The Scholarship Chase CHAPTER 1

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CHAPTER 2 - CHAPTER 3 - CHAPTER 4 - CHAPTER 5 - CHAPTER 6

Introduction

What is the purpose of collegiate sports? Are they, as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Constitution states, “…amateur recreational activities contained within an educational program devoted to the welfare of the student…”?

Sure. That sounds lofty enough. Unfortunately, that has never really been the case for college sports. There has been dishonesty in the procurement and retention of student-athletes since the very beginning.

Prior to the 1850s, intercollegiate sports in the United States played merely a marginal role on campuses across the country. As the years went by, however, the students themselves wanted more, and eventually intramural contests gave way to intercollegiate ones, despite the fact that college administrators were definitely not happy to welcome such contests, which were “viewed as inappropriate distractions from serious scholarly work” (Lee et. al, 2017, education.stateuniversity.com).

“The turn of the century did not mark simply heady days for the burgeoning athletic programs. Many students and some alumni resented that the emerging organizational scheme tended to give inordinate and enduring support to a few selected spectator (and hence revenue-generating) sports––namely, football––with relatively few resources being dedicated to numerous other varsity squads. Additionally, the power and popularity of intercollegiate athletics led directly to conspicuous abuse. Even at this early juncture, a lack of regulation and fair play both on and off the field left college athletics indelibly marked by corruption and a reputation that has plagued ‘big-time’ college sports to this day” (Lee, 2017).

Indeed, the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw storied institutions such as the University of Chicago instructing its football coaches to recruit and develop teams to “…send around the country and knock out all the colleges. We will give [the players] a palace, a car and a vacation, too!” (Yen, 2014, p. 595). And the University of Chicago was not alone in this endeavor.

“By the 20th century, many colleges and universities eagerly pursued talented athletes and offered them money to attend school and play football with little regard for their academic abilities” (Yen, p. 595).

Eventually, by 1905, there were cries for reform and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the U.S. (IAAUS) was formed (and was to be the precursor to the modern-day NCAA).

“From its inception, the NCAA regulated both on-field competition (most immediately the growing risk of injury associated with football) and off-field matters of recruiting and money. The new organization’s rule on amateurism was clear. Universities could not offer scholarships or other money based on athletic ability” (Yen, p. 595).

The NCAA tried to uphold these ideals of amateurism in sport on college campuses, but it was undeniably handed a Sisyphean task. Under-the-table payments, “special” jobs provided by alumni and even, heaven forbid, “scholarships” made it abundantly clear that both the universities and their coaches would do anything to secure athletic victory––and reap all of the benefits that came with it.

By 1948, the NCAA instituted the so-called “Sanity Code,” which on its surface, gave the NCAA power to “expel member schools for violations” (Yen, p. 596).

‘The Code permitted limited athletic scholarships and off-campus recruiting, but the NCAA’s member institutions refused to enforce the very code they had adopted” (Yen, p. 596).

By 1950, the NCAA membership “considered the cases of the so-called ‘Seven Sinners,’ seven institutions who voluntarily admitted to breaking the rules. In defense, one of the Seven Sinners, the University of Virginia, argued that the scholarship limitations of the Sanity Code were unreasonable because athletes could not play football, work at a job and keep up with the school. The NCAA membership responded by refusing to expel the Seven Sinners, in part because many institutions felt it unfair to punish those who publicly admitted breaking the rules while many others continued to break the rules secretly” (Yen, p. 596).

This led to the repeal of the Sanity Code in 1951.

Indeed, the NCAA’s first unsuccessful attempt to regulate recruiting¬––as well as the myriad other attempts through the years––illustrates the problem that still exists to this day.

“No matter how hard it tries, the NCAA cannot force its member institutions to commit fully to the ideals of amateur sport incidental to education” (Yen, p. 596).

As a result, the NCAA has spent years trying to work with its member conferences to enact a dizzying number of complicated regulations “to govern the manner in which colleges stock their athletic rosters. And since 1905, coaches and their supporters have always managed to find loopholes in those rules” (Staples, 2008, si.com).

In the 21st century, one of the biggest problems plaguing the current system is the concept of early recruiting, which has been an increasing problem for 10 to 15 years now, not only in the revenue-producing sports (football and men’s basketball), but now trickling down to the sports like volleyball, lacrosse, soccer and softball––and mainly pointed toward female athletes.

