I recently had three athletes I am advising receive verbal athletic scholarship commitments from three different college coaches. Obviously, the families were thrilled with the opportunity for their children to be recognized and awarded well before their senior year in high school.
As an advisor, I am asked many questions about the college quest, and lately the area of verbal commitments seems to top the list. I would like to share my personal thoughts on what has become a popular recruiting strategy that is used by prospects and college coaches alike.
College coaches have a much different job description compared to 25 years ago when I first became a college coach. Not only are they expected to run an efficient and successful college athletics program, they also need to foster strong relationships with their alumni, grow strong loyalty within the team, and regularly recruit and retain “impact” prospects to the program.
If there is one area that creates a trickle down effect that improves each specific area of a Coaches program it is measured by the annual success of the team. In short, a Coach, no matter the tier of the sport within the department, is expected to win regularly, especially within the conference.
As the coaches roles have changed over the years, so has recruiting in general. The competition, especially for the blue chip athlete, has been raised exponentially among college coaches, and although they are restricted by well defined NCAA contact rules, they utilize early evaluations, unofficial visits and proactive communication by the prospects to “advance” their recruiting timelines.
A good college recruiter will begin to build a recruiting base of prospects as early as the ninth grade in an effort to “look further out” at kids that will fill important program gaps. When college coaches evaluate a prospect, they are often not just looking at the primary athlete they drove to see. The are evaluating a “grouping” of kids from a club or team where, in many cases, the college Coach has developed a “pipeline” where prospects from that organization or school have a good chance of getting strong and regular attention.
The Verbal: A Layman’s Definition
Simply put, a verbal commitment is one where a Coach and a prospect agree there is a proper and mutual fit scholastically and athletically with the prospect and the institution. In many cases, there is an offer of athletic aid (scholarship), or in some cases, support by the Coach in admissions. The verbal commitment is a “gentleman’s agreement.” An old fashioned handshake where both parties offer their word to remain committed through either the signing of The National Letter of Intent or an offer of admissions.
The verbal offer is "open ended" and a common question that prospects and parents have is “Can we back out of the agreement?” The answer is yes. That said, it is important to realize the flip side of the coin and, although it is less likely, college coaches can back out of a verbal commitment, especially if the prospect shows a lack of progress on the field or in the classroom.
Coaches will typically give families time to think about the offer, but they will also give them a deadline to make a decision. The prospect, in most cases, is one of several athletes on a short list of kids that the Coach is prepared to offer. If you decide not to accept, Coach will simply work down the list and make an offer to the next prospect in line.
The verbal commitment is a tremendous tool that can assist both the prospect and the college coach in making an early decision during the college recruiting process. If your child is not a blue chip athlete, it is a process that begins much earlier than most families realize. Therefore, a proactive approach to organizing early for the college search becomes essential in reaching your goals.
Tom Kovic is a former Division I college coach and the current director of Victory Collegiate Consulting, where he provides individual advisement for families in navigating the college recruiting process. For further information visit: www.victoryrecruiting.com.
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