Last week’s girls’ lacrosse game between Good Counsel and Bishop Ireton featured a combined 38 players who have announced their college decisions. That includes several sophomores and freshmen — and doesn’t include the eighth-grader expected to enroll in Ireton in Fall 2017 … and Virginia Tech in 2021.
The recruitment of underclassmen has become the norm in high school lacrosse, not just in powerhouse Washington Catholic Athletic Conference programs, but a new rule has been enacted to stop that trend.
On April 14, the NCAA Division I Council passed a proposal prohibiting recruiting contact with prospective athletes — including offers and commitments — until Sept. 1 of their junior year.
High school coaches from public and private schools said the new rule will slow down the recruitment process, giving prospective college athletes more time to evaluate their options at the next level. It could also benefit late-bloomers, who are currently left competing for fewer spots as most of them are filled by underclassmen.
“I think the general consensus is, it’s a good idea, to let’s slow this down,” said Ireton Coach Rick Sofield, whose daughter Charlotte Sofield plays for North Carolina. “What it does do is, for those really elite blue chip athletes, it means they gotta wait. I don’t know that really hurts them in any way. In fact it probably helps them without even knowing it.”
“What freshman knows for sure what college they’re going to?” Sofield said. “They haven’t even finished algebra.”
The rule was introduced by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association and Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association and was several years in the making.
While players used to be recruited beginning July 1 of their senior years, the sport’s rise in popularity has led more teams and coaches to seek recruiting edges by going after younger players. The first sophomore commitment happened in 2009 and the first freshman commitment happened in 2013, according to Inside Lacrosse.
Underclassmen recruitment has become increasingly prevalent with D.C. area public and private school athletes, scouted predominantly through their club teams. At Good Counsel, 19 of the 20 college-bound players on the girls’ team made their commitments before their junior years, according to Coach Michael Haight. The top-ranked Landon boys’ team is stacked with Division I commits, more than half of whom committed as underclassmen. Riverside, a second-year Loudoun County public school, features three sophomores who are committed to Division I schools.
“[College] coaches are inherently competitive. They may go to a tournament, see a player they like and hear through the grape vine that they’ve already committed,” said Tracy Coyne, the George Washington women’s lacrosse coach and a IWLCA board member. “It’s like keeping up with the Joneses in a way.”
Coaches anticipate a light Sept. 1 deadline this year, with many of the current sophomores already decided on their schools, but there could be more of a free-for-all in 2018 and beyond.
“I think it’s manageable. I think it’s the right direction,” Coyne said. “It’s the right thing for the sport and the right thing for the families.”