See? This is what happens when you let thirteen year olds make decisions about their futures.
Sorry. I know that title isn't really fair to Lane Kiffin, and if I ever meet him, I will be sure to apologise properly. That being said, Kiffin has once again made headlines in one of the most bizarre ways possible: he offered a scholarship to a thirteen-year-old kid quarterback from Delaware.
No part of that statement should exist. Yet somehow, it still does. (Delaware? Really?)
The kid in question is David Sills, a quarterback who attends Bear Mountain Christian Academy in Bear, Delaware. He's apparently pretty good, and travels to California every year to work with a quarterback guru by the name of Steve Clarkson. Clarkson has coached a couple USC quarterbacks in the past; both Matt Leinhart and current USC QB Matt Barkley are pupils of his.
So sure. It's pretty obvious the kid wants to be a quarterback. Then again, at thirteen I wanted to race hover cars for a living. So, you know, maybe committing to something at thirteen isn't such a good idea.
At first blush, there's a lot about this story that just screams out, "Publicity Stunt." After all, Kiffin has made plenty of his own negative press in the past, and he's the coach of an embattled program preparing to get hammered by the NCAA for violations committed under former coach Pete Carroll's watch. So hey, what better way to distract people from all that then to do something crazy like get a thirteen year old kid to verbally commit to your program? Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and all that. Annoying, yes, but essentially harmless. Nothing more than magician's banter.
The only real problem with that is this: it isn't a publicity stunt. Lane Kiffin has actually done this before. When he was still at Tennessee, Kiffin offered a scholarship to, and accepted a verbal commitment from, Eric Berry's younger brother Evan. So at the very least, Kiffin has entertained the thought before of signing up a kid barely old enough to shave.
And that, my friends, is much, much worse news. Not because it's Lane Kiffin; Kiffin himself has almost nothing to do with this. He just happens to be the coach out there right now who's least concerned with the rules, letter or spirit. If it weren't him, it would certainly be someone else.
The problem is one the NCAA has tried to ignore for far too long: where does it stop? At what point do you say enough? Where do you draw the line between trying to find the Next Big Thing and doing something ridiculous? Is it recruiting a kid who's currently 5'11" but projects to be 6'5" by the time he's done growing? Or maybe it's when doctors start telling parents how tall their kid is going to be because he wants to be a quarterback, and they need to know if he'll be tall enough. Oops, too late to take that one back, I suppose.
Of course, we could all expect more from the kid's parents, who shouldn't be allowing college coaches to come knocking on their door anyway. But then again, don't parents all want the best for their kids? Can you really ask a parent to not take advantage of an opportunity if it means their child will be set up in five years to go to a great university? Sadly, the NCAA is going to have to be the smart ones here.
At some point, the NCAA is going to have to step in and decide what is and is not alright for coaches. Can coaches recruit kids at thirteen? Can they cruise Pop Warner fields, tiger sharks in team polos, looking for a kid bigger and stronger and faster than the others? Can they go looking around elementary school playgrounds, find a kid who's big for his age and pull him aside, try to talk him into taking an interest in football? Are we soon going to be hearing about a kid who has tons of upside, based on his physical dominance in jungle gym play?
Personally, I'm sort of hoping for a "Gattaca" type situation, where one day we'll be able to breed football players from the womb on up.
Oh, so you want your kid to play football? That's really great! Where do you want him to go? Penn State? Oh, nice. Solid choice, Miss. Hmm? You want him to be a linebacker? Ooh, sorry. Penn State is booked full on linebackers in 19 years. I can make him a free safety, or maybe an offensive lineman? You look like you've got the hips to handle an offensive lineman, ma'am. No? You want him to be a linebacker. Well, okay, but he's not going to Penn State. Any other preferences? Oh, no, that program is going to be bad that year. You don't want that. How about a nice warm weather school? I have a middle linebacker opening at Syracuse, beginning in 2054. Well, sure, they're not a traditional football powerhouse, but just wait. I've got a lady carrying the next Tim Tebow to term right now, and she's a huuuge Orange fan. (And just between you me and the wall, she's totally going to keep the baby.) Well, great! I've got you down for a middle linebacker, Syracuse physical specifications. Here's your turkey baster; this should get you all squared away. Enjoy the miracle of motherhood!