TAMPA - As the early signing period opened on Wednesday, many of the country's top seniors were finally able to put their commitment in ink.
The NCAA allows players to sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) during this early period each November. Up until November 10th, every single commitment between a player and a college was verbal. That means no signatures, no contracts, no letters of intent - just trust. The trust between a player and a recruiter is that they will honor these commitments - both the commitment made from the player to the school, and the commitment made from the school to the player.
A Leap of Faith
A pretty giant leap of faith is made on the part of both parties.
For the player, he has to trust that his scholarship will still be waiting for him as described by the recruiter. He has to trust that the school will not pull the player's offer or adjust the offer for any number of reasons. What if the player does not improve as planned? What if the school finds a better player at the same position that they are in love with? Does that 50% offer now become 20%? What if the player turned down other scholarship offers along the way, offers that are no longer available after the player made his verbal commitment to his current school. The player can be put in a pretty bad position.
For the school, they have to trust that the player isn't going to get cold feet on them. They have to trust that an immature player didn't make a decision based off of a school logo, or for bragging rights amongst his peers that he is committed to a school already. What if the school stopped recruiting at that position after they got a verbal commitment for this player? What if the original offer of 20% is no longer good enough because the player has gotten significantly better from the time he verbally committed? What if other schools are now offering 60%, and the player has a verbal for 20% at his current commitment? Will the school be willing to reevaluate the scholarship? If so, what other player's or recruits will need to adjust their percentage to make sure money becomes available for this verbal commitment to be happy with his new offer? Such is life under Title IX and 11.7 scholarships for college coaches.
These types of practices from both parties would be considered unethical, but ethics are not policed or enforced. When it comes to a player's future college education, or a coach's job security, some people will do whatever they deem necessary to protect their own self-interests of career or college education.
While baseball players rarely switch their commitments on signing day in the dramatic fashion that football recruits do, signing a letter of intent locks the details in and ensures neither party will back out on the other. Until the MLB Draft or a Junior College comes knocking that is.
A Look at the LeVon Washington Commitment
Gainesville, Florida's LeVon Washington was an interesting young prospect as a sophomore in high school in 2007. While he was still young, weak and relatively unknown in his small town, you could tell at an early age that the tools were there for him to be a prospect. The new Gator head coach at the time, Kevin O'Sullivan, had already gotten a verbal commitment from LeVon rumored to be in the 25% scholarship range. Over the next couple years, LeVon Washington turned into one of the top prospects in America and major programs from across the country were testing the waters to see if his commitment was strong. These programs were offering significantly better scholarships than the one LeVon had already agreed to. LeVon and his family wanted him to attend Florida, but it was clear to the Washington family that the offer for LeVon needed to be adjusted.
This is a classic case of when a verbal commitment can be put to the test. Both parties are put into an uncomfortable situation of having to revisit the offer. Luckily for LeVon and O'Sullivan, ethics weren't an issue. Washington requested to revisit the offer instead of bailing for greener pastures, and the Gators coach had money available to adjust the offer to something more on par with what Washington deserved. (Washington was eventually drafted in the 1st round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, spurned the Rays offer, did not qualify academically for UF, went to Chipola CC for a year, and was drafted again in the 2nd round of 2010.)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, as I examine the scouting process leading up to a verbal commitment.