Over the past couple of years, the bloodline of College basketball- the recruiting of new players – has been tainted by a cancerous disease that is grotesquely deforming the sport. With media attention on the NBA and NCAA basketball, the focus is more on program success rather than player success. The result of which is an increase in athleticism and flashy plays while the average basketball IQ is taking a sharp downturn. The symptoms of this cancer are evident – an increase of early departures, especially one-and-done players, increased player transfers, players opting to play overseas (e.g. Brandon Jennings), etc. These symptoms lead to an increased level of uncertainty for programs nationwide when consistency and high standards for success are at an inflated premium.
Despite the microwave effect that the NBA’s age restriction has had on this growing problem over the past two years, it was none-the-less an unavoidable consequence of any competitive sport plastered on a national scene. As the promotion of college and professional basketball grew through media coverage and promotion, the sport gained in popularity leading to a larger player pool and effectively parity within the sport. The mid-major schools, like Gonzaga for example, have tightened the gap between themselves and the dominant programs in the nation and are now gradually being expected to perform to the same level as perpetually successful programs like UNC, Duke, UCLA, and Kansas on a yearly basis.I don’t believe that most of the mid-major programs will be able to live up to this expectation the way that Gonzaga has over the past 5+ years, but it does make the NCAA Tournament more interesting when they do. Despite the growing parity within the sport, the expectations of the big schools to dominate mid-majors and punching exit tickets for teams who earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament have remained virtually unwavering. Conference success has taken a back-seat to not only making the NCAA Tournament but finding oneself in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight every year. Such expectations – even for schools like UNC, Duke, UCLA, and Kansas – are lofty and mostly unobtainable which heightens the pressure for coaches.
In response to the increased pressure for continual success, we have seen coaches continue to exploit or discover new recruiting methods to maintain their edge. Some coaches directly violate the recruiting regulations set by the NCAA Committee, while others simply look for loopholes within the regulations. The NCAA has taken direct and deliberate action to resolve one of their recruiting loopholes by extending the age at which a student becomes an actual collegiate prospect. Previously students became prospects during ninth grade, but because of the NCAA’s inability to regulate and monitor junior high basketball camps seventh graders are now considered prospects. (Click here for more information on this)
I like that the NCAA is taking this step to negate an unfair recruiting advantage; which was essentially exploiting seventh and eighth grade players, but it’s not a fix all. This isn’t the first time someone has begun the recruiting process prior to a student-athlete becoming an official prospect, and it certainly won’t be the last. At what point will it stop? Fifth and sixth grade when school-organized athletics really begins? First grade when kids can participate in pee-wee basketball leagues? No, I don’t see six-year-olds being recruiting by Tim Floyd either, that’s not the point.
The point is that attempting to set a “magic number” on when a player officially becomes a prospect isn’t enough. The NCAA is taking some honorable steps, but until they change their approach when it comes to the recruitment of young players problems will continue to surface. The resolution, therefore lies in finding a balance between permitting programs to scout players during the AAU circuit and team sponsored basketball camps and permitting active recruitment of those prospects. Until then less-than-honorable coaches will continue to recruit under the age limit without repercussion just to gain an edge.
For more information on the NCAA’s rules and regulations regarding the recruitment of players click here.