CAN GAIT'S NDP BRING ORDER TO CHAOS


By Michael Spinner

You have to hand it to Gary Gait for endeavoring to create a program for the development of American lacrosse, even when it seems like there are always those in the lacrosse world who do not want him to succeed. He is the greatest lacrosse player to ever pick up a stick. The fact that our game's "Babe Ruth" is perhaps one of the most approachable and gentlemanly figures in our sport means that the name "Gait" will be legendary for generations to come.






Despite his legendary status and despite the fact that more than a decade after he was "in his prime" and leading Syracuse to the top of the lacrosse world, he is still one of the most dominating forces in the game, Gait somehow gets shunned when he tries to do something big in lacrosse. Remember the whole fiasco at the University of Maryland when Dick Edell retired. While the entire story was never made fully public, it is clear that in one way or another, Gait was not appreciated and perhaps even mistreated. At the very least, after helping the Maryland women's team become the premiere program in the country, in some way the University and some folks in Baltimore turned their backs on him.

Speaking of fiascos, who could forget how both Gait brothers were ignored by the Washington, D.C. press as the Power delighted sparse crowds at MCI Arena or how they were treated by their own league when Major League Lacrosse first came on the scene? After being shut out of the first Summer Showcase series, a league executive referred to the Gaits as "relics" and offered as an explanation for their exclusion from the showcases that the league is focusing on the future of lacrosse, not the past as they suited Casey Powell up in the 22 jersey. The Gaits still played for MLL after that and after being drafted in the late rounds of the inaugural MLL draft - Paul earned MVP of the first Championship Game and Gary is still an All-Star and Head Coach of the Bayhawks, where he has led Baltimore to one Championship and a goal away from a second. I truly believe that MLL permanently turned off many lacrosse traditionalists when they originally shunned the Gaits, and the fact that Gary has done so much to promote MLL despite his mistreatment is nothing short of perfect testimony to Gary's understanding of his place in lacrosse and to his character.




So when Gait recently announced the creation of the National Developmental Program (NDP) for lacrosse, I must admit that I was surprised that he would aspire for such an undertaking when, in many ways, he has done enough. He could just take it easy. This is a guy who works tirelessly to promote the sport, whether he does so on the field, conducting camps and clinics, or simply acts as a man of integrity when approached anywhere at any time. An NDP is one of those programs that is a long-shot at best to succeed because in the areas where lacrosse has already developed, often creating political and economic fiefdoms however well-meaning, there will be much resistance to this program. While in the areas where lacrosse has not developed, there may not be enough talent or even interest to make this program a financial success.

I like the idea of an NDP simply because it brings order to chaos. "Our goal is to improve the process for the identification of prospects for college lacrosse programs and to make the experience better for everyone involved, players, parents and coaches," said Gait, in a recent press release concerning NDP.

Amen to that. I think that the college lacrosse recruitment process has become such an incredible mess that not only does an NDP serve a purpose, but if conducted properly it is going to make a lot of people happier with the whole experience. Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to observe the college recruitment process from enough sides to see that it is a mess that it needs a lot of help. I've been a college coach engaged in the recruitment of high school seniors, a high school coach helping my seniors get through the process, and family friend of high school seniors being recruited. I think there is such an incredible need for some order in this process because more and more, there are young athletes (and their parents) being taken advantage of and too many selfish adults gaining as a result. There are thousands of dollars being spent by kids who do not need to and being made by adults who do not deserve it that if Gait's NDP can somehow alleviate this atmosphere, I am all for it.




A 2002 Article about Gait and the Bayhawks


One of the great untold stories in lacrosse is what a business college recruitment has become. The combination of simple greed, parental obsession, and a lack of information across the board has led to an atmosphere that hurts the athletes. If an NDP somehow changes the atmosphere in which college recruitment takes place, it is a step in the right direction and an aid to those who need it the most.

A short time ago, Lacrosse Magazine ran a cover-story about whether or not the large number of girls' lacrosse club teams is beneficial or detrimental to the sport and the athletes involved. The article had a lot of useful information, but - with all due respect to Lacrosse Magazine - it also fell short of telling the real story. What Lacrosse Magazine did not discuss, and a topic that is being discussed more and more in the world of women's lacrosse, is the incredible sums of money being spent on these club teams solely for the purposes of recruitment. I have had a chance to meet many individuals who run girls' lacrosse club programs and I admire their efforts to bring good coaching to all levels of the sport. These clubs bring large numbers of athletes and quality coaching together to provide a good lacrosse education to the young ladies involved - and being that there is a major shortage of good coaching in virtually every region where girls' lacrosse is played, these club programs serve a vital purpose in the development of the sport.