As a result, the AVCA is initiating a new blog series titled “The Scholarship Chase: Early Recruiting in Volleyball” in an attempt to make sense of arguments on both sides.

The first blog focuses on a parent whose 15-year-old daughter is currently in the trenches of early recruiting. As a 6-2 setter, she has been getting verbal offers since she was a 13- and 14-year-old eighth grader. As the blog series continues, we will take a more in-depth look at the arguments for and against, as well as the potential detriments and possible benefits for the student-athletes.

(With respect for this father’s anonymity, who was graciously willing to speak up, we will refer to him only as Mr. Smith, and his daughter will be known as Jane.)

A Learning Experience

The conversation with Mr. Smith began with the simple question of “When did the first offers start coming in?”

His answer was a bit surprising.

“My daughter just turned 15 at the beginning of January,” Mr. Smith explains. “Last year, she was in her club season as a 13- and then 14-year-old eighth grader. [At that time] we started to see her progress and her ability––she is quite tall and very athletic. So, schools began showing interest and probably over the course of three or four months of the club season, there were 35 to 40 schools interested, of which 25 were top-tier NCAA Division I schools.”

And, according to Mr. Smith, the early recruiting ball got rolling when he and his daughter went on a local visit to one of the schools, “just going through the process. We were curious and I just wanted to see what the beginning of this [process] was all about.

“After a long four-and-a-half hour school tour, we learned a lot about the institution and the program, met some of the players, etc., and at the end of the day, we went to the coach’s office and there was a verbal offer extended to her.”

Needless to say, Mr. Smith says he was shocked, as was his daughter.

“Our club coach told us there was a possibility that they could do such and I said, ‘I hope they aren’t looking for a response!’ We were assured that they just wanted to make their intentions known.”

As a result, Mr. Smith says, “I coached my daughter a little bit [regarding this scenario, telling her] let’s make sure that we are very gracious and thank them and certainly let them know that you are very new to this process, it is very early, and you are just getting started and we have to work through it. As a result, please be patient.”

And Mr. Smith says the coach was very much onboard with that, simply reiterating he wanted to make his intentions and interests in her known and was very interested in hopefully building a relationship with her, learning more about her and continuing to follow her growth and progress.

“But we also want you to know that we have a vested interest here,” Mr. Smith says the coach pointed out.

According to Mr. Smith, it has been about nine months and there has been no real pressure from the majority of the interested schools. However, the ones that have put the pressure on seem somewhat relentless.

“We had a situation where after she played in AAU Nationals, basically she had one day off and we made a visit because we were already where the school was and then we took off to another city for the junior nationals. After nationals, she was going to have about five days off because she had been invited to a USA Volleyball High Performance camp.”

Mr. Smith said that his daughter was absolutely exhausted after this string of tournaments. However, she called one particular coach on the phone and he said, “I am bringing in a couple of other setters in your class and I want to get a really good look at you…it is a day-and-a-half process.”

“My daughter, with all of the regard she could muster, said, ‘With all due respect, I’m exhausted. I am leaving in three and a half days to go to Colorado Springs. I would love to do this. It has no reflection on your school or anything, but I need some rest right now.’”

Mr. Smith says he then had a similar conversation with the coach, polite and up-front regarding how his daughter was feeling at the time, and the coach ended up telling the two of them that nobody would walk away from this “meeting” with an offer.

However, the plot thickened.

“So, fast forward,” Mr. Smith explains, “and the assistant coaches want to talk to [my daughter], saying they want to move this forward and they would like her to come out for a football weekend. My wife and I also have a senior in high school right now and she is exploring her way through colleges, so for us to go visit over Labor Day weekend, it would cost about $2,000 for the family. Instead, we ended up going to a local university to watch another top 10 school in a match and one of the two other girls that had gone to the football weekend over Labor Day was there.”

Mr. Smith says he spoke to the other player’s father, asking him if his daughter was near making a commitment. She was also a soon-to-be freshman in high school. The other father said he didn’t really know, but two days later, posted on social media was this 14-year-old girl’s commitment to the university.

“My wife and I looked at each other and we said, ‘What if we would have spent $2,000 on this weekend to go over to see the school and this would have happened two days later?’ I would have been out of my mind.

