The landscape of athletic recruitment will never be the same after the explosion of social media, but to see 15 or 16-year-old athletes in the class of 2019 already garnering interest is a little ridiculous.
The rankings and analysis of these young prospects are more than just a name and some highlights. It has become an industry.
Prospect ranking websites like Rivals and 247Sports specialize in the tracking of high school athletes, detailing player news, stats, and college visits and interest. It makes sense for seniors and even juniors looking to play at the next level, but for kids still taking taking algebra and biology courses? That’s too young as it is, but this is merely scratching the surface when realizing just how extreme recruiting has gotten.
While uncommon, there are videos that have reached thousands of views for fourth-grade basketball players such as Christian Jones and Jerry Easter. The latter was called the “No. 1 4th Grader in the Country,” by YouTube user “NEO Youth Elite.” Maybe that is meant to be a joke, but it’s also possible it’s not considering what has become of recruitment.
A moniker such as this brings into question the validity of analyzing players at their ages, yet this is a trend that continues to blossom.
247Sports has begun to track players as early as eighth grade in basketball, while Rivals has profiles uploaded for two sixth-grade football players.
The primary issue, in both outliers this excessively young and the more commonly recruited high school freshmen and sophomores, is that there is no telling if the athletes will continue to play their sport. An athlete at these ages can easily find a new favorite sport or pick up an entirely new interest.
Do recruiters really expect them to commit to a sport, college or university before they have even graduated, or in some cases, entered high school?
Beyond this, a young athlete can fall behind the skill level of his or her peers, or fail to grow into a body type fit for the sport, hindering the chances of playing past high school.
Considering these factors, many would expect players to begin being scouted seriously as a junior or senior in high school. At this point it creates a competitive environment, and players have grown into their body and are capable of a serious commitment to a sport.
This is simply no longer where college programs or the athletes they recruit draw the line.
Coaches are constantly recruiting younger players in order to get an edge on rival schools, and the parents and media surrounding these athletes are giving coaches, recruiters and casual fans access to the highlights and lifestyle of young athletes. The athletes are too.
While it may be important to begin scouting players early, doing so too early fails to capture a lot about the athlete both on and off the playing field. Yet, fans revel in the latest recruitment information.
YouTube channels like “HoopMixtape” and “Ballislife” have popularized the new flashy style of highlight tapes for basketball. This has trickled down to “MiddleSchoolHoops,” a similar format for a much younger age group of players.
While the fans enjoy following the stats and stories of players from such a young age, the impact can have negative repercussions on athletes’ confidence and growth in sports and daily life.
These factors are overlooked in favor of fans constantly questioning which powerhouse programs will offer the latest stud freshman phenom or sophomore stud a scholarship.
In reality, they should be questioning why a coach is giving the keys to drive their program to a teen who can’t even drive their own car.
Kyle Kasharian is a business major from Green, N.J. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.