address.”

Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise, who also is president of the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Experience Committee and pushed hard for the new legislation, said last week, “Great move. Very happy. This is what the lacrosse community wanted. Kudos to the NCAA for approving it and for putting it into effect immediately rather than wait. That would’ve created a feeding frenzy [of scholarship offers].”

Q: Are previous scholarship offers being honored?

This has caused much concern among those affected — students, parents and universities — but unless something in the proposal is changed on Wednesday, presumably all offers are grandfathered. “Scholarships will have to be honored,” Stony Brook University women’s coach Joe Spallina said Wednesday. “If I committed a kid that early [he has not offered any eighth-graders but has offered ninth graders], obviously I felt strongly about him or her, so I definitely don’t want to get out from that. If anything, I want the kid to be reassured.”

However, Spallina added, “I do think this [ruling] will be used by some coaches, if a kid is not evolving, to say, ‘The rules changed. We’re out. We’re not in on a scholarship.’ That’s not my style but it’s out there.”

Q: How will this affect club coaches, a group that has gained influence in the sport in recent years as offseason participation rises?

This is one of the gray areas. Scalise said he believed, “Club coaches’ contact is against the spirit of the rule . . . But that’s a complicated thing.” Scalise and others are hoping the new ruling minimizes some of the power the club coaches wield, but Spallina disagrees with that notion.

“I think club coaches will gain influence,” said Spallina, who not only coaches a nationally-ranked women’s college team, but also an elite club team and the professional New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse. “They’ll be the power brokers now because everything is going to happen at one time — Sept. 1 of junior year. It will be so compact. It will be a free-for-all starting on Aug. 31 of a kid’s junior year, with college coaches camping out at a kid’s house, waiting to make their pitch at midnight. In the meantime, how do I know that a player is interested if no contact is allowed? So you need contact with the third party. Some people think this ruling will bring the high school coach back into recruiting. It will help a little, because some of these early recruits committed before high school. But since college coaches can’t talk to the families now, I’ll be talking to them and their evaluations are based on club teams. There are a lot of moving parts here.”

Limestone coach J.P. Clarke, president of the IMLCA, told Inside Lacrosse magazine, “There’s going to be some pushback from some club folks who are not involved with college lacrosse. You’re going to get some pushback from the promoters who are running these really lucrative recruiting tournaments . . . Our coaches are going to have to learn how to work with the new rules.”

Q: How will the new rules be enforced?

That is the question being asked most and there does not appear to be an easy answer. NCAA president Mark Emmert told APSE sports editors on Thursday in New York that, “The biggest problem is enforcement. How in the world to you enforce it. A kid can tweet whatever . . . The youth sports business [club coaches] has now become an enterprise . . . peddling their abilities to help a kid get a scholarship because of their connectivity with coaches. It’s become a very difficult business to keep your arms around. I’m sure we’ll pass some new rules, and I’m sure it will have a good effect, but I think it’s always going to be a problem.”

Said Scalise, “The nice thing about this legislation is that there was solidarity among college coaches — men and women. We wanted to limit contact and we should tell parents, club coaches, high school coaches and anyone else who doesn’t know the rule. But sometimes people are looking for an edge and find a loophole. We’ll have to work with the NCAA on this. We’ll learn as we go.”

Q: Does early recruiting only affect lacrosse?

No, and Scalise acknowledged that this proposal will be “a pilot program” for other sports like volleyball, water polo, field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer and softball. “There are a number of sports that people are concerned about,” Scalise said. “I’m encouraged that now we’re talking about it. There’s been a groundswell of activity. We needed to do something about early recruiting because it really isn’t right.”

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