TAMPA - Over the past 3 years, early verbal commitments in college baseball have taken on a life of their own. When you look across the country, sophomores are verbally committing to school at an increasing rate. Most big-name juniors are all locked up. What does this all mean to the players, schools, and coaches themselves? What if you haven't verbally committed by the time your senior year rolls around - should you be panicking? Let's take a look at these early verbals and explore them a little deeper.
Many of you are familiar with NCAA rules regarding verbal commitments. For those of you who aren't, here is a quick breakdown because it is important to note. Up until July 1st of the summer leading up to your senior year of high school, a college coach can not call you. However, you can call him. Letters and emails can also be exchanged. Through these basic communications, colleges are locking up verbal commitments from players as early as their sophomore years.
The most important summer for a high school baseball player going through the recruiting process used to be the summer after his junior year - as a rising senior. While for some players this is still true, the high end division-1 prospects continue to verbally commit to school during their junior years or as rising juniors.
Why Does it Benefit a College to Grab an Early Verbal
As summer tournaments increase in popularity, college coaches are now able to scout more players then they ever have before. They also see younger players then they ever have before. With colleges identifying talent earlier, they are out to lock down the standout players as quickly as they can before competing schools can come into the picture. Many tournaments and showcases have massive groups of colleges attending, and if a standout player is getting seen by 50-100 different schools at an event, then a college coach knows his chances of landing that player decrease significantly. So these coaches have to get in earlier than everyone else before the player has his phone ringing off the hook with offers.
While it's true that a verbal commitment is non-binding and other colleges do not have to honor a verbal commitment, there are unwritten rules of "recruiting ethics" that coaches try not to approach each others verbal commitments and recruit them away. Many coaches will play the ignorance card and say "they didn't know" that a player was already verbally committed when they approached him. That is why you see so many player's verbal commitments getting listed and updated on websites: as long as the information is out there, then a competing coach has no excuse.
The domino effect of all of this is that colleges now have to try and identify these standout players earlier then their collegiate competitors. But that requires more work, more traveling and more attendance at 16 and under events.
Imagine how tired, stressed out, and burned out the average player get from travelling to tournaments and showcases all summer and fall. Now let's imagine a college coach. There are many coaches that attend every single major event out there, and they travel just as much as you do. But then they also attend 16 and under events that a 17U or 18U player does not need to attend. And on top of that, these college coaches stay out at the field all day at every game to make sure they don't miss anyone. So while you or your son may play in 1 or 2 games per day, colleges are at the field from sunrise well after sunset.
This has lead to some colleges grumbling that the NCAA needs to step in, and eliminate all contact with players before their junior year, and that will obviously eliminate early verbal commitments. That means coaches wouldn't need to attend 16 and under events, saving them some time and energy. Afterall, recruiting is only a part of the job. The "real" job for coaches is coaching up their teams, developing their talent on campus and trying to win.
Player Benefits and Risks to Committing Early
So we've determined that colleges are beginning to get burned out from the competition of gathering verbal commitments from baseball prospects. But what about the players themselves? Why are they so anxious to commit to school?
Some of the benefits to committing early ensure that the player is committed to college. That is a major achievement for any player and any family, and some of them like the security of knowing that they are committed to school and they can just focus on playing baseball. It also ensures that the school does not eventually "run out" of scholarship money and the player is stuck with the short end of the stick.
But are 15 year old kids mature enough to really make a decision on where they want to go to school for the next 3-4 years? Are these kids eager to commit because they enjoy the bragging rights and status at school? Are they picking their school based on legitimate pros and cons, or are they picking schools based on a logo? In other words, maybe the kid was a fan of Podunk State University growing up. But just because you are a fan of a school, does that necessarily mean that the player really know the program? Does it mean that they know what their playing situation is, how they hit it off with that particular coach, what majors the school offers, etc? I mean if you think about it, most kids don't know what they want to major in even when they get to college, much less when they are 15 years old.
I think it is very important for a player who commits to a school early really gets guidance from his parents and educate themselves on the baseball program and the school. Instead of saying, "I've always wanted to go to school there, I'm a huge fan," try to learn about the university and the baseball program instead. I've encountered plenty of people in my life who attended a school they were a fan of, only to find out it was a horrible fit for them, and they ended up transferring.
There are benefits to committing early, but there are also risks. If you make an immature decision at 15 years old or 16 years old, and the player decides later to de-commit, that leaves a very bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. It shines a light upon the player that he can't keep his word, can't honor his commitment, and sets off warning signals to any other future school that may have once been interested in him. Earlier in this article, I made a quote, "So these coaches have to get in earlier than everyone else before the player has his phone ringing off the hook with offers." Isn't that a good situation to be in? Having schools competing with one another to get the player committed? Increasing their scholarship offers, fighting it out, pulling more strings....doesn't the player benefit from all of this recruiting?
The Perfect Scenario of an Early Commitment
From a player's perspective, here is what I would say is a classic case where a student should early commit:
The player has done his research on the school and the program. The player has a pretty good idea of what he wants to major in, and the school offers that major. The player has researched the baseball program, and specifically his position. He determines that there is no log-jam at his position, and the school didn't recruit any "All-Americans" or big-time draft picks the year before at his position that landed on campus. The scholarship offer is significant enough to where money is not an issue, especially if the player has some kind of academic scholarship in his corner as well. The family also agrees with the player's decision. The player has researched additional schools that he may be interested and thought about all of his options. And finally, the player is NOT making his decision based on a girlfiend. (Sorry had to bring it up!)
So What Does All of This Mean?
So what do you think? Are early verbal commitments from sophomores good or bad? We've seen some college coaches get burnt out. We've seen some immature players make some poor choices for the wrong reasons. We've also seen some colleges get aggressive and enjoy the recruiting process. And we've seen some players commit early with no issues.
What are your thoughts? Should a player wait to see all of his offers and enjoy the recruiting process? Does the NCAA need to step in and eliminate all contact with players before their junior seasons? If colleges are recruiting at 16 and under events, and other colleges follow this trend, won't the trendsetters begin recruiting at 14 and under events? How young is "too young"?
Stay tuned for Part 3 which will examine some possible tweaks and solutions to the existing NCAA rules on early verbal commitments.