The Lacrosse Magazine Cover - by John Strohsacker


However, there is a dark side to girls' lacrosse club recruiting. While one would assume that the simple act of competing on behalf of these club programs at the various recruiting tournaments would be enough for the athletes to get recruited, for many (but not all!) of these club programs, there is another facet to recruiting. Dozens of these club programs charge thousands of dollars for a so-called "recruiting service" so that the head of the lacrosse club will contact college coaches on behalf of the athletes. And since most athletes and their parents do not know better and want to play lacrosse at the next level, they fork over this money with the hopes that the club coach will get them noticed. It is a ridiculous notion that the club coach will convince the college coach that a player displays abilities that the college coach is unable to see, but this phenomenon is happening right now at dozens of lacrosse club programs.

In other words, here's the deal: A girl joins a lacrosse club to get better and pays hundreds of dollars to simply go to clinics and practices with the club. On top of that, she pays for her own travel, tournament fees, and hotel accommodations for the various tournaments around the country where a majority of recruiting observation takes place. And, on top of that, many (but not all!) of these clubs charge literally thousands of dollars for the person running the club (who is already making all kinds of money from the initial fee to play for the club) to call college coaches on behalf of the athletes.

And since there is an incredible lack of education concerning the recruiting process (i.e. a college program is going to recruit the best athletes out there, whether or not that college coach receives a call from the club coach), athletes and their parents are forking over thousands of dollars for a recruiting service they do not need. It is a process out of control. It is lining the pockets of those who do not deserve it because they are providing a service that does not exist. I have never met a college coach who recruited an athlete solely because a club coach called them. college coaches spend countless hours at high school games and tournaments seeking out the best of the best. One phone call from somebody who is making tons of money to make that phone call does not make a difference but the athletes and their parents do not know that and are swindled (for lack of a better term) into making the financial commitment.




Gait on the Baltimore sideline


Hopefully, an NDP will clear up this mess by not only bringing together the athletes looking to compete in college and the college coaches, but also by finding a way to educate the athletes so they understand the way the recruitment process really works. Again - hopefully this NDP brings order to chaos.

In the Men's game, club programs are not as prevalent but the recruitment process is a mess nonetheless. Two summers ago, I wrote a column about the lacrosse camp situation being out of control, and that atmosphere has gotten worse, with recruiting camps promising more and bringing in literally millions each summer. Kids are still forking out thousands of dollars to play at lacrosse camp after lacrosse camp, to be seen by college coaches. They spend their entire summers playing in the baking sun, playing way too much, but willing to pay because they think it enhances their recruitment opportunities. Paying thousands of dollars to play in recruiting showcases in my mind is no different than paying thousands for a "recruiting service" because ultimately, it does not help the athlete as much as they think. As I wrote in the camp column, there is a diminishing return when you aspire to play for recruitment every week during the summer. But, nobody tells this to the athletes. They think they have to play every recruiting camp and tournament camp so they can be recruited, when in fact that is not the case.



The 2002 Camps Article


The NDP seems to change everything by not only showcasing the athletes, but doing so in an environment where the athletes are being properly utilized and coached and also educated about the recruiting process. There is no, "play every day in the heat" requirement that the camps have for guys, and there is no, "pay thousands of dollars so somebody will call a college coach for you" opportunity that the clubs have for girls. The NDP is a program where the athletes pay to get coached by some of the best in the game, and then compete in regional and national tournaments - thereby competing for something besides personal gain, the nature of the current recruiting venues. The "recruiting service" is the level of play the athletes put on display - throughout the program. The athlete has many opportunities in real game situations to show what they can do.

Detractors will say that there is still money being made by those who run the NDP - perhaps Gait himself. Initially, and selfishly, this was my reaction to the program just like I reacted to news of each huge Michael Jordan contract when he played. We all can be, and often are jealous of the same people we hold up as stars. But somebody is going to make money off recruiting and Gait's program makes sense, provides consistency and gets lots of qualified people involved as partners all over the country. Having had the opportunity to observe both the current recruiting atmosphere from all sides and Gary Gait for years on and off the field, I can trust that whatever he does will be an improvement. He has a track record of giving back to the sport unselfishly, putting the best interests of team, his fellow athletes and the sport ahead of personal accolades. He's dedicated to the betterment of lacrosse and is vested more personally than any other person in the success of lacrosse as a whole. So, I wish him luck in this effort, even if he's already the greatest player ever. I can also just be happy for him if he makes a bundle. I wish I could say the same for everyone in the game.

December 3, 2003





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2002 Review & 2003 Punditries and Predictions

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Philly Gets The Nod.