Emily Tropsa graduated from Darien High School three years ago. In terms of the recruiting process as a coveted lacrosse player, it might as well have been three decades.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do,” said Tropsa. “I barely even knew if I wanted to play at the college level let alone which school.”
Tropsa, who eventually decided to continue her career at Gettysburg, where she will be a senior co-captain, is not alone. Only the recruiting process has changed, and not for the better.
Just think how many commitments you read about in the sport, almost on a daily basis because this area is so rich in lacrosse talent. Many of the verbals are coming from sophomores and juniors who have been pursued closely since the 9th grade. They lack the maturity to make such an important life decision but feel compelled to secure their futures at an early age for fear offers will dry up the older they get as college programs fill needs.
It is sport’s version of musical chairs.
Think back to when you were a sophomore in high school. How equipped were you to know what you wanted to do the following week, let alone in college two years down the line? Most students have no idea about a career path when they enter college. How are they supposed to know two years earlier which schools are good academic fits?
Talent levels ebb and flow. Today’s Division I prospect might end up being best suited for Division III and spend a college career sitting on a bench. In the reverse, a late bloomer is not getting the chance to play at the most challenging level.
“Now you’re making a huge decision way before you even get there,” said Tropsa, who was speaking two weekends ago from The Northern Rise, a huge girls lacrosse showcase. Tropsa is an assistant coach for the CT Grizzlies, owned and operated by her high school coach, Lisa Lindley. “You change so much as a person throughout your high school experience. I feel like it is so hard to plan the next four years of your life two years before.”
Almost everyone agrees. The NCAA is not exactly known as a bastion for competency or common sense. There are oddities and absurdities in all sports. There just seem to be more of them in lacrosse — for males and females.
Consider: A high school prospect can call a college coach and have a discussion if the coach picks up the phone. But a coach is not allowed to return a call or email message. The player can leave the coach a message letting them know at what time they will try to call again.
“That’s one of those sticky rules,” said Lindley, who like her colleagues is a sort of gatekeeper for her Blue Wave and Grizzlies prospects. “It’s stupid. It would be so much easier if coaches could call back or mail back. It is a lot of wasted time and leg work.”
I’m a big proponent of keeping legislation out of sports. Whether it is locally, with the CIAC’s easy-to-pick-apart score management rule in football, or the NCAA and NBA agreeing to mandate that basketball players must go through one year of college before turning professional, neither of which work. Is a 19-year-old any more equipped to handle NBA life than an 18-year-old?
The question is how do you change a flawed system without rules? Every high school coach I have spoken to believes there is a problem and the consensus is nothing will be done to fix it.
“I don’t think it is going to change,” Lindley said. “No one is doing anything about slowing it down.”
Part of the reason is that there is no way at the time of the commitment to tell whether a decision will prove inspired or flawed. Players and their parents make the best decisions possible. Lacrosse players may be even more dependent on high school and club coaches than athletes in other sports. Contacts are important.
Tropsa noted that the current landscape has changed the entire nature of summer lacrosse. Players care more about standing out than fitting into the team framework.
Lindley used Tropsa as just one example of the idealism of a bygone time — even if that time can be measured in her case in weeks and months instead of years.
“When she played it was because of a total love for the game and because she wanted to get better,” Lindley said. “That kid loves lacrosse and works her butt off and competes to win. It has totally shifted and now it has become a means to an end.”
Don’t be surprised if we enter a new period where athletes de-commit and coaches withdraw offers. It will make the system even more unwieldy, but might be the only way for a call to repair.
The competition to get into a good school has become even more intense, and it is understandable that students and their families will use any means necessary to enhance their chances. Sports are just one vehicle.
But it is unfair to burden an athlete with the pressure of making such a critical decision before they lack the full maturity to make the most informed choice possible. It is unrealistic to expect the NCAA to step in. And college coaches are still going to compete to secure the best players early, making it more important than ever for them to lock up their futures quickly.
It has become just another unfortunate and self-perpetuating cycle of the college recruiting process. And it is again the athletes that suffer.