Boyle Point: Climb Out of Recruiting Chaos
Ryan Boyle is a six-time MLL All-Star and three-time Team USA attackman, the co-founder and CEO of Trilogy Lacrosse and an ESPN college lacrosse analyst. This column appears in the February 2014 issue of Lacrosse Magazine. Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription!
In the hit HBO series "Game of Thrones," a character known as Littlefinger delivers the following soliloquy:
"Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but refuse. They cling to the realm, or love, or the gods...illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. But they'll never know this. Not until it's too late."
Comparing lacrosse to a fictitious fantasy world filled with dragons and White Walkers may come across as a stretch at first glance. But Littlefinger's words ring true when you consider the current state of our game, specifically within the recruiting landscape.
In November, the IMLCA, the organization comprised of and representing collegiate men's lacrosse coaches, signed an agreement with Corrigan Sports Enterprises (CSE) to create new high school boys' lacrosse tournaments. CSE has built a reputation for event management, including the Under All-American Showcase and IWLCA events, the women's collegiate coach organization.
On the surface, this agreement seems like a natural extension of CSE's relationship with the women's college coaches. But there is one problem: the Board approved this partnership despite the fact that numerous college coaches operate recruiting events on their campuses. These college-based and coach-operated events serve multiple purposes, making the CSE agreement a bit more complicated and the recruiting event landscape even more saturated.
On-campus recruiting events financially support the hosting school's head coach, his staff and his peers. While college coaches' salaries have risen, many, especially assistants, rely on this income. In some cases, the bulk of the responsibilities fall onto the assistants, who solicit participants and manage the events.
Recruiting events also attract aspiring lacrosse players to college campuses. The host school gets an opportunity to showcase its facilities and the surrounding area to the next generation of players.
Thinking back to my time at Top 205, my teammate became interested in Loyola due to his experience on the campus. He was attracted to the overall feel, the prioritization of lacrosse within the school's athletic department and the suite-style dorms. When Dave Cottle left Loyola for Maryland, he brought Top 205 with him.
Despite these advantages, some critics prefer coaches get out of the event business altogether. They think it's unfair to a student-athlete for a coach to juggle their roles as recruiter and businessman. If a college coach invites a high school player to attend a showcase at his institution, is it because he's interested in the student or his bottom line?
For example, over the summer I was advising a Trilogy Lacrosse club player who was invited to a school's showcase that coincided with a Trilogy Aces event. I called the coaching staff for candid feedback so I could counsel this player accordingly. He could attend the showcase and get seen exclusively by that college's coaching staff or attend the Trilogy Aces event with a confirmed list of more than 30 college coaches.
Given the player's primary interest in that school, I recommended he attend the showcase, which he did. He wound up committing to a different program a few months later as the exposure at the event did not improve his position at his top-choice school.
The CSE-IMLCA relationship must also be viewed in the context where club programs play a significant role in our sport. High school clubs typically attend events with a reputation for drawing top college coaches. College coaches, meanwhile, recruit at events with the best teams, thereby creating a chicken-egg phenomenon. Both sides' decision-making process around these events — not to mention existing tournament relationships and club-run events — becomes more complex by the CSE-IMLCA accord. There are more exposure options, more conflicts of interest and more uncertain outcomes.
It's easy and cliché to complain about the current recruiting landscape. One college coach recently confided, "If the NCAA says I can sign a seventh-grader, I'm going to do it." You and I may not like it, but if a player wants to succeed, he cannot cling to the way things used to be.
The current player must invest in a series of tools to climb out of the chaos and succeed. At the team level, he must research his options — high school and club —that will provide collegiate exposure. A quality organization enables recruiting opportunities through a competitive schedule and events with confirmed attendance of college coaches.
Look for events with a selection process or criteria that rely on a tryout, interactions or recommendation through a coach or film evaluation. Contact these events yourself, so you understand how they attract colleges and their process for informing participants.
Families can supplement these decisions by acquiring film and recruiting services. For film, you could hire a local videographer, through a third party service at events, or do it yourself. And while private recruiting specialists can be expensive, I know many families that have benefited tremendously from them, especially when their high school's guidance department was not particularly helpful.
A player must demonstrate that he is willing to take the necessary steps to emerge successfully out of the chaos. College lacrosse has become more competitive for everyone — just ask some of the decorated coaches who recently have been released. Players must market themselves through selective event attendance, highlight films and consistent communication.
Because only the ladder is real and the climb is all there is.