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Jeff Eisenberg

A ban on early scholarship offers wouldn't amount to much

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Hoping to curtail the trend of prospects receiving college scholarship offers before they enter high school, an NCAA committee announced last week it will back a plan to prohibit offering recruits until the summer before their senior year.

It's a noble cause and well-meaning proposal. Trouble is it's about as easy to enforce as a ban on underage drinking on college campuses.

There's no question it's a problem that kids are facing pressure to choose a college before they even enter high school, but a rule like this won't alleviate the need for coaches to prove they're interested in an elite prospect before other schools.

What prevents a college coach from telling a 15-year-old sophomore he'll receive a scholarship offer the first day it's legal under NCAA rules in 18 months? Or from formally offering a scholarship with the caveat that the prospect and his family must keep it quiet for a year or two?

The NCAA certainly wouldn't be able to do much to stop it considering their under-staffed investigative wing is having a hard enough time as it is keeping agents, runners and boosters from influencing college sports. Compliance officers at individual schools would have a difficult time for similar reasons.

Worse yet, this rule would be damaging for mid-major programs who try to follow the rules. San Diego State landed emerging star Kawhi Leonard last year because coach Steve Fisher and his staff recruited him harder and sooner than Pac-10 schools did, but this advantage would have been nullified if the Aztecs had to wait until Leonard was a senior to offer a scholarship.

UCLA associate athletic director Petrina Long, the chair of the committee that is reviewing recruiting conduct, would know as well as anyone how difficult it is for coaches to police themselves.

It was UCLA's Ben Howland who helped pushed this trend forward in 2003 when he offered a scholarship to young phenom Taylor King the summer before the sweet-shooting forward began high school. King ended up reneging and signing with Duke, but the publicity UCLA received from receiving his initial commitment helped convince other recruits that Howland was changing the culture of the program.

The bottom line is that everyone from parents, to coaches to administrators agrees that it's not good for anyone that eighth graders like Taylor King, Dwain Polee Jr. or Michael Avery receive scholarship offers.

But because the pressure on coaches to win remains so great that many will seek out any advantage they can find, this is a trend that's unlikely to change.

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