NCAA Recruiting: Is It Ethical For Colleges To Offer Athletics Scholarships To Kids Who Are Still in Grade School?

By on August 6, 2013 9:22 am
Institute of Sports Law and Ethics

If you follow high school and college sports, you probably have seen many references to big-time schools offering athletics scholarships to boys who are still in grade school. For example, Dylan Moses of Baton Rouge is the cover boy of the July 8, 2013 edition of ESPN The Magazine. Dylan has said he is excited to be entering high school next fall, and hopes to contribute to the high school varsity football team as a freshman. No doubt he also is excited to have received scholarship offers before he even enrolls in high school from Alabama, LSU, Texas, Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, UCLA and Ole Miss. In fact, LSU offered Dylan a scholarship prior to his eighth-grade year.

This is not against any rule. There is no NCAA violation involved in verbally offering a young boy or girl an athletics scholarship. And there is no violation should that young person verbally accept the offer. Neither side is bound by this exchange.

Think of this as nothing more than a ritualized mating dance between school and prospect. Nothing is binding. Nothing is permanent, on either side. So what’s the harm? What ethical considerations might be involved?

Dylan Moses, as this is written, has not committed to any school. But what about the other youngsters who have verbally committed? Take David Sills. David performed well at a quarterback camp prior to seventh grade and received a verbal scholarship offer from USC as a 13 year old in 2010. David verbally accepted that offer while still in the seventh grade, calling USC his dream school.

What happens if the USC head coach who offered a scholarship to David gets fired or jumps ship for a better job in the next few years? What if the next USC coach does not think that David is a fit for his style of offense? We know the answer. David will not be a Trojan.

Of course, this could happen to the David Sills of the world even without a coaching change. The USC coaches might conclude after David’s junior year in high school, for example, that he simply hasn’t developed physically to the extent they had expected four years earlier. Or he appears to be injury prone. Or they simply fell in love with a new stud quarterback. And this is not to pick on USC. Every big-time school pays its coaches a lot of money to win, and coaches sign players they think will help them win. If David Sills does not fit that description, he will not be signed by USC or anyone else at that level.

I wonder how a grade-school kid can possibly know what institution will be in his best interests academically years in the future. Remember that pesky academic side of the equation? There are no guarantees of a career in the NFL or NBA. As an NCAA investigator, I spoke with many young men who were “sure things” for the NFL or NBA. Unfortunately, very few of them actually made it that far. Those that bought into the glamorous dream and did not perform well academically in high school and college often found themselves with poor options in life.

The trend to offer scholarships to younger and younger children will continue, I predict. Coaches are notorious copycats. The thought that one institution might be getting a competitive edge by offering scholarships early will continue to drive others to do the same thing.

I wish the best for Dylan Moses, David Sills and all the others who have received, and will receive, these very early offers. But is it really ethical for institutions of higher education to fill the young person’s head with visions of athletic glory before that boy or girl has even figured out high school? And is the academic message lost in this process? I would feel better if I had ever heard one of these young kids mention how the colleges recruiting him had emphasized the importance of working hard in grade school and high school classes. Perhaps it is being said by the coaches but simply not reported.

I’m interested in what you think. Am I seeing an ethical issue where none exists? Is this simply the natural evolution of a highly competitive business?

Please contact me with your thoughts at mgilleran@scu.edu.

Thank you.

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