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Early Admissions

- May 25, 2008

eighthgrader.jpg

That’s Michael Avery, an eighth-grader from Lake Sherwood, California. Like many kids his age, Michael likes to play basketball.

After high school, Michael is going to play basketball in college. Not only that: He’s going to play at a perennial basketball powerhouse, the University of Kentucky.

Note that I didn’t just say that young Michael wants to play basketball in college, let alone at the University of Kentucky. I said he’s going to. In fact, he’s already accepted the scholarship offer that Kentucky coach Billy Gillespie extended to him earlier this month.

Now, I’m a close follower of college basketball. But this development — recruiting kids who are still in junior high — takes me completely off guard. I guess I just haven’t been paying attention, but I had no idea that it had come to this.

It shouldn’t have taken me off guard, because it turns out that this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Within the last couple of years, Southern Cal’s coach, Tim Floyd, has inked two middle school students, and Arizona’s Lute Olson has offered schollies to two kids who hadn’t even started eighth grade yet. And the same week that Michael Avery accepted his offer, Gillespie got another commitment for Kentucky, albeit this time from a veritable grey-beard — ninth-grader Vinny Zollo from Greenfield, Ohio. A recruiting analyst is quoted in Sports Illustrated as saying “It’s like an arms race. You’ve got to offer first.” Apparently this is now becoming standard operating procedure in the cutthroat business of recruiting for big-time college sports.

With so many successful programs pursuing this strategy, it occurs to me that academic departments should consider following their lead. If it”s good enough for the athletics department, then why not for the political science department, too? In fact, in my department there’s a very productive married couple who have two young daughters. These girls obviously have the political science genes and they’re growing up in an academically-oriented home. So why wait? Let’s sign ’em up as faculty members before Columbia or UCSD hears about ’em!