Eighth-Grader Commits, Brings Recruiting Proposals to Light
Florida Select attacker Caitlyn Wurzburger, an eighth-grader at American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla., has verbally committed to play at Syracuse, according to Florida Lacrosse News. It's the earliest such commitment ever reported in men's or women's lacrosse, and comes at a time when college coaches are lobbying the NCAA to adopt legislation to stem early recruiting.
Wurzburger, a member of the Sun Sentinel's All-Palm Beach team in 2014 as a seventh-grader, is the first player from her club team to commit to a college. She "is humbled and honored to play for the Orange and coach [Gary] Gait," she told FLN. She plans to major in communications and journalism.
Current NCAA recruiting rules say coaches can’t initiate communication with a prospective-student athlete until Sept 1. of his or her junior year of high school, but there is nothing stopping recruits from starting the process or from using third-party communication through a club or high school coach, for example. Those rules also don't apply to those too young to be classified as prospects by the NCAA definition of ninth-graders. (In men's basketball only, it's seventh-graders.)
Kathy Jenkins, in her 40th year as the girls' lacrosse coach at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes, was one of the prominent high school coaches to voice her concerns about the increasing pace of recruiting and its effects at the IWLCA convention in November.
"Every year it's gotten worse," Jenkins said. "It used to be seniors, and it was great. It was juniors, then sophomores later, then sophomores earlier. Now freshmen or between freshman and sophomore summer. People were out looking at eighth-graders this summer. It's getting worse, and it's going to get worse if we don't change it."
Before Wurzburger, current junior Sarah Reznick, a goalie for Long Beach (N.Y.) High's varsity squad since seventh grade, was the earliest to commit to an NCAA Division I women's program. A member of the Yellow Jackets club, Reznick verbally committed to Florida on Aug. 20, 2014.
Similarly, this past July, just a few months shy of beginning his freshman year at Oakville Trafalgar High in Ontario, Canadian attackman Payton Cormier became the earliest verbal commitment to an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse program – Virginia. The first freshman on record to make a verbal commitment to a Division I men's team was 6-foot-2 attackman Forry Smith, now a senior at The Haverford School (Pa.) who plans to attend Johns Hopkins next year.
The continued early commitments to top Division I programs have become a trend that many coaches want to end, spurring the IWLCA to submit two proposals to the NCAA in September. The first proposal would revise the Division I recruiting calendar and the second would standardize the initial date for all communication with prospective student athletes.
Virginia men's coach Dom Starsia was among the coaches pushing for a new proposal to slow down recruiting. During the IMLCA convention in December, he spoke in favor of following the IWLCA in submitting to the NCAA a proposal that bans contact with high school student-athletes before Sept. 1 of their junior year. Eighty-five percent of the IWLCA voted in favor of the proposal, as did a majority of IMLCA Division I membership on Dec. 11. US Lacrosse has supported both organizations and encouraged the NCAA to act.
"What we submitted was about 200 pages, and it's a big deal and we want people to understand how important it is, how passionate we are, how our entire coaching body wants this change," said Penn women's coach Karin Corbett. "We're asking the NCAA to make this change to save the kids."
The recruiting contact date proposal was discussed at length at the end of 2015 by the NCAA's 10-person student-athlete experience committee (SAEC). The SAEC meets again this week at the annual NCAA convention and once more in February. If the SAEC approves the proposal, it would then move on to the Division I council, which would meet in April to begin the process of determining if it could be passed as new legislation for the 2016-2017 academic year.
In recent years, the NCAA has moved toward deregulation and hasn’t shown a willingness to approve sport-specific legislation. More likely in lacrosse are tweaks to the recruiting calendar — adding more dead periods — which both coaching bodies also proposed. In the meantime, verbal commitments by pre-juniors — and, in some cases, middle-schoolers — continue to be made to Division I programs.
“We need it to be an NCAA rule,” Starsia said.
Lacrosse does have an ally in the process, SAEC chair Bob Scalise. The Harvard athletic director was a two-time All-American lacrosse player at Brown, and is an outspoken critic of early recruiting.
“This is something that is important, but people do not think it’s urgent right now,” Scalise said. “I’m trying to say, let’s just chip away at this and do it sport by sport.”
The IWLCA confirmed Thursday night that the SAEC included adopting the NCAA men's basketball definition of a prospect (seventh grade) in the legislative proposals they are circulating to the coaches associations, but said proposals are subject to modification throughout the reviewal process. The IWLCA supports changing the definition of prospect to include any student who has started classes in the seventh grade — if their proposal maintains a single-sport focus — but they hope it is applied across all sports, with the support from the IMLCA, and to close any loopholes in NCAA legislation.
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