Too-early offers are a dangerous trend

LOS ANGELES -- At what point does college football recruiting become a detriment to the development of young football players?

It has always been understood that recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and the head coaches who run big-time college football programs are paid millions to win games with athletes that are in their late teens to early 20s.

The high school level has always been the focal point of the recruiting system. Numerous books and countless articles have been written regarding recruiting and the intense competition to first get a player’s verbal and then eventual signature on that cherished February letter of intent.

However, the idea of offering a scholarship to a young person who has not even attended one day as a freshman in high school should be a cause of great concern. If the warning sirens aren’t sounding, they should be. The emotional and moral compass of the teenage years is difficult enough without this new, growing college football trend.

Recently, the USC Trojans made national headlines when they offered a football scholarship to an incoming ninth-grade wide receiver named Nathan Tilford (Upland, Calif./Upland). Apparently, young Tilford displayed the type of skills in a Trojans skills camp that projects into the category of a major recruit.

Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin made headlines before Tilford when the Trojans offered 13-year-old quarterback David Sills (Elkton, Md./Eastern Christian Academy) back in 2010. Thus far, Sills and the Trojans still have a gentlemen’s agreement for the class of 2015.

The Trojans aren’t the only university that has offered a player in the Class of 2017. Crosstown rival UCLA also drew national attention by offering a “ride” to freshman-to-be quarterback Lindell Stone, who just completed Dawson Middle School in Southlake, Texas. Stone will attend national powerhouse Southlake Carroll in the fall.

Even defending national champion Alabama and SEC rival LSU and Big 12 power Texas have extended a pre-high school offer to inside linebacker Dylan Moses (Baton Rouge, La./University Lab). The kid’s ability is apparently off the charts.

If there are villains in this national recruiting direction, it’s not the college football coaches, who aren’t breaking any rules or laws, but doing their jobs. They’re just taking advantage of the system in place and competing, as they should.

However, despite no recruiting law wrongdoings, there is something in college football that has gone haywire when eighth graders are being offered scholarships. Yes, winning college football games is a business and the fans demand victories, but it’s unsavory when those who call themselves “educators” don’t look out for the best interests of the game and still-developing youth.

The thought of a full college scholarship offer to an pre-high school athlete is perhaps as overwhelming for the parents of these young athletic prodigies as it is for their child. The idea of the money saved and the perks of college football also test a parent’s moral compass. Keeping a parent’s head on straight with an early offer can be as challenging as keeping their kid’s emotional stability grounded.

With these pre-high school offers, imagine the challenge in today’s world of the high school head football coach. How hard is it for the coach to sell “team” to an “offered” incoming ninth-grader who believes he has already proved himself and doesn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize that offer? Think that might be a major challenge for a coach who also wants to win games?

Like youth basketball and its plethora of traveling teams, coaches and street agents, football is heading down the same path. Many of today’s young football players have “representatives” or participate on 7-on-7 traveling teams whose coaches have bonded with college coaches.

The evolution of the college football and youth system has brought forth these new, early offers, and it was to be expected that as soon one major university of note made a pre-high school offer, the rest would follow.

So what can be done?

The time is now for the NCAA to step in and stop this early-offer madness. A rule should be imposed that no football-playing student-athlete be offered a scholarship until that youngster has at least attended one day of high school. If not symbolic at the very least, this would at least keep things in proper perspective and allow some extra time for a youngster to mature.

Lest we forget, the adults still make the rules, not the youngsters who play the game. Somebody has to be looking out for the best interest in the development of a young person, and if it’s the hypocritical and questionable NCAA, so be it. Something has to be done for the greater good.

If new recruiting legislation doesn’t get passed in the best interests of the game and the young people that play it, when does an offer get extended to a seventh-grader or younger?

Ridiculous, you say?

Wasn’t there a time when the very thought of an eighth-grader getting a college football scholarship offer seemed a bit ridiculous?