Imagine being a normal 6th grader, with normal 6th grade problems; except for one thing: you’ve just committed to play football at a DI university.
Let’s take a trip to Los Angeles, where 10-year-old Maxwell “Bunchie” Young has received an offer to attend the University of Illinois on a football scholarship. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s quite common. Lane Kiffin, the head coach at Florida Atlantic University, is notorious for offering scholarships to middle schoolers. He recently offered multiple sixth-graders scholarships to play at FAU. Other schools have followed suit, with Nevada and Hawaii both making offers to prepubescent boys last year.
Before you get the wrong idea, I need to clarify something. These offers are meaningless. They’re just words. Players cannot sign National Letters of Intent until their senior year of high school. Until then, all they can give is their word, which, let’s face it, means nothing. If a sixth grader tells you anything, you shouldn’t take it at face value.
So why is it an issue? Well, for the schools it isn’t. There is no downside for these schools; they can verbally offer as many scholarships as they wish. But for the kids, there is.
As I mentioned earlier, sixth graders, and young people in general, are not to be trusted at just their word. Why do you ask? Because those words are easily swayed. When you are in sixth grade, the frontal lobe of your brain is not fully developed. Your frontal lobe helps you make decisions. Before that part of your brain is developed, you are more susceptible to make poor, uninformed decisions and will be swayed easily by pretty uniforms and gifts. How can we trust kids to make life-altering decisions, when they are scientifically proven to not have the mental maturity required for such a decision.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that Bunchie Young suddenly stops growing. Ilinois can withdraw their offer, and Bunchie is left back at square one, having missed some valuable recruiting time in the process. Does that story seem too hypothetical? Here’s one that’s not.
Senior Kerra Kerr, who committed to Miami University (Ohio) as a sophomore, faced a commitment scare. During her junior year, the Redhawk program experienced some coaching turbulence. The coach to whom she committed left the program, and Kerr didn’t know if the new coach would hold up the word of the departed coach.
Therein lies the problem. Basing commitments on one’s word is pointless and ineffective. If the NCAA were to enact a rule that bans verbal commitments, it would solve all of these problems. There would no longer be 10-year-olds committing anywhere, and coaching changes wouldn’t be an issue for committed athletes.
Here is my proposition: colleges and athletes alike should not be able to commit to one another until the athlete’s junior year of high school, and when they commit, they should sign their NLI on the spot. At that time the athlete has (mostly) matured physically, but more importantly, they have matured mentally. We aren’t allowed to drive cars until we’re 16 because the government has decided we aren’t mature enough to handle that responsibility; why are we allowed to decide our future?