On July 21, 6' 4", 286-pound prospect Jaheim Oatis reported on Twitter that he had received scholarship offers from Alabama, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. One note: The Columbia, Miss., resident had not yet started eighth grade.
College coaches offering scholarships to middle schoolers is not new, though the practice still inspires some astonishment and outrage. But coaches don’t deserve the brunt of the criticism: They are merely operating within the confines of a system that encourages them to begin recruiting players as early as possible.
NCAA bylaws forbid coaches from extending written offers before Aug. 1 of a student’s senior year of high school, but coaches routinely dole out verbal offers well before then to signify their interest in a prospect. Being a latecomer to a recruiting battle is often a disadvantage and teens regularly reward coaches for, as recruits say, their “loyalty and belief.”
For coaches there is little downside and a lot of upside to making an offer. If a middle schooler doesn’t develop into the top prospect his precocious talent suggested, the coach can back off the recruitment. If the player does blossom into a blue-chipper, the coach may have hit the jackpot.
Perhaps the only way to stem the flood of early offers would be to allow players to sign with programs when they receive them. If that were the case, coaches would be more hesitant to hand out scholarships to players with limited or no high school experience. The risk of using up a spot in their recruiting class for a prospect who doesn’t pan out would serve as a deterrent.
For now, though, expect children to continue receiving offers. But don’t blame the coaches, blame the system.