December Increases the Likelihood
If you follow the college football recruiting scene (and if you are reading this you certainly do), then you know that once December gets here and college coaches start being able to travel and talk to prospects, that the number of “decommitments” will increase. What does a verbal commitment mean?
For a school, it means that a school has offered a prospect a scholarship. Once a certain number of prospects at a specific position make verbal commitments to a school, that university effectively shuts down recruiting at that position and informs other prospects that they are no longer interested. In some cases it requires a school to withdraw an offer that the prospect hasn’t accepted. Those prospects must “move on” and find another school. In return the school expects the committed prospect to call other suitors and effectively take himself “off the shelf”.
For a player, it means that the prospect has a scholarship “locked in”. He is expected to make some kind of public announcement (schools can’t do that as per NCAA rules) and most kids do because they love the publicity. The prospect also expects the university to quit recruiting other players at his position; because of course most every kid is “promised” that he is the “next big thing”, “instant impact guy”, etc—whatever it takes to get him to make that final decision.
The problem occurs when “committed” players don’t stop looking around. They want to keep visiting schools and talking to coaches. In teenage lingo it is like wanting “to go steady and still date around”. It just doesn’t work. Somebody’s feelings will get hurt and it usually winds up in a messy split.
In defense of prospects who commit and decommit, their excuse is that they are teenagers and teenagers are wont to change their minds frequently. The kid should always be looking for the best fit for him, whether it is geographical locations, opportunity to play early, or a better fit academically. Why not tour the country and allow yourself to be “wined and dined” by college coaches? When a prospect commits early, it is really hard for a college coach to “talk him out of his commitment” if he can only do that by telephone. In-person face-to-face contact is always the best sales process.
In defense of the school, coaches work in recruiting literally a whole year cultivating prospects. When a prospect commits, the coaching staff is able to “pencil” him in (nothing is binding until National Signing Day, the first Wednesday in February) and focus efforts on remaining players. When a college coach calls other prospects and tells them a school has “filled up” at a certain position, he has a real minimal chance of ever getting back in the door with them. If a coach changes his mind and drops a committed player, then he becomes a persona non grata and usually incurs the wrath of the high school coach.
So the reality of the situation is that when a recruit makes a verbal commitment, what he really does is make a “reservation”. If he keeps shopping and finds a better deal, he decommits and recommits. In effect, his spoken word means absolutely nothing. What a verbal commitment means is that the prospect has identified “the school to beat”. Bring on the negative recruiting!
Once he decommits, the school is left scrambling. If it happens at the l1th hour, that scholarship may be left unfilled. Sometimes assistant coaches can actually get fired for “losing” a recruit. Consequently college coaches must protect their own interests by continuing to recruit other players. They may not actually want to sign that player, but they have to “keep him warm”. Meanwhile these latter players get a false sense about their recruiting. They can pass up a scholarship offer in hopes that this new interest turns into a scholarship.
What can be done? In reality, nothing, under the current system. As long as the National Letter of Intent remains the only binding document, players have no incentive not to keep shopping. It encourages players to make decisions they have no intention of keeping and forces colleges to make early offers to “stay in the game”, while allowing coaches to continually poach other schools’ recruits, now that they know “who they have to beat”. If an early signing date is created, then at least colleges will have a better early idea about the makeup of their recruiting class and have more time to make the necessary adjustments.