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Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015: High school sports czar for a day

   Leading off today: The New York State Sportswriters Association recently reached out to reporters across the state offering them a chance to be "czar for a day," proposing solutions to issues and/or other thoughts. This is the latest contribution leading up to the start of fall sports.

Bob Chavez, The Daily Messenger
   It seems a good portion of this country is learning what we in New York have known for quite some time: Lacrosse is a great game.

   Participation numbers are through the roof, baseball coaches are mad because they're losing players and the number of new college programs over the last decade offer undeniable proof. But as much good as the growth brings, it's also bringing some ugly.

   But maybe that's too strong a word. So let's go with something about just plain not understanding how the early recruitment of players is a good thing. At issue is the growing trend of 8th-, 9th- and 10th-graders making verbal commitments to college programs. As one coach told me, long-range planning for most kids that age centers on the upcoming weekend much less four or five years down the road.

   But that same college coach, who is learning first-hand about early recruits from his own program, points to one nice positive: Grades. Kids making early commitments to powerhouse schools are now motivated more than ever to keep their grades up so that verbal turns into a written. By having to report their grades to said universities, the motivation to do homework and study is clearly there.

   But, of course, the downside to early recruiting has been the elephant in the room for some time now. Some blame the college coaches, some blame the athletes and some blame parents. Really, though, it's on all three.

   By its very nature, lacrosse players have always been somewhat early with their college choices. Being a spring sport, the junior season was the prime window because by the time the senior season of high school rolls around, most college destinations have been made clear by athletes and non-athletes.

   But as the college landscape, and opportunities, have grown, so too has the need for players to fill those NCAA rosters. Division I scholarships for lacrosse are limited, so the competition is intense. And if you don't make your school choice now, someone else will. If the offer comes from a school, are you willing to risk losing your spot?

   With more kids playing the game these days, the slots for juniors are filling faster. So coaches turn to sophomores, and freshmen, and eighth-graders, and ... you get the idea.

   In turn, this cranks the pressure up a notch and in order to be seen, more kids are turning to elite and travel teams to play in tournaments they know college coaches will be watching. It's snowballed into a hellish monster fueled by the need to win at the college level.

   So where does it end? Can it end? The NCAA could step in and regulate the scene with defined windows for recruiting, or issue a no-contact rule for players and coaches before an athlete's age or class in school.

   But if you think the pressure is intense now, can you

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imagine the flurry of activity in designated time frames?

   This is what's so frustrating about the entire issue. There really is no clear-cut solution. Many are disgusted at seeing young minds making such big choices, but in most cases, these young minds are not working by themselves. Coaches and parents add to the pressure, so maybe they're the ones who need to slow their roll.

   Question is, who will take the first step? And if someone does, will others follow?

   Some supporting data: How pervasive is the situation Bob describes above? lists 99 rising juniors across New York who have committed to Division I colleges.

   While the comparison is admittedly apples-to-oranges because one sport offers full athletic scholarships while the other uses a combination of athletic grants/financial aid, chew on this: Ninety-nine Division I commitments (with more to come) in one year pretty much matches the state total for football signings over any four-year period in the last three decades.

   Oh, and the number of rising seniors to have committed already to Division I lacrosse is up to 167 vs. under a dozen in football.

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