If there's one aspect to college basketball that will forever make me uncomfortable, it's college coaches courting, from afar, 14-year-old prospects.
And the ones even younger? That's a greasy can of I-don't-even-know which, thankfully, the NCAA put the kibosh on years ago.
But with the academic environment of college basketball set to usher in a new era in 2016, there's a lot of furniture that has to be moved in the meantime. Fans don't realize it yet, but the pressure on players and coaches is about to get even more intense. There will be the added stress of recruiting not only good basketball players, but good basketball players with healthy academic transcripts and the ability to clear a higher bar into eligibility.
This bit of news that follows flew under the radar this week, so in the event you missed it, here goes: The NCAA is debating letting college coaches contact eighth-grade boys. However, it appears the only contact allowed would be via writing. Letters sent to the prospects, letting them know their next four years of high school will require them to meet higher academic standards than previously instituted, is the vision.
It's not definitely going to happen, but the NCAA is considering it, and that alone is notable. Why? For the good of the game and stability of its basketball programs, mainly. A sense of panic has begun to seep in at some schools, or with some people, because the feeling is that a heaping of players (and I may be underselling that) simply won't get a chance at college basketball or a free education because the standards of entry will be too high.
The core-course and grade-minimum alterations to the NCAA's requirements for athletic eligibility will be the loftiest mandate in the history of the sport. There remains trepidation from coaches, fans, parents, media, you name it, over how many kids will or won't fall through the cracks. (My brief opinion on this: Some will, but plenty won't, and many will fudge their way into school, just like how many fudge their way into school now. But that is most definitely another post for another time.)
More from the NCAA here.
Communicating with prospects has always been a challenge. The membership adopted recruiting rules to protect high school students and help them focus on academics instead of college athletics. However, some of the rules have had the opposite effect, pulling college coaches out of living rooms and preventing them from imparting the message that academic success is crucial for college student-athletes.
Recognizing that dichotomy, the Division I Committee on Academic Performance began exploring different ways to communicate with prospective student-athletes about the new expectations. One possible solution is to allow coaches greater access to young people, not to recruit them but to help them understand the new standards.
“In suggesting the loosening of rules, the committee put recruiting concerns aside and came together as educators for the good of all student-athletes,” said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president for academic and membership affairs. “Of course, some parameters will be in place. The committee wants to make as many student-athletes as possible aware of what's expected of them. The earlier these students know the expectations, the more prepared they can be academically and the more successful they can be in college.”
The difficulty here will be keeping coaches on a leash and hoping the primary subject of the communication relates to grades. Used to be that players could sleep through high school and still find ways to get into college. It's not really going to be like that anymore. And for the schools with tough in-house academic requirements, they've been taking on this challenge for a long while now.
The rest of the country will begin to catch up. Is it a good idea to open up a crack for coaches to slither through? Any coach that can take advantage of a rule will take advantage of a rule. In this case, with academics really becoming as big a priority as it ever has been, I think the allowance of contact for eighth-graders is called for. Anything to stymie the inevitable bundle of messy eligibility cases that I just know will be waiting for us a few years down the road.