March 18, 2016
Brennan O'Neill, an eighth-grader from Long Island, has verbally committed to Penn State. (NDP Lacrosse)
Brennan O'Neill, an eighth-grader from Long Island, has verbally committed to Penn State. (NDP Lacrosse)

Eighth-Grader is Earliest to Commit to D-I Men’s Program

from Staff Reports | Twitter 

A Long Island eighth-grade boy has made the earliest public verbal commitment to an NCAA Division I men’s college lacrosse program.

Brennan O’Neill of Bay Shore/Brightwaters, N.Y., committed to Penn State on Thursday night, Recruiting Rundown reported Friday.

O’Neill is headed to Long Island Catholic high school St. Anthony’s in the fall, but the middle-schooler plays for Suffolk County public school Bay Shore’s boys' varsity team already, and for the Long Island-based Team 91 Crush club team that won last summer’s World Series of Youth Lacrosse championship July 4 in Denver.

He becomes the earliest verbal commitment on the boys’ side, eclipsing Canadian Payton Cormier, who publicly committed to Virginia in July to become the first reported verbal commitment in the high school class of 2019.

Florida eighth-grader Caitlyn Wurzburger in January became the earliest verbal commitment ever reported for either gender when she committed to Syracuse to play for Gary Gait.

Both commitments come as the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association and the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association are lobbying the NCAA to enact legislation that would ban contact with prospective high school students before Sept. 1 of their junior year.  

Current NCAA recruiting rules say coaches can’t initiate communication with a prospective student-athlete until Sept 1. of his or her junior year of high school, but there is nothing stopping recruits from starting the process or from using third-party communication through a club or high school coach, for example. Those rules also don't apply to those too young — like O’Neill and Wurzburger — to be classified as prospects by the NCAA definition of ninth-graders. (In men's basketball only, it's seventh-graders.)

“It’s insane. Whereas there was some sophomore activity a little bit in the fall, now the gloves are off and freshmen are committing in the fall. They don’t have a grade," Princeton men’s coach Chris Bates, chair of the IMLCA’s recruiting advisory committee said late last year, before a current eighth-grade boy or girl gave a public committment.

“They have zero grades, and we as high academic institutions are agreeing to support them. Now there’s some pros and cons to that — hopefully there’s some motivation — but at the end of the day it’s a system that has gone totally off the tracks. We’re in a position where it’s light years different from where we were.”

In recent years, the NCAA has moved toward deregulation and hasn’t shown a willingness to approve sport-specific legislation. More likely in lacrosse are tweaks to the recruiting calendar — adding more dead periods — which both coaching bodies also proposed. In the meantime, verbal commitments by pre-juniors — and, in some cases, middle-schoolers — continue to be made to Division I programs.

“We need it to be an NCAA rule,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said.

Lacrosse does have an ally in the process in NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) chair Bob Scalise. The Harvard athletic director was a two-time All-American lacrosse player at Brown, and is an outspoken critic of early recruiting. He helped introduce the IWLCA and IMLCA proposals into the ongoing NCAA process.

“This is something that is important, but people do not think it’s urgent right now,” Scalise said. “I’m trying to say, let’s just chip away at this and do it sport by sport.” 

Last July, just a few months shy of beginning his freshman year at Oakville Trafalgar High in Ontario, Cormier had become the earliest verbal commitment to an NCAA Division I men's lacrosse program. The first freshman on record to make a verbal commitment to a Division I men's team was 6-foot-2 attackman Forry Smith, now a senior at The Haverford School (Pa.) who plans to attend Johns Hopkins next year.

Previous Recruiting Coverage

* Lacrosse’s Recruiting Contact Date Proposals Face Uphill Climb
* Eighth-Grader Commits, Brings Recruiting Proposals to Light
* IMLCA Supports Ban on Recruiting Contact Before Junior Year
* IWLCA Submits Two Recruiting Legislative Proposals to NCAA
* College Coaches Lobby to Stem Early Recruiting

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