Scott Fowler

Scholarship offers to 9-year-olds: Is anything more ridiculous in sports?

Eyebrows were raised when Independence quarterback Chris Leak got a scholarship offer from Wake Forest as an eighth-grader. Now players as young as nine years old are reporting college scholarship “offers,” which are non-binding.
Eyebrows were raised when Independence quarterback Chris Leak got a scholarship offer from Wake Forest as an eighth-grader. Now players as young as nine years old are reporting college scholarship “offers,” which are non-binding. Charlotte Observer

Maybe you heard about this: there has been a recent and ridiculous surge in scholarship offers to young football players. And I mean really young football players.

There was a 9-year-old in Los Angeles named Havon Finney Jr. who received an offer from the University of Nevada, according to his personal trainer. A 10-year-old named Bunchie Young who works with the same trainer got an offer from Illinois. A fifth-grader from Hawaii wrote on Twitter that he got a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii. And Lane Kiffin, the new coach at Florida Atlantic, has done this publicity-hungry sort of thing for years at a couple of schools (albeit usually with middle-schoolers).

Maybe you remember back in the good old days, way back in 1998, when quarterback prodigy Chris Leak received an offer from Wake Forest as a Charlotte eighth-grader. Leak was more or less the “Patient Zero” of this current epidemic.

Leak’s story was instructive. Wake Forest at the time had his older brother, C.J. Leak, on scholarship. But things went south with C.J. at Wake Forest when he got hurt and the coaching staff changed over and he transferred to Tennessee.

The Vols then started recruiting Chris hard, too. The brothers were always close, and it is likely Chris would have gone to Knoxville to join his brother had it worked out better for C.J. But Chris Leak never went to Wake Forest or Tennessee. He didn’t like the way C.J.’s career went at either school – the older brother barely played at either place – and Chris ultimately wound up at Florida.

This sort of thing happens all the time to recruits. College athletic scholarship offers are non-binding until a player actually signs a national letter of intent, which football players can’t do until their high school senior year.

Put it another way: Offering a 9-year-old doesn’t count for squat. If I’m a head coach, I can “offer” a scholarship to your 9-year-old tomorrow and then pull that offer in eight years, with absolutely no penalty. And that’s if I’m even there to pull it. If I’ve left, you can bet the new head coach won’t feel compelled to honor it.

By the same token, the kid can “commit” to the school but that doesn’t mean anything, either.

The whole thing is a sham. It’s a completely ridiculous system that the NCAA needs to clean up, placing a moratorium on any sort of official or unofficial scholarship offer before a kid reaches high school.

Most importantly, it can’t be good for the kids. What’s the point of putting that type of pressure on a kid in elementary school?

Kiffin has reportedly offered scholarships to at least two middle-school quarterbacks since assuming the reins at Florida Atlantic. You can almost guarantee he will never be around to coach them even if they ultimately did come – the longest Kiffin has lasted in any of his previous head-coaching jobs is four years.

Once, while head coach at Southern Cal, Kiffin offered a scholarship to a 13-year-old quarterback in Delaware after viewing his highlight film. The kid, David Sills, never wound up at Southern Cal. Kiffin got fired, as he generally does, and the new coach had different ideas for what type of quarterback he wanted.

Sills is at a major university now. But even after a stint at a junior college trying to prove he can be a major-college quarterback, he is listed as a wideout at West Virginia.

Cam Newton joked a week after his son Chosen Newton was born on Christmas Eve 2015 that the baby “already had a couple of scholarship offers on the table.”

Everyone laughed at the time – but who’s laughing now? Why wouldn’t you offer Cam Newton’s son a scholarship right now if you are a mid-major program looking for publicity under the current rules?

Hey, I heard Chosen is tearing it up at preschool! He’s not even 3 years old and can throw a Lego a mile!

For that matter, why not start offering the kids of NFL starting quarterbacks a scholarship when they are still in the womb? College assistants could wait outside the home and come in immediately after the “gender reveal” party.

It’s silly, but then the whole thing is ridiculous. No 9-year-old needs a scholarship offer that doesn’t count anyway.

So I’ve got one more idea to make this stop. Make the “grown” men who are making these “offers” – in particular, the head coaches – sign a contract saying they will personally pay for that scholarship themselves if the school in question doesn’t honor it when the kid turns 18.

That’ll shut it down.