More of the country’s premier summer camps and recruiting events, the ones that attract packs of college coaches, have added sessions for “rising sophomores,” or kids who have just completed their freshman seasons.
“The nature of recruiting has changed drastically over the past five years,” says former Syracuse All-America Mike Springer, a co-founder of Showtime. “Players are being identified earlier now than ever. Although rising sophomores can’t talk to coaches [per NCAA rules], early recognition for players is beneficial for them to have multiple opportunities to be seen.”
Many players who attend these events have yet to play in a varsity game, and are often recommended for participation by coaches the previous fall or winter — when they’ve just come out of middle school.
But there has certainly already proven to be a viable market. Players want to be noticed and land that scholarship. Coaches are always looking for an edge on their peers and these new events are an opportunity to get a headstart on the Classes of 2012, ’13 and beyond.
“It gives you an idea of who to track,” Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said after watching a rising sophomore all-star game at July’s Long Island Showcase at Dowling College. “It helps in terms of homework, and the information can be good. But the kids are not fully developed, so you tend to look for athleticism and hope that the skills will catch up later.”
But how early is too early? Three years removed from being a freshman on campus means more time for injuries or other variables to affect a high school player’s status, which is why Tambroni and others worry about what he says is the likely inevitability of sophomores committing to colleges.
Even though direct contact between college coaches and recruits isn’t permitted until the start of junior year, coaches have found gray areas in the rule book (intermediaries, new technologies) to send and receive messages and arrange for campus visits.
“You have kids visiting before they’re juniors,” one DI coach says. “There’s no security guard at the gate.”
“That’s a scary prospect,” Tambroni says of sophomores committing. “That’s when I think it’s going to be unfair and mistakes will happen. There’s a big difference, physically and mentally, between juniors and sophomores.”
One Top 20 DI coach says the uncertainty that surround sophomores is why he’s hesitant, at this point, to dedicate most of his program’s recruiting energies toward them when talented juniors remain uncommitted. And while many programs are now leaving open space for late-blooming seniors, more players than ever are falling through the cracks — which is good news for programs outside the Top 10. The earlier guys commit, the more likely a top college team winds up with a dud whose development curve flattens.
But still, it appears the climate continues to trend younger. Nothing seemed to stop the rapid move toward juniors in the last five years. If anything, the circumstances now — more players and more exposure — are better suited to encourage earlier recruiting.
“That’s great if you’re a superstar,” says Landon (Md.) School coach Rob Bordley, using former Blue Chippers Matt Ward and Peter Lamade as examples. “But most kids aren’t. I hate where it’s going. It’s bad for the kids, and puts pressure on us and parents with all sorts of anxieties as kids enter their sophomore year. But it’s only the NCAA and the coaches that can stop it.”
There have been few indications of that happening soon. At the Long Island Showcase, which included separate games for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors, more than 15 college coaches took notes on the sophomores, including Tambroni, Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, North Carolina’s Joe Breschi and representatives from Syracuse, Ohio State, Hofstra, Penn State and Army.
“Recruiting sophomores is just starting,” a top DI assistant says. “We will see in seven years how successful it is or is not. It will depend on how well the kids develop down the road.”