Child Exploitation at USC

Just when you think you’ve heard it all there comes another shocker, this time about USC’s committing one of its football scholarships…to a 13-year old. That’s USC’s Class of ’19. According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the USC coach made a similar signing when he was at UT–Knoxville, and has continued his kiddie recruitment at USC. Here’s an excerpt from the IHE article:

The University of Southern California’s football team has committed one of its football scholarships for the 2015 entering class to David Sills, a 13-year-old quarterback at a middle school in Delaware, The News-Journal of Wilmington reported. Sills told ESPN that Southern Cal has always been his “dream school.”

You can read the full notice here. The newspaper article is at Delaware Online.

How many things are wrong with this picture? Preying on a 13-year old boy is one. This sounds like child trafficking to me; if it had been done over the internet by a skeevy 45-year old we’d be prosecuting him. But out in plain sight, where the context is “education,” (and by that we mean “sports”), it’s being presented as something amazing. What does USC hope to gain by trolling middle schools for future football recruits? Do middle schools want older men in “coach” getups to start showing up at their games? I don’t think so.

I volunteer at a national teen crisis line (National Runaway Switchboard) where I get calls from kids who have been lured away from home by “friends” they’ve made on the internet. They get sent airline tickets and instructions, and leave with promises of wonderful relationship with ideal partners, only to be greeted at the airport by an overweight, balding perv who loves young men/women. Blinded by what looks like love and affection from someone who understands them, they’re trapped by someone who wants them only for his/her own purposes.

Aside from the ethical issue of subjecting an adolescent to the pressure of college recruitment while he’s still in 8th grade, how is he going to live a normal life for the next five years, knowing that if he breaks a leg or tears a tendon, USC will toss him out with the trash? Is it remotely fair to put a child, however talented, in this position? And even though David Sills says USC has always been his “dream school,” how does he know that it will still be his dream when he’s old enough to vote? How developmentally inappropriate is it to lock him in to USC (in theory) with blandishments of scholarships and visions of sugarplums when he should be having fun playing football in school and awkwardly starting to date? How are his teachers going to cope with a young man who seems to have his life already set? What’s the point of learning English or algebra? I hope his parents are not so starry-eyed that they’ll roll over for this, but I wonder.

What is USC’s coach thinking? And what does USC plan to do about it? One can hope that it repudiates this ridiculous and totally inappropriate stab at building a child army as soon and as publicly as possible. If I were president, I would fire Lane Kiffin immediately. But with the power college football coaches have these days, that’s probably not going to happen. Shame on you, USC. Fire Lane Kiffin and repudiate this insanity.

And just so you know, I’m not the first one to wonder what’s going on here…See this post on Bootlegger Sports from last June. And evidently USC has done some damage to other 13-year olds: See this article at rivals.com. And know also that the NCAA doesn’t seem to have any guidelines for recruiting anyone before freshman year of high school, much less make a commitment to same.

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About Will Dix

I am currently writing a book about college admission. I'm interested in the intersection of the college process and American culture. I attended Amherst College in the 1970s, taught high school English and theater at The Hill School in the '80s, returned to Amherst in the '90s as an admission dean, and began the '00s as a college counselor at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. I then joined Chicago Scholars as Program Director. Currently, I blog about college admission for Forbes.com. I also help community organizations serving low income students understand the college admission process so more students can consider gaining access to higher education. I have a few private college counseling clients that I take by referral only. The views expressed in this blog are mine alone.
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