Saturday, January 22, 2011

NCAA Mocks its Values in Early Offer Decision Vote

In the cascade of NCAA legislation from the last meeting, one “minor” vote stands out. The NCAA Legislative Council voted to not  prohibit coaches from offering athletic scholarships until junior year of high school. So colleges and universities can continue to offer full scholarships to 13 year olds, eighth graders or high school freshmen.

This decision did not come from the media NCAA bogeyman like eligibility or enforcement bureaucracies.

No this decision came after due deliberation of the NCAA Legislative Council. The Council represents all NCAA conferences and makes the final judgment on legislative matters. This legislation was five years in gestating and had the strong support of the NCAA Recruiting and Academic Cabinets.

The issue seems minor to the media obsessed with enforcement or BCS issues, but it strikes at the core of the NCAA claim to be about STUDENT athletes. For the last decade college coaches have offered scholarships at younger and younger ages. I have written about the many problems for students, parents and coaches, but it continues. Right now most Olympic teams have long finished their junior recruiting and are already making offers to sophomores and often freshmen.

In basketball offers are routinely extended to eighth graders. Even football which had largely avoided this corruption of ideals, now moves towards offering scholarships to grade school behemoths or quarterback phenoms.

Why is this a problem? Simple.  We have no real ability to predict the character or academic potential of a 13 year or even 14 year old. Universities have no business offering full cost college scholarships to kids who have no high school grades or may have one year of high school grades.

The early offers ridicule the pretense to take the STUDENT in student-athlete seriously. With no real ability to predict academic performance and no great sense of athletic performance, the NCAA sanctions a shallow, competition driven practice.

Even though the academic and recruiting wings of the NCAA strongly supported this approach, the athletic directors and some powerful coaches killed it at the conference votes. Most don’t want change because the big schools benefit in the early recruiting game and the smaller ones see a chance to benefit from early mistakes and late blossoming or local product commits.

The pretend reason for the opposition from athletic directors and coaches is that it would be hard to enforce. The coaches and directors claim to worry about false reports made against them or about being held accountable to secret offers they do make. This is a sham.  After a year or two of transition the media and culture of coaching will adapt. There will be mistakes, but the AD and coaches don’t want change because they have now accommodated and are benefitting from the practice.

Five years ago most coaches hated making offers to children and would tell you. They knew it made no sense to extend offers to eighth graders and freshmen. They knew that this increases risk for athletic talent and growth, but also for academic talent. But now they have lived with the wrong of it, and they can rationalize it. “We help them earlier. We guide them for grades. We end the rat race sooner.” It goes on and on but it teaches us that good people will accommodate themselves to bad systems and then rationalize it away.

So at a formal vote of the Legislative Council worried more about enforcement liability and keeping their recruiting advantages than living up to their professed values. Congratulations NCAA on living up to your ideals.

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