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Friday, September 30, 2022

Column: Coaches need to stop offering middle schoolers scholarships

<p>Lane Kiffin speaks at his introductory press conference at FAU's football coach on Dec. 13, 2016, in Boca Raton, Florida.</p>

Lane Kiffin speaks at his introductory press conference at FAU's football coach on Dec. 13, 2016, in Boca Raton, Florida.

There are a lot of things about Lane Kiffin that give me pause.

A lot.

He was fired by Nick Saban as Alabama’s offensive coordinator seven days before this year’s national championship game.

He abandoned the Tennessee Volunteers in 2010 one season after signing a six-year $14.25 million contract with the university.

He was even called a “flat-out liar” and a “disgrace” by late NFL owner Al Davis in a televised press conference in 2008 where the Oakland Raiders announced they were relieving the coach of his duties.

Spotty track record to say the least. Yikes.

But if there’s one thing that gives me pause above any of the other questionable antics surrounding Kiffin, it’s his recent recruiting efforts.

The now current head coach of the FAU Owls recently offered a scholarship to quarterback Pierce Clarkson, the son of former CFL quarterback Steve Clarkson.

The problem?

Pierce only just graduated from sixth grade.

Let that sink in for a second, and I’ll repeat it again for good measure.

Lane Kiffin recently offered a middle schooler an athletic scholarship to play football at Florida Atlantic University starting in 2023.

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What?

This isn’t the first time he’s done this either.

Last month, he offered another scholarship to 13-year-old quarterback Kaden Martin, son of current USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin. And in 2010, he offered a scholarship to then-13-year-old quarterback David Sills to play for USC back when he was still head coach of the Trojans.

Why Lane Kiffin? Why?

I can understand wanting to prepare for the future, but doesn’t it seem a little early to be recruiting for the class of 2023?

It turns out, however, Kiffin is far from the only coach to ever offer a scholarship to a preteen.

According to LeBron James, his 12-year-old son, LeBron James Jr., has already received offers from both Duke and Kentucky.

His response?

“It’s pretty crazy,” James told CBS Detroit in 2015. “It should be a violation. You shouldn’t be recruiting 10-year-old kids.”

LeBron’s logic is 100 percent spot on. Kids shouldn’t have to deal with the pressure and notoriety of receiving an athletic scholarship at such a young age. But when it comes to the NCAA, that logic falls short.

The NCAA states that “a student who has not started classes for the ninth grade becomes a prospective student-athlete if the institution provides such an individual (or the individual’s relatives or friends) any financial assistance or other benefits that the institution does not provide to prospective students generally.”

So to summarize that horribly-worded rule, basically anyone at any age is fair game to be recruited to play college sports, whether they like it or not.

And that’s a problem.

While there aren’t many middle schoolers who receive athletic scholarships, the ones who do get put under a tremendous amount of stress.

Just ask David Sills, who I mentioned earlier as receiving an offer when he was 13 from Kiffin to play quarterback for the Trojans.

“I never asked for any of it,” Sills said to Bleacher Report about the attention he received.

Sills, who ended up going to West Virginia instead before transferring to El Camino College, said the weight of high expectations as an early teenager was too much to for him to handle.

And I can’t blame him. The NCAA needs to put its foot down and keep coaches like Kiffin from continuing to put that unwanted pressure on 13-year-olds.

It’s for the benefit of everyone involved.

Dylan Dixon is sports editor of the Alligator. His columns run regularly on Tuesday's and Thursdays. Contact him at ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter @dylanrdixon.

Lane Kiffin speaks at his introductory press conference at FAU's football coach on Dec. 13, 2016, in Boca Raton, Florida.

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