There are over 270 comments and climbing on a recent New York Times article chronicling the increased number of early commits made by college recruits. People are upset at the idea that families and recruits are being asked (some say forced) into deciding on a sport and college in the 8th and 9th grade. The majority of the criticism is aimed at the NCAA, college and club team coaches. People are frustrated at “the recruiting system” that is taking advantage of young girls and families.
Rule changes handed down by the NCAA aren’t going to fix the issues highlighted in the article. There is no system that will protect people willing to make uninformed decisions. Any decision to commit yourself to a school 2, 3, and 4 years before you will be a student there is an uninformed decision. You don’t know if the coach, recruit or school are going to be the same in four years.
These agreements between the athletes and the universities are unofficial “verbal commitments”, which in the eyes of the NCAA officially mean nothing. Coaches have no obligation to honor a verbally committed scholarship just as the athlete has no obligation to sign with the school. Asking the NCAA to regulate the verbal commitment between an athlete and a coach is going to create more rules, something I don’t think should happen.
What would happen if coaches could contact any recruit they wanted?
The idea that the NCAA or any regulatory body could set rules that would stop a willing recruit and coach from communicating is unrealistic. They have tried to prevent early recruiting in sports like basketball and the effects are an influx of third parties who make the recruiting process worse. I think coaches and recruits should be allowed to communicate as much as they want. It is the frequent communication between a recruit, family and a coach that is going to make a more informed decision. The better you get to know a coach and how they run their program, the better chance you have of making the right choice.
If a top recruit is getting bombarded by interested coaches, then it is the family’s job to set guidelines with coaches. Look at the recruiting process for top basketball prospect Jabari Parker (now a freshman at Duke). An elite talent like Jabari had every coach recruiting him and could have committed to any program he wanted. His parents were concerned the process would be over whelming for him:
We want him to enjoy being who he is. If he wants to talk, we’ll ask him first. Right now, we don’t want him to be over-bombarded because coaches can sometimes be aggressive, and that can be overwhelming.” – Sony Parker (Jabari’s Dad)
His parents had a simple system, no coach or program was allowed to contact Jabari directly. All phone calls and text messages went through them. If a program was being overly aggressive they were removed from consideration. Simple. Effective.
Non-Revenue recruits need to behave like revenue sport recruits
For the big money sports like, football and basketball this type of early recruiting has been happening for years. Why then aren’t more 5-star football and basketball recruits verbally committed? They used to, but verbal commitments have come to mean almost nothing in those sports. Athletes routinely “committed” to a program, and continued to talk to and visit other coaches. In addition, opposing coaches began actively recruiting committed athletes.
While coaches in revenue sports might be “honoring” a verbal commitment between a recruit and a program and agree not to recruit a committed athlete, I wouldn’t expect this trend to continue. There was a time when football coaches honored the agreement not to recruit committed players, but the pressure to sign a top recruit ultimately won out and now all bets are off. It is only a matter of time before non-revenue coaches treat commitments the same as their revenue counterparts.
I don’t condone not honoring your verbal commitment. Instead, the top recruits in non-revenue sports need to understand the power they have in the recruiting process. If they feel they are being forced to take on offer from a coach, is that program really going to be the right school for them?
What can a family or recruit do now to fix this situation?
There is nothing the NCAA or any other college sports regulatory body can do to change the fact some athlete (or their parents) are going to do everything they can to play for a big name school. The competition for these few roster spots are always going to be overly competitive. Whether it is happening in 8th and 9th grade or forced to happen in the last few years of high school, the rules of the game are defined. Competition is fierce, commitments are being made extremely early and you need to accept the risks that come with these decisions.
What many families are discovering is that maybe big time college sports aren’t all it is cracked up to be. Maybe a coach with constant pressure to win isn’t going to provide you with a stable enough scholarship offer. Maybe the balance of athletics and academics at these big schools isn’t right for you.
As a family you set your priorities on what is important in the college experience. If you want sports to be part of it, look for a school that has the type of athletic opportunities you are looking for. There are hundreds of universities that offer a great balance of competition and academics, you don’t have to commit to a major athletic program as an 8th grader if you don’t want to.