“So for us, it has been a learning experience. My daughter is really taking her time and it is at her pace. I told her, ‘I hope you really take your time and if schools put pressure on you and they want to move quickly, if it is not the right place and time, we will know.’ I think she believes that, but it is difficult for a 15-year-old girl to see some of the stuff around her beginning to happen. She is already worried her opportunities might be running thin! I get that it is a game. I was a college athlete, but it was nowhere near this intense when I went through this process.”

Mr. Smith and Jane seem to be approaching this entirely encompassing process with maturity, intelligence and abundance of thought. Yet, he still recognizes that his daughter is 15 years old and there are many things the 14- and 15-year-olds don’t understand when it comes to the true meaning behind some of the coaches’ questions.

“So there is some innocence there that I allow to happen when she is in conversation with coaches because I think if we make a mistake, we make a mistake. She doesn’t know what she doesn’t know yet.”

And Mr. Smith admits there are several things he doesn’t know yet, either. However, there are a couple of things he would change about the early recruiting process. First of all, he believes that only when a player enters her freshman year in high school should communication start both ways.

“I think freshmen can start to call and receive emails through their club coaches or high school coaches from a collegiate coach and I think that interaction is okay. I think parents have to manage how often their kid is going to call coaches every week. I would say, as a freshman, you can call the same coach once per month.

“If a girl is going to a summer camp up until eighth or ninth grade, you can’t stop that but the communications––in terms of emails and phone calls––should not be accepted until that player is in her freshman year of high school. I would change it to that because eighth grade is still early. They are still babies!”

The other change Mr. Smith would like to see is to have the colleges and universities themselves be required to be more vested when it comes to early recruiting.

“As a sophomore a player should start receiving official visits because families can go broke [doing it on their own]. My feeling is that the NCAA should allow official visits and they should allow up to five per recruit. So, as a sophomore, when girls are really starting to get into it, they don’t have to have their family fly them across the country to go visit. If a school is really that interested it should need to burn one of its visits on this kid because now I think it really tightens up the game. It makes the coaches and the programs more accountable. They love us to come on unofficial visits because they have no skin in the game.”

And Mr. Smith is not alone in his recommendations for change like this at the NCAA level. In his article titled “Early Scholarship Offers and the NCAA” (Boston College Law Review, Volume 52, Issue 2), Alfred Yen argues some similar points, putting the onus on the schools themselves.

“This Article responds to the problem by suggesting that the NCAA take a radically different approach to regulating early recruiting. Instead of making largely futile efforts to prevent institutions and recruits from making early informal scholarship deals, the NCAA should allow them to make formal binding ones. There would, however, be strings attached. For every year before a recruit’s senior year in which an institution offers a binding commitment, the institution must guarantee the scholarship for an additional year. Thus a senior would get a one-year scholarship (the present practice), a junior a two-year scholarship, a sophomore three, and a freshman four. These scholarships would be guaranteed, regardless of whether the student plays the sport for the university, and they would further count against the scholarship limitations for the sport in question” (Yen, p. 589).

In essence, Yen argues that it is “frequently more effective to permit and regulate certain behaviors than to ban them.” Obviously, Prohibition comes to mind, as well as the more recent legalization of recreational marijuana use in eight states.

Yen continues, “Real reform will be difficult to achieve unless institutions bear real costs for pursuing underclassmen and the value of early scholarship deals is diminished” (Yen, p. 585).

Mr. Smith goes on to admit that there is no real way to stop the cheating and illegal practices that currently happen with early recruiting.

“You are not going to stop it because there are so many loopholes and ways to do it. I think it is best to work within the current rules, but modify them and put more pressure on the universities when it comes to recruiting.”

The next blog article will focus on another parent and her daughter, who has already committed to a university––and did so when she was 16.

References

E., Lee, R., M., E., Game, J., E., . . . Parker, K. (n.d.). College athletics - history of athletics In U.S. colleges and universities. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1846/College-Athletics-HISTORY-ATHLETICS-IN-U-S-COLLEGES-UNIVERSITIES.html

Staples, A. (2008, June 23). Andy Staples: A history of recruiting; how coaches have stayed a step ahead. Retrieved March 2, 2017, from http://www.si.com/more-sports/2008/06/23/recruiting-main

Yen, Alfred C., Early scholarship offers and the NCAA, 52 B.C.L. Rev. 585 (2011), http:lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol52/iss2/8

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