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New Recruiting Rules For Division I Lacrosse Impact Local Coaches

July 17, 2017
College lacrosse is reining in some of the madness that goes with recruiting student-athletes.

Earlier this year, the NCAA passed a rule that prohibits Division I lacrosse coaches from speaking with a prospective student-athlete before Sept. 1 of his or her junior year in high school. The new rules are expected to stem some of the pressures put on young athletes to commit to a college when they are still adjusting to high school.

Calvert Hall head coach Bryan Kelly supports the new rule because high school students can now make a college decision with a better understanding of who they are and what they want to do. He said the toughest part of the change for college coaches is that they won't be able to speak at all to players who have committed until September of their junior year.

"It's a lot of pressure on these little guys," said Kelly, who was named the ALL-USA Coach of the Year by USA Today this past season. "As you can see, kids change. What was important to them at age 15 is different when they turn 16 or 17, especially from an academic perspective and what type school they might want to attend. Kids were making decisions before they stepped foot on a high school campus."

The recent Under Armour All-America lacrosse games at Towson University attracted dozens of college coaches scouting potential players. Kelly, who helped coach the rising 10th-graders at the games, said more of the recruiters were watching some of the older players, as opposed to just focusing on the younger athletes as in years past.

Even before the rules were approved, several Division I college coaches, such as Virginia men's lacrosse head coach Lars Tiffany, stayed away from recruiting high school freshmen. Tiffany said his program and prospective student-athletes simply need more time to get to know one another and there were also academic issues to consider.

Mount St. Mary's men's lacrosse head coach Tom Gravante is another proponent of the new rule. He said the early recruiting was hurting the game because many younger athletes were being put in a situation to make a life-impacting decision before they were fully prepared.

"I think many college coaches are pleased of the new rule imposed," Gravante said. "I did not believe in the early recruiting process from the start, as I don't feel it was right to place such pressure on young men who are still developing as young adults."

However, there could be some potential problems with the new regulations, according to UMBC men's head coach Ryan Moran. The full impact of the new rules won't be realized for years, but it might not be good for all athletes.   

"When you think about it, yes, kids were committing early, but is getting the opportunity to verbally say I am going to go to some of the best academic universities in the world and play lacrosse at the Division I level such a bad thing?" Moran said. "How much more mature is a 14-year-old than a 16-year-old? I mean, we are talking about a very, very small percentage of the kids nationally that fall under this realm of perceived pressure of making a decision early."

Moran contends there will still be pressure on student-athletes. Those players could potentially be contacted by dozens of Division I coaches that day without ever having the ability to visit many of those schools. 

"My greatest fear is that I think we are going to enter a world on Sept. 1 where a coach could potentially call a kid in the morning saying he wants him to visit his school, and send him an email that same night saying that kid's position has been filled," Moran said. "On the flip side, what about the kids waiting with their cellphones that never receive a call from a coach? Lastly, all recruits with aspirations of playing Division I lacrosse will probably have to bypass playing a fall sport in order to visit multiple schools and revisit their top schools during the fall time frame, which is unfortunate. I just think we might be trading one set of problems for another."

Fallston boys' lacrosse head coach Matt Parks said the new recruiting rules are great for the student-athletes who have been overlooked the past few years because they were "late bloomers" or started playing the sport later. Parks said the change also lessens the pressure for families to spend an excessive amount of money and their summers in the club lacrosse grind. It will likely put emphasis back on high school success and allow younger players more of an opportunity to spend time developing their skills and lacrosse IQ rather than just playing games to "be seen," Parks said.

"The amount of pressure that was felt by student-athletes and families at such as an early age was crazy," said Parks, whose team reached the 2017 Class 2A/1A state semifinals. "How many eighth- or ninth-graders really know what they want from their college experience at that age? Big campus, small campus, major, close to home, away from home, public or private; all things most prospective college students take a lot of time to filter through the options to find the right fit." 

The Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association worked diligently for three years to get the new rule passed. The influential group was convinced that recruiting needed to be reined in for the good of the athletes and overall college game.

Other provisions of the new rule stipulate:

- Club and high school coaches may not be used to circumvent recruiting contact rules.

- Direct messaging to prospective student-athletes through these third parties is not permissible.

- Communication about verbal offers through these third parties is not permissible.

"We are thrilled that the NCAA Division I Council recognized the need for this legislation and all of the support behind it," said IWLCA Division I legislation committee chair and Duke women's lacrosse head coach Kerstin Kimel. "Early recruiting in lacrosse has spun out of control, and now we have a chance to restore some sanity to the process."

Issue 235: July 2017