RYAN: College football recruiting hits new level of absurdity with offer to 4th grader

Chicago Tribune (TNS)
  • Illinois, reportedly, has verbally offered a football scholarship to a fourth grader.
  • Nevada has offered a scholarship to a 9-year-old. Hawaii has offered an 11-year-old.
  • Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming calls the recruitment of young players a "publicity stunt."

Illinois' newest recruit's highlight video shows him in a hot pink mohawk as as he demonstrates his flashy footwork, sprints up steep city streets and blows away the competition on the track and football field.

"I got better by training harder and training stronger and putting more into my workouts," the boy says in the video. "Watch out for me."

Illinois head football coach Lovie Smith has reportedly made a verbal scholarship offer to a fourth grader.

What makes Bunchie Young, from Los Angeles, especially unusual: He's only 10.

Illinois, according to tweets from his trainer, offered the fourth-grader a football scholarship in May. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee retweeted the tweets and an ESPN article about the offer (per NCAA rules, Illinois cannot comment on unsigned players, and verbal offers and commitments are non-binding).

Young's trainer did not return phone calls.

Publicity stunt: What on Earth, you may ask, does Illinois have to gain by offering a scholarship to prepubescent athlete whose body, interests and talent are likely to change by 2025, when he would be eligible to play? Why offer a scholarship when Lovie Smith's contract ends after the 2021 season and common knowledge of college football indicates coaches often leave or are fired before their contract is up?

"It's a publicity stunt," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network.

Illinois not alone: Of course it is. And Illinois, sadly, isn't alone in this charade.

Coach Lane Kiffin has a history of offering young players, such as 13-year-old quarterback David Sills when Kiffin was at USC. Sills decommitted and went to West Virginia.

Now at Florida Atlantic, Kiffin has offered rising eighth-grader Kaden Martin, son of former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin.

This month, Nevada offered a scholarship to a 9-year-old who works with the same trainer as Young in Los Angeles, and Hawaii one to offered an 11-year-old quarterback.

When players decommit from schools, they bear the blame from fans who wring their hands about today's disloyal youth. In reality, Lemming said, schools offer more and more players with no intention of bringing them into the fold. The player in the meantime might not be exploring all of his options believing his future is locked up.

"The chances are the (Illinois) staff isn't going to be there in seven years," Lemming said. "What are the odds of any staff at Illinois being there in seven years? It gets their name out there. Now you get people talking."

Verbal offers proliferate: Since the NCAA instituted a rule that requires colleges to refrain from offering a written scholarship offer until Aug. 1 of football players' senior seasons, verbal offers from coaches have proliferated.

"Some schools will offer 300 to 400 kids a year with only 25 scholarships (available)," Lemming said. "Now they offer willy-nilly to everyone. To me, it's kind of silly. ... It brings down the whole process when you're offering 10-year-olds."

NCAA could step in: While the NCAA enjoys beating people over the head with its mantra of "student-athlete" and the supposed morality of amateurism, why hasn't it done anything to put an age limit on verbal offers?

As with all rules, it could be skirted. What's to stop a coach from pulling parents aside and telling them with a wink he has a scholarship waiting for their child? Nothing, really.

But a minimum-age rule could curb this issue and put an end to the joke of offering kids known mainly for their recess athleticism.

Recruiting likely to get more absurd: Recruiting is likely to get more absurd without an age limit on verbal offers.

"Here's what's going to happen," Lemming said. "It may sound like a joke, but someday pretty soon they'll be offering a kid who is just born a scholarship if his dad is a football player and his mom is a volleyball player."