Five most common questions about verbal commitments

USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete, coach, and NAIA National Champion. He is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.

The recruiting process has sped up, with athletes committing to schools as early as the 8th grade. These commitments are unofficial verbal contracts entered into by the athlete and coach. Just like the commitments themselves, the rules around verbals are unofficial; nonetheless, there are understood norms coaches and athletes follow. Below, we breakdown the most commonly asked questions around verbal commitments.

Does a verbal commitment guarantee a scholarship?

Verbal commitments do not guarantee a scholarship, as they are unofficial verbal contracts between the athlete and coach. The NCAA does not recognize or even track verbal commitments between athletes and colleges. The only time an athlete can officially commit to a college is during the signing period, when they sign their national letter of intent. Any story you see of an athlete getting an offer or committing to a school before the signing period their senior year is unofficial.

Does a college have to honor a verbal commitment?

The short answer is no, but it is very uncommon for a school to just pull their offer. That said, there have been athletes who committed to a school, and when signing day came, they didn’t end up receiving an official offer. Here are a few of the common scenarios in which that might happen:

  • There is a coaching change – When there is a coaching change at a school, it is up to the incoming coach to decide whether they want to honor the verbal commitments of the previous coach or not.
  • The school has a history of oversigningWhile the NCAA is cracking down on the practice of over-signing, a school can sign more athletes than they need on their team.
  • There was never actually a verbal offer made – Occasionally, there are stories