How many people do you know who are married to their girlfriend or boyfriend from the 8th grade?
Furthermore, how many folks do you think went to the actual college and majored in the precise subject that they thought they would study when their middle school guidance counselors asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up?
Since the answer to both these questions is probably one in twenty or the proverbial “exception rather than the rule” it’s pretty safe to say that recruiting 8th grade football players for college is a fairly fruitless task.
Even though it seems almost laughable, something we ought to shake off with a dubious shrug, what’s up with major college football programs offering middle school athletes scholarships?
What began as a seemingly isolated incident when USC’s Lane Kiffin offered 13-year-old 7th grade QB David Sills a scholarship in 2010 has suddenly exploded this year with both LSU and Alabama tendering 14-year-old RB Dylan Moses offers to play major college football.
And since we all know that college football is a game of follow the leader it’s frankly scary to consider the notion that we may be standing on the verge of an avalanche of early (and earlier) recruiting.
The bottom line with way-too-early recruiting is that the only real winners are the media outlets who can claim a boatload of advertising dollars by plastering the almost bizarre storylines with wild abandonment.
It’s just what the doctor ordered for an oversaturated market seriously in need of some shock value.
The losers in the game of grossly premature recruiting are many and begin with the programs chasing a prospect that they may not ever actually sign or may never really want once the obligatory four years have passed.
Indeed, if LSU loses out on Dylan Moses, that is if he’s still the hot commodity he is after the 8th grade dance this spring, suddenly the Tigers will get hammered for not being able to reel in the big one.
This results in negative recruiting attention that you just don’t need when you’re trying to reach out to legitimate candidates who are in their junior and senior years of high school.
The next and most obvious loser is the young athlete who suddenly must deal with the very real pressure of living up to being a guy who plays 8th grade football, yet is supposed to be the next Andrew Luck, Cam Newton or Mark Ingram.
Don’t these kids have enough to deal with just trying to make their grades, surviving puberty, staying clean and learning to drive a car?
And this perilous list doesn’t include having to live with the pressure of being “Nick Saban approved” every Friday night for four-full years of high school.
Because there is no really early way out of high school graduation, well, at least not yet.
It’s a lot like being the first-ever freshman Heisman winner (say hey,Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel) and having to live up to what you’ve already done as a young man who may or may not be mature enough to handle his own hype.
And it’s important to note that it’s not Manziel’s fault he’s a 19-year-old who might react like one nor is it Dylan Moses’ fault that at the end of the day he’s only 14 and hasn’t even played a down of HS ball.
Seriously, at what point is this all the “kid’s fault?”
The third loser, or set of losers, in the early recruiting game is the larger group of athletes who will be pushed and/or pushing themselves to be the next 14-year-old to get a call from Florida.
This sets up young guys to alter their own priorities for something that probably isn’t realistic, ultimately creating a scenario that will shift the emphasis to “athlete” over “student” in high school as it already has at the collegiate level.
The real danger here is that these kids are four long years away from even a college scholarship much less the eight years of unknowns that separate them from the big money of the NFL.
This makes the prospect of an injury even more catastrophic and the lack of a “fall back” plan even more costly.
The forecast for potential crashes to reality seem even more fraught when you consider the fact that college football programs may soon have the right to contact athletes in a limitless fashion.
This means that suddenly your 8th grade, or even 7th grade hometown gridiron hero may have to deal with four or five full years of texts, emails, instant messages and/or calls from whichever of the 125 FBS programs might have even a marginal interest.
If you’re thinking that this entire topic is an overreaction given that we’re talking about just a couple of kids being talked to by just a few big time programs don’t underestimate the domino effect in college football.
To illustrate: the University of Texas didn’t have a Director of Player Personnel until it tanked in recruiting this year and decided this month that it should follow Nick Saban and Alabama’s lead in hiring a more dedicated staff member.
Not only did the Longhorns decide to up the ante with a dedicated recruiting guy/talent evaluator, they hired former Saban associate Patrick Suddes, therefore completing the cycle of mimicking a successful system.
And this makes it pretty clear that if offering scholarships to 13 and 14-year-olds is the next big thing in college football, Katy bar the door.
The only way to curb this meaningless, and honestly fruitless practice, is to nip it in the bud.
Indeed, while the NCAA is reeling with internal problems and trying to simplify its mountains of meaningless code why not, for once, proactively put a stop to ridiculous procedure before it spins out of control?
The time is now to limit way-too-early recruiting by setting standards that say a prospect can’t be contacted until he/she has completed his/her sophomore season in the sport that he/she is being recruited for.
At the end of the day this is absolutely necessary to avoid the avalanche of premature attention that will inevitably take down young athletes who deserve a chance to actually mature before being expected to be mature.