College football recruiting is moving faster than ever before, which is not necessarily a good thing. In an attempt to find the next great prospect before anyone else, coaching staffs are verbally offering scholarships to eighth graders and high school freshmen.
This is a practice the NCAA must bring an end to immediately. Not only are these verbal offers non-binding, they are essentially a meaningless form of lip service.
As of last July, ten prospects in the classes of 2016 and 2017 had received a verbal offer. That number will only continue to rise as coaches are allowed to make these empty promises.
Shortly after receiving the offer, Sills committed to USC, making him the youngest player to accept a scholarship in the history of college football. Sills will not be eligible to sign a national letter of intent until February of 2015.
Although Sills may have barely entered his teenage years, none of the attention he received was unwarranted. The Elkton, Md. native flashed impressive arm strength and accuracy under the tutelage of quarterback guru Steve Clarkson, who coached Matt Barkley and Jimmy Clausen prior to their college careers.
You can be the judge as to whether or not Sills was worthy of the hype by watching the video that made him a hot commodity.
Why Is This Bad for the Kids?
Potential student-athletes cannot receive a written scholarship offer from any university until Aug. 1 leading up to their senior season. Therefore, verbal offers are exactly the same as a prospect committing to a school before he signs his national letter of intent. It is all just words until the paperwork is filled out.
All of this benefits the coaching staffs, but is a significant disadvantage to the athletes. If a prospect is offered early – over three years in advance of National Signing Day in some cases – and he does not develop as anticipated, the coaches are off the hook entirely. No written scholarship offer has to be sent, leaving the recruit in a difficult spot.
“Kids will get a verbal offer, think they know where they want to go and not look at any other schools, and then Aug. 1 rolls around and they won’t get the written offer," Rivals.com recruiting guru Mike Farrell said. "And then they’re stuck because they never really explored any other colleges.”
Imagine how some of these prospects bust their behind to prepare for college football, receive an offer as a high school underclassmen and then the disappointment they are left with when the official scholarship letter never arrives.
Additionally, middle schoolers and high school underclassmen are nowhere near mentally ready to make what could wind up being one of the biggest decisions of their lives.
At that age, kids are busy dealing with puberty and attempting to get a drivers license. Figuring out which college football program will best fit their needs down the line should not be tacked onto that list. Verbal offers are putting more and more pressure on young recruits to make this decision, though.
Any one of the class of 2016 and 2017 members who have already been told a scholarship will be theirs to accept down the road could wind up in the same boat.
Eighth grader Dylan Moses is one of the latest prospects to appear in the national headlines for being offered a scholarship by a Division I powerhouse. Two of the nation's top programs, Alabama and LSU, have already offered Moses.
"The process has been speeding up," Steve Lorenz of 247Sports told MLive.com. "It’s also a part of a changing atmosphere where coaches are working harder earlier.”
USC is not the only one on the West Coast to get a major jump on its future recruiting classes, either. Last July, the Washington Huskies offered and received a verbal commitment from Tathan "Tate" Martell, an eighth-grade quarterback from San Diego. Martell is a class of 2017 prospect.
Fayetteville High School's athletic director Barry Gebhart once dealt with a freshman athlete being offered a scholarship. In an interview with ESPN, Gebhart sounded off on his issue with the early offer:
"On one hand, it's good for that young man, but what does it really mean? Are we to think that if he breaks his ankle in his senior year or he has a career-threatening knee injury, that they're going to honor that commitment? I don't think so," Gebhart said. "To me, it's a gimmick. That might be too harsh, but it's something that college coaches do so they can go back to that young man and say, 'Hey look, we were the first to offer you.' "
Gimmick is the best word anyone could use to describe these verbal scholarship propositions. Coaches can already make unlimited contact with prospects following their sophomore season. Do the coaching staffs really need to make a promise they may never wind up fulfilling? Absolutely not.
Part of becoming a college athlete is related to academic success as well. Academic transcripts are withheld from coaches until a prospect completes five semesters, or seven quarters, of high school classes. How can a coach offer a recruit when his grades are kept secret until midway through his sophomore year? I cannot even venture a guess.
How to Fix It
Eliminating verbal offers will not be easy. There would not be a whole lot of ways for the NCAA to prevent coaches from talking about scholarships with young prospects. A rule could be proposed to ban coaches from discussing scholarships before they can officially offer them, but we all know how good college programs are at following NCAA bylaws.
Head coaches are willing to do whatever it takes to win. Some will choose to disobey the rules, while others will not toe the line. This is not an excuse to ignore the current problem, however.
Passing a rule to ban verbal offers would also allow for extra time to monitor a prospect's academics. Additionally, it would take a significant amount of pressure off of middle schoolers and underclassmen before the recruiting process heats up during their junior year. These are still kids we are talking about, after all.
If there cannot be a rule created to prevent verbal scholarship offers, the NCAA should not allow coaches to make any contact whatsoever with recruits prior to the end of their sophomore campaign.
Otherwise, coaches will simply give prospects the old 'wink, wink' agreement. A coach may never actually talk about a scholarship, but there are many ways to imply one is being offered. Cutting off all contact from prospects until after their sophomore season of competition is likely the only way to put an end to verbal offers.
Plus, this will allow kids to finish up middle school and their first two years of high school football without even having to think about starting the recruiting process.
Failing to keep coaches from offering seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth graders now will only make things worse going forward. Every year the recruiting process will start earlier than before, unless the NCAA steps in and nips this issue in the butt right now.
Let the kids be kids for as long as possible. When the time comes, schools will come calling and sending out official scholarship offers. It is time for verbal offers to become a thing of the past.