The Scholarship Chase Chapter 5

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Point/Counterpoint pt. 1

Folks of a certain age remember the incredibly popular 1970s segment on 60 Minutes called “Point/Counterpoint.” The segment originally showcased conservative journalist James J. Kirkpatrick going up against his liberal counterpart, Shana Alexander, in a debate on a particularly divisive issue of the day.

Of course, the even more hip folks of a certain age remember fondly the lampoon of the segment on Saturday Night Live featuring Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as the debaters. (If you are not of a certain age, run and don’t walk to your smartphone and go onto YouTube® to discover what all the hullabaloo was about 40+ years ago!)

The concept of “Point/Counterpoint,” with its earliest use found in the 1920s and based on Aldous Huxley’s 1928 novel Point Counter Point, in actuality does not seek to determine a winner or loser in the argument. “Rather the goal is to present seemingly contradictory statements, which if looked at in depth might both be true, given the proper perspective” (JOE, 1995).

Indeed, the current divisive debate in high school and collegiate volleyball––the concept of early recruiting––is the perfect argument to utilize the notion of Point/Counterpoint. And in this installment of “The Scholarship Chase: Early Recruiting in Volleyball,” two of the sport’s most prolific recruiters are going to do just that.

Kevin Hambly, who was recently named the sixth head coach in the history of the Stanford Cardinal women’s volleyball program in January, comes to The Farm after logging eight very successful seasons at the helm of the University of Illinois. While at Illinois, he garnered six NCAA regional appearances and played for the 2011 national title. He is against early recruiting.

Brandon Rosenthal enters his 15th season at the helm of the Lipscomb University women’s volleyball program in Nashville in 2017. Rosenthal has essentially built the women’s volleyball program at Lipscomb from the ground up. He became one of the youngest NCAA Division I head coaches at the age of 25, taking a program that had never experienced more than four match victories in one season to seven NCAA tournament appearances (2007, ’09, ’10, ’11, ’14, ‘15 and ’16). He is for early recruiting.

Indeed, both of these coaches are consummate recruiters who have made very successful careers out of researching young, gifted players and having the enviable ability to get them to sign on the dotted line to play at their respective institutions. To be sure, the early recruiting debate has been occurring for more than a decade now, and both men have opinions about the process. Of course, just like in any argument, both don’t always disagree on the merits of the practice of early recruiting, but for the most part, when it comes to the major arguments for and against, they are polar opposites.

Let’s take a closer look at the arguments and see how the debate plays out. Remember in the Point/Counterpoint method of critical thinking and debate, there is no real winner –– just an in-depth look at the pros and cons.

Initial Reaction

According to Hambly, his primary reaction to the practice of early recruiting is one of inherent dislike.

“My initial feeling is that I’m totally against it, because I think young girls who are trying to figure out [which college to attend and where to play volleyball] are not ready to make those decisions [in terms of maturity]. I am not sure if the kids are always the only ones making the decisions or [have help from] their parents. [Nevertheless,] the process is broken.”

Rosenthal, on the other hand, views everything on the topic from a disparate viewpoint.

“I have a different perspective than the majority. I hear right now this overwhelming cry that we’ve got to stop early recruiting. And I think a couple of years ago, we went through a period where the NCAA was talking about deregulation and I was really attracted to that, just because there are so many rules that are unenforceable. And, it gets to the point where people are doing this all the time regardless, so let’s just take the shackles off of it, create some broader limitations, and let people go to work.”

Now let’s take a look at some of the major points regarding early recruiting and then consider the counterpoints. Hambly and Rosenthal will be our major debaters, but will be assisted by a number of additional experts in the field.

Argument No. 1: Players as young as middle school (13 or 14 years old) are not ready to make such a life-altering decision, and definitely do not understand what they are getting into when they are choosing a college at such a young age.

POINT: “I still think that [nearly] every player that has committed over the last five years has committed way too early, and they didn’t really understand what they were getting into. I feel like it should be happening later and it should be a lot simpler and a lot cleaner –– and it is not,” Hambly explains.

According to Alfred C. Yen, in his article titled “Early Scholarship Offers and the NCAA (2011),” “Sixteen-year-old high school sophomores will physically and mentally change before enrolling as 18-year-old college freshmen. They probably do not know much about the differences between schools. Even if students learn about the particulars of the university that offers them an athletic scholarship, their decision to accept involves considerable guesswork about the kind of college experience they will desire” (p. 587).

COUNTERPOINT: According to Rosenthal, “The [recruits] are having to experience making decisions at a younger age––and I don’t know if that is necessarily bad. [Today’s student-athletes] are way more informed than juniors were even eight years ago! They are thriving so I think what everybody is getting all up in arms about is people having to make decisions. I think there is a lot of good going on, [mostly because the players] have the time to discuss things with mom and dad and ultimately other family members. The argument is, ‘Hey, a 15-year-old doesn’t know what they want.’ Well, an 18-year-old doesn’t necessarily know what they want, either!”

Argument No. 2: Under the current NCAA legislation, it is incredibly expensive for parents to pay for “unofficial visits.” (Currently, official visits, where the institution pays for travel expenses, housing, meals and sometimes entertainment, are only allowed after the first day of the start of a student-athlete’s senior year in high school.) Not only is it expensive, but does it also put lower-income players at a disadvantage because they cannot afford to go from school to school to meet unofficially with college volleyball coaches or to compete in volleyball showcases all across the country?

POINT: “I feel like when I was a young player, first I wasn’t thinking about college until I was a senior!” Hambly laughs. “But once I got exposed to [the idea], I felt like I was ready for it when it happened and it wasn’t my parents making the decision for me to go play [USA Volleyball] High Performance or try out for the U.S. Junior National Team. It was me begging my parents to find the money to help me go to these tryouts and do those kinds of things. I feel like these kids don’t know what they are getting into.”

Indeed, many younger players are being prodded by their parents to go after those elusive college scholarships. Of course, the players are not always are of the pressure being put on their parents –– and ultimately their wallets! Now, parents are shelling out the money to have their children visit a particular college on an unofficial visit as an eighth grader or travelling cross-country to participate in a college volleyball showcase. And as “Mr. Smith” said in the first blog of this series, “I would say the NCAA should put the onus on the university to put skin in the game, making coaches and the programs more accountable” by having the university pay for up to five official visits starting the sophomore year.

COUNTERPOINT: “I have taken the viewpoint that we are asking freshmen, sophomores and obviously juniors to come visit our campus. So when they do that, they are making a conscious decision to say, ‘We only have X amount of time and X amount of money to spend. So we have to make some decisions on the front end of things,’” Rosenthal explains.

And, according to Rosenthal, allowing younger players to come to campus “on their dime” takes away the “dog and pony show” and the “wining and dining” that is usually done on official visits for the older players. “I think [the players] are way more informed because the parents are involved, obviously, because they are younger and can’t travel alone.”

Argument No. 3: Sport specialization is detrimental at such a young age, as overuse injuries become the norm, often leading to the necessity to quit playing before even graduating high school.

POINT: “At the high school level, coaches are asking players to decide, ‘Are you a volleyball player, or are you a basketball player or a field hockey player, or whatever,’ Hambly states. Then they have to make a decision as freshmen in high school and that, to me, is really bad for both the health and well-being of the player––from a physical standpoint, as well as the mind and spirit.”

In the article “Coaches Take Aim at Heartache and Hardship of Early Recruiting” by Mirin Fader (espnw, 2016), Giddings Harrison, a senior high school lacrosse player, “suffered bilateral labral tears in her hips the summer before her sophomore year. Resisting surgery and bearing knife-like pain digging into her hip, she played in showcases in hopes of verballing. …

“Weekly breakdowns. Two cortisone shots. Her doctor refused to grant her a third, reasoning she wouldn’t be able to walk by 40. Division I washed away; two hip surgeries followed. Though healthy and excited to play for Washington and Lee (DIII), she has regrets. ‘That’s one thing about the early recruiting that I really hated is that I sacrificed the well being of my body to be recruited,’ Harrison said. ‘I based my self worth off of if I was committed or if this college was looking at me, and that’s not at all what a sophomore needs. As a high schooler, you should be focusing on your grades and your social life and making sure that your athletics are going well and that you’re working hard.’”

COUNTERPOINT: There really isn’t one. There are countless studies on specialization in a sport at an early age and the resulting overuse injuries. One, by J.P. DiFiori, H.J. Benjamin, J.S. Brenner et al., solidifies the argument in a nutshell. “Youth sport participation offers many benefits, including the development of self-esteem, peer socialization and general fitness. However, an emphasis on competitive success, often driven by goals of elite-level travel team selection, collegiate scholarships, Olympic and national team membership and even professional contracts, has seemingly become widespread. This has resulted in an increased pressure to begin high-intensity training at young ages. Such an excessive focus on early intensive training and competition at young ages rather than skill development can lead to overuse injury and burnout’ (DiFiori, et al., 2014).

Of course, the well-informed coach and volleyball program, no matter the level, can take steps to ensure overuse injuries are minimalized. But does it happen regularly? Unfortunately not.

Stay tuned for Chapter 6, where this discussion continues with three more arguments!

Works Cited

DiFiori, John P., Holly J. Benjamin, Joel S. Brenner, Andrew Gregory, Neeru Jayanthi,

Greg L. Landry, and Anthony Luke. "Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine." Br J Sports Med. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd and British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine, 01 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017. <>.

Fader, Mirin. "The Impact of Early Recruiting on Players and Coaches." ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 12 May 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2017.<>.

(JOE), The Journal of Extension. Point Counterpoint––A Method for Teaching Critical Thinking. Extension Journal, Aug. 1995. Web. 10 Apr. 2017. <>.

Popper, Nathaniel. "Committing to Play for a College, Then Starting 9th Grade." The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2017. <>.

Sander, Libby. "For Coaches, a Race With No Finish Line." The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 09 May 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2017 <>.

Alfred C. Yen, Early Scholarship Offers and the NCAA, 52, B.C.L. Rev. 585 (2011),


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