GLEN ELLYN – Crystal Lake South softball player Brooke Kuffel had her future all mapped out.
In February 2018, when she was a freshman, Kuffel was offered a college softball scholarship by Loyola University and gave Jeff Tylka – who was Loyola’s head coach at the time – a verbal commitment to play for the Ramblers after high school.
But her dream scenario was turned upside down when Tylka’s contract wasn’t renewed by Loyola after the 2019 season. That’s because before that, in April 2018, the NCAA Division I Council passed legislation prohibiting coaches from contacting potential recruits, or their families, before Sept. 1 of the player’s junior year of high school.
That left Kuffel in limbo, since she isn’t a junior until next month.
Because of the rule change, no one from Loyola can contact Kuffel until Sept. 1 to let her know if the Ramblers will still honor their original scholarship offer once Tylka’s replacement is hired. Doing so would be a direct violation of NCAA rules. Loyola still hasn’t announced a replacement for Tylka, who posted a 111-141 career record with the Ramblers.
“It was pretty surprising to go from having all the things I’d dreamed about coming true, to suddenly not knowing what was going to happen,” Kuffel said.
And since Loyola can’t contact her, the only reason Kuffel found out Tylka had been let go was thanks to McHenry senior-to-be Jocelyn Currie, who is Kuffel’s teammate with the Illinois Chill Gold 16U travel softball program.
“I got a phone call from Jocelyn [in June] telling me Jeff had been let go,” Kuffel said. “I was like, what? It turned into kind of a bizarre situation from that point on. I didn’t know much after that.”
Currie, coincidentally, also verbally committed to Loyola at nearly the exact same time Kuffel did. But Currie’s situation is vastly different.
When Tylka’s contract wasn’t renewed this spring, Loyola’s athletics department immediately contacted Currie. Since she will be a senior this season, contacting Currie didn’t violate the new NCAA rules, and Loyola reassured her it would still honor the original scholarship offer, regardless of who replaces Tylka.
“It definitely meant a lot to me that they reached out to me after Tylka was let go,” Currie said. “They emailed me at first, then their assistant athletic director called me and gave me some reassurance. I felt like I was in really good hands. It was classy of them to show me they really still wanted me to be part of their program.
“It also showed me I wasn’t just a number or a statistic to them. It showed me, regardless of this unusual situation, [that] they view me first and foremost as a person, and that they care about their student athletes as human beings, too.”
Kuffel meanwhile, has no idea how her situation will play out. Because she and Currie had both verbally committed to the same school, they often spoke about how their futures would potentially become intertwined.
“We even joked about and discussed possibly becoming roommates at Loyola one day,” Currie said. “Now, we just don’t know what will happen.”
This newfound uncertainty led Kuffel to make a difficult decision.
“After talking it over with my family, we decided the best thing to do, as a sort of insurance policy, would be to relist myself as still being available for new scholarship offers during summer travel ball,” Kuffel said. “It wasn’t an easy choice to make.
“Sure, I hope Loyola still upholds its original scholarship offer to me after Sept. 1, but in the meantime, I had no choice but to keep my options open and see what other opportunities might arise. I had to look out for myself, because you never know.”
Chill Gold 16U assistant softball coach Lea Corcoran, who also is Grayslake North’s head coach, is confident Kuffel will land on her feet regardless of how everything plays out.
“Prior to the rules change, you had Division I programs offering scholarships to 12-year-olds who were still in middle school,” Corcoran said. “So this rule was put into place for good reason. We’re just learning firsthand what some of the unintended side effects of that change may be.
“Brooke became a sort of accidental litmus test for that. But she’s got all the tools to succeed wherever she winds up. She’ll be just fine. She’s such a smart softball player. She’s a leader. Plus, she’s got great pop in her bat and can play numerous infield positions defensively. With a few more years to grow still, her ceiling is huge.”