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THE TALLEST boy on a middle school playground answers his cellphone. "Hello," he says.
"Hi, Kenny. This is coach Bobby Violation at Shady State University. Am I catching you at a bad time?"
KENNY: Um, kind of. I'm at recess.
COACH: O.K., I won't keep you long. I just wanted to tell you that after watching you at a couple of camps last summer, my staff thinks you're quite a basketball player and we'd love to see you wearing a Shady State uniform when you get to college.
KENNY: College? Are you sure you've got the right number? I'm only 12 years old.
COACH: Oh, I know, but last month the NCAA's legislative council lowered the minimum grade for a recruitable athlete in basketball to seventh. Until now, the rules covered the recruiting of kids only in ninth grade and above. That's probably because no one thought colleges would go after players younger than that, but you know how us coaches are. Shoot, I'd recruit a sonogram if it would help me beat out Kansas and North Carolina for a kid.
KENNY: I should hang up now. My parents will, like, take my phone away if they find out I've been talking to a stranger.
COACH: Sure, sure. But in the last two years USC has gotten verbal commitments from a pair of eighth-graders, Dwayne Polee Jr. and Ryan Boatwright. And another eighth-grader, Michael Avery, accepted a scholarship offer from Kentucky. The NCAA decided that if coaches were going to recruit players that young, those kids should be protected by the same rules as prospects in high school. So as long as coaches follow those rules—which means we don't get caught breaking them, like this phone call does—we can officially recruit kids your age.
KENNY: You mean, the NCAA was worried about coaches recruiting middle school kids, so they passed a rule to make it O.K. for coaches to recruit middle school kids? That doesn't make any sense.
COACH: You'll find that's not unusual for the NCAA, Kenny.