By Roy & Harv Schmidt
A lot has been made about scouting services and recruiting analysts who evaluate elementary age kids and college coaches who recruit them. In our minds this does more harm than good and there is no question that the process is screwed up. However, what we believe to be the #1 source of the problem today may come as somewhat of a surprise to many of you.
Let us begin by stating that the problem that we are talking about runs rampant throughout all college sports. From our standpoint, however, we are going to relegate our comments solely to basketball. We believe that the root of what is wrong with basketball recruiting today was touched on by former Purdue head coach Gene Keady a few years ago when he was asked to name one factor that has changed recruiting more than anything else. Simply put, it can be summed up in one word--parents.
We have to agree with this assessment whole-heartedly. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that parents are the #1 reason why college basketball recruiting is the way it is today. They are the ones (more than anyone else) who have the power to make sure that their son or daughter's recruitment is handled the right way. Unfortunately, too many times it is handled the wrong way. Why? Because all too often parents are doing nothing more than trying to feed their own egos and have their own self-serving interests at heart. And having covered basketball recruiting for 22 years, we can speak from personal experience.
We remember when it didn't used to be this way. 15 years ago parents were willing to listen to voices of reason and more often than not would let the high school coach be in charge of their child's recruitment. Not any more. Instead we now frequently hear parents tell us how they don't think the high school coach is helping their kid's recruitment. We don't know how many times in recent years we have had a parent come up to us and say, "You have got to see my kid play", or "Have you seen my kid play yet? He is one of the top (sixth, seventh or eighth graders--take your pick) in the state." It is nothing more than the classic little-league parent mentality. With that being said, we have to ask how this is helping any kid in a positive way.
There is no question that in addition to parents there are plenty of talent evaluators, recruiting analysts and self-proclaimed internet gurus who are part of the problem and contribute to the feeding frenzy. On ESPN's Pardon The Interruption a couple of years ago, Michael Wilbon referred to one national analyst who has gone out of his way to evaluate players as early as the fifth grade as "an idiot." Another well-known analyst who is opposed to the idea of ranking elementary school players has referred to it as "a subtle form of child abuse," an assessment which is difficult to disagree with.
Despite all of this, did anyone ever stop to think that perhaps things wouldn't be so bad if more parents were willing to stand up to those evaluators, analysts and outside influences who continue to try to prey upon them? If parents would simply tell these people to back off or say no to them, just maybe things wouldn't be so out of control. Instead, too many parents actually welcome the invitations of these outsiders without realizing the potential dangers that exist. Why? Because all too often they crave the attention and the publicity.
And then of course there are the college coaches who recruit players at such a young age. With the accelerated pace that recruiting continues to move at, we cannot fault them for doing so. However, that doesn't make it right. Again, this is where the NCAA could step in, but then again probably not, as history has shown that whenever the NCAA institutes new legislation it only has the tendency to makes things worse than they were before. We like a couple of ideas that have been knocked around by various people. One is for the NCAA to make it mandatory that any underclassmen who renders a verbal commitment must also sign a letter of intent at the time he makes the commitment, thereby meaning that a recruit would not have to wait until his senior year before signing with a particular school. Another would be to pass a rule instituting a date by which a recruit may not offer a verbal commitment before then. However, it is likely that neither one of these ideas will be implemented all too soon.
All of which brings us back once again to the parents. They are the ones who have the ability to bring about change. But too many of them are uneducated when it comes to understanding the recruiting process. Recruiting seminars led by qualified individuals who do not have their own self-serving agendas at heart could go a long way in this regard.
It is also important for us to let everyone know that in our 20 plus years of evaluating high school basketball players and following recruiting, our evaluation of elementary level players has consisted of nothing more than attending a few eighth grade all-star games here and there or watching an eighth grader who plays with an AAU team during the spring or summer. We don't believe in ranking players until they become freshmen in high school.
In conclusion, there are no easy answers to this situation. What we do know is that the process is in need of major reform. Getting a majority of parents to change their existing mindsets could go a long way toward making this happen.