Longtime friendships ended. Prematurely obsessive and tunnel-visioned parents and coaches. A game transformed into a rat race.
These are only a few of the consequences we've seen as a result of the whole rankings craze, to which the ESPN HoopGurlz staff unanimously decided not to subject the class of 2012, many of whom aren't even 15 years old.
We will continue our established schedule of introducing a Terrific 25 after the spring of the players' sophomore high school seasons, a Super Sixty a month before the players' junior year, and a HoopGurlz Hundred after the spring of the players' junior year that gets finalized in August before the players' senior year. Under this schedule, we will be ranking two classes simultaneously at any given time. Right now, those would be the 2010 and 2011 classes.
As Mark Lewis, the HoopGurlz national recruiting coordinator, puts it, "Ranking younger players on an earlier calendar seems not worth expanding the circus to three rings from two."
In the meantime, we will continue providing "watch lists" for classes not yet eligible to be ranked. Watch lists represent players we've identified as candidates to be ranked. Such a prospect will have a watch-list graphic displayed on her player card and on prospect lists, but there will not be a rating.
Watch lists also can be accessed by clicking on a rankings link, then clicking on the desired class designation. Prospects can be searched and sorted by various criteria via the "prospects" link or "recruit tracker search" module on the ESPN HoopGurlz section front.
As evident by its role in the U.S. gold-medal effort at the Americas U16 tournament (see Golden Young Guns), as well as its influence on high-school and club teams, the 2012 class is shaping up to be one of the more talented in years. But that's the viewpoint today. A lot can happen in a year or two. ESPN HoopGurlz is determined not to contribute to what the staff believes is the unnecessary and potentially harmful acceleration of the development, recruitment and focus upon teenage girls' basketball players.
Some of the negative consequences of said acceleration include:
Relentless, year-round play: Research continues to emerge showing a relationship between the number of major injuries and the entended playing schedules. And you must also factor in the mental fatigue and impact on competing priorities (e.g., academics) for the players.
Early commitment to a single sport: Similar research shows repetitive stress injuries occurring because players focus on a single sport, such as basketball, putting a strain on certain muscle groups. A rise in the number of developmental camps and other businesses built upon middle-school-aged players, and the focus on one sport can contribute to a lack of development in the other muscle groups.
Increase in negative and divisive behavior: This summer alone we witnessed fist fights between teams, between coaches and between parents. We saw officials call games early due to unruly behavior, including increased hostility directed at game officials, opposing coaches and parents and, worst of all, opposing players. There is an escalation of profane language used on public forums and other means of communication.
Recruiting fatigue: Recruiting fatigue is a cycle, only recently identified, in which girls grow tired of being recruited. There is an upswing in club hopping (changing teams), and the recruitment that goes along with it. In growing instances, high schools are also getting involved in recruiting. Being recruited from an early age can lead to players becoming leery of the college-recruiting process and deciding to commit early, sometimes without sufficient data to make decisions about a critical portion of their lives.
To much of this we offer the example of Chiney Ogwumike, from Cypress, Texas, near Houston. She has played both volleyball and basketball since the seventh grade. She has played for the same high school and club teams her entire career. She has made unofficial visits to various colleges under consideration and is in the process of scheduling official visits, during which she will collect information for her commitment decision.
In spite of all that (or because of?), Ogwumike is a near-consensus No. 1 pick in the 2010 class.
Our decision to refrain from ranking classes earlier than traditionally mandated is not meant to condemn other institutions that do. Recruiting services often legitimately rank younger classes because their products are generated for sale to college programs, which use the input to stay on top of information and trends critical to their success. Those rankings generally are not publicly accessible like those produced by ESPN HoopGurlz, which is a media organization that produces rankings and stories for informational and entertainment purposes only.
The intent of our rankings and other lists continues to be, foremost, a means of acknowledging and celebrating the hard work and achievements of high school girls basketball players. The rankings and lists also serve as a means of drawing an audience to stories of inspiration and perseverance. Ranking players too early, and thus feeding into the acceleration of the negative elements that can be generated, is a clear deviation from what ESPN HoopGurlz believes is its core mission.
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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.