National Signing Day, Decisions and Dating

National Signing Day is upon us when schools will call the press and set up photo ops for the student-athlete and the school. It makes for nice PR and it is something to celebrate. But if the NCAA allows verbal commitments…why do we even have National Signing Day?

Because “verbal commitments” are non-binding. You need to sign the contract to seal the deal and a “verbal” does not do that.

Back in 2010 13-year-old, 8th grade quarterback David Sills verbally committed to USC. Does anyone remember that? Well when that happened I found it a bit odd and actually somewhat disturbing. That seems way too young. How do you verbally commit so young when it violates NCAA rules?

So I called the NCAA, spoke to one of their recruiting directors and asked him that question.  His response, “You are not officially a ‘student-athlete’ until you start your first classes in the 9th grade in high school.” So that was a way around that rule.

Then I asked, “Isn’t that awfully young for a 13-year-old to make such a serious commitment? The kid has stars in his eyes and is enthralled by the actual offer from a school like USC. Isn’t the school taking advantage?” The NCAA rep’s next comment pretty much hit home for me. He said, “At the NCAA we do not recognize verbal commitments.”

Translation: The NCAA pretty much pretends that verbals don’t exist because they are not legal and binding.

That’s the real issue which brings us back to Signing Day.

If verbals actually meant something there would be no Signing Day. But because verbals do not hold any legal and binding weight or value the true celebration comes when the ink is on the paper. But that puts the student-athletes at a very big disadvantage.

The fact is not many kids will turn away from a verbal offer from a school. If you are an athlete, working so long to get a scholarship to a college, and a school offers you, you will get very excited and will most likely accept the offer.  The fact is you not only don’t have to accept the offer, but you don’t have to honor it.

I have had discussions with Athletic Directors and coaches who passionately believe that if a school offers you and you accept that you stop looking.  That is the BIGGEST mistake you can make. A verbal offer is NOT legal and binding.  As I wrote above, the NCAA itself said they do not recognize verbal commitments. But even parents get star struck. They are so desperate for their kid to get a scholarship that they jump at the first opportunity and that too is a mistake.

Recruiting and Dating

I like to compare recruiting to dating. When you are dating and trying to find the perfect mate you date many different people. Sometimes you mesh, sometimes you don’t. Certain things may annoy you, other traits you may find endearing. During your dating process you take the best and worst and use those as part of your litmus test to determine who is your perfect fit…your perfect mate.

But young people often become infatuated with someone. They aren’t the perfect match, but they are the first person they were affectionate with and they fall in love…so they think.

When I was serving in the Army one of my soldiers approached me. He was only 18 years old. This was his first time away from home and he met a girl off base. The two did not date very long, barely knew each other, but were intimate. Suddenly he comes to me and says, “Sir I am going to get married.” I said, “You just met this girl. Are you sure? Why don’t you take some time to get to know her first.” But this young man was adamant. He knew he wanted to marry her and most of that was based on infatuation. He very well may have been truly in love with the girl, but most likely he was not. It was the experience and feeling that he was in love with.

That happens with recruiting ALL the time. I was marketing an athlete to colleges. The first college to show him interest made him a verbal offer. His father called me, only 2 months into the recruiting process, and said, “We found our school. We’re done.”  I said, “What do you mean you’re done?” He said, “We got our offer. We don’t need to look anymore.”  I said, “You are far from done. There are other schools that I am still marketing your son to.”

So I had to convince his father that there were still opportunities out there and they may be better but he wouldn’t know unless he gave them a look. The father bet me dinner that I couldn’t get his son another FBS offer.  I very easily won that bet, but never took the father up on the dinner offer.

The problem is that the athlete fell victim to not only infatuation of the first offer, but the scare tactics that often accompany those offers. After offering the athlete the coach said, “If we see you talking to other colleges we are going to think that you aren’t serious and will pull your offer.” Well this scared the hell out of the kid and he fell into the trap.

When his father told me about this I said, “How many other athlete will those coaches be talking to?” The father did not know. Then I did a little research. “That college offered 79 different athletes along with your son and 6 of them are at your son’s position and 3 of those are 3 or 4 star players at that position. Do you think for a second that if one of those 3 or 4 star players express interest that the coach won’t move forward and give them your son’s slot?”  But the father didn’t want to hear any of it. He and his son had their first brush with college romance. They were infatuated and were just like that 18-year-old soldier of mine.

On top of that, Would you really want your athlete to play for a coach that will already start using strong arm scare tactics before you even sign the paperwork? I know I wouldn’t.

This is why I hate verbal commitments and they must be used very wisely and carefully. A college coach can always pull the offer. Will most of them? That’s tough to say. Over my nearly 15 years of marketing athletes I have seen far too many offers pulled or lost because of differing circumstances.

What if a coach is fired, or quits? What if an athlete is hurt before “Signing Day”? What if the athlete underperforms during senior year after being offere as a junior. The person who has the most to lose is the young student-athlete. The college will always find more players next year or the year after that.

I worked with one athlete in 2007. We will call him Dean. Dean’s father called me in the middle of January and said, “We had a verbal offer with Cincinnati, and my son told all of the other schools recruiting him that he was going to Cincinnati.” Translation: He fell in love with his first girlfriend.  Then the Cincinnati coaches were fired or left and guess what…..Cincinnati did not have to honor any of those verbal offers. Those coaches went to another school, but did not bring their offers along with them either.  So who was left holding the bag…..Dean and his father…the ones who had the most to lose.

Now we are about 2 weeks away from signing day and we have to start over. That is a very tough place to be in. You have to find just the right school with just the right opening and hope they have some money to offer you. The best course of action we felt was to put him into a prep school for one season and market him again with the next recruiting class. Dean played one season at a prep school and we got him offered as the starting middle linebacker for a Division 1 school in time for spring ball.

Dean and his father had to be put through all of this because they walked into the verbal commitment minefield and didn’t know how to navigate it. Fortunately I do and we were able to help them out.

Too many kids and parents are too ill equipped to handle the verbal commitment process. They need guidance and direction. Parents and athlete need to understand that a verbal offer is just an offer. It is like you dating someone for one or two dates and them saying, “Someday I want to marry you.” There is no ring on that finger, and even the ring is a lease with an option to buy. Approach verbal commitments the exact same way because colleges sure are.

Examine ALL of your options and learn how to talk to the colleges. It is very difficult and quite unnerving to try to do it by yourself. That is why I do what I do. If you have questions contact me or just give me a call 856-374-3669. I would rather help you sort out your feelings before you decide to marry someone who you just met and then have to live with your mistake for a long time.

Good luck ….and Happy Valentine’s Day? 🙂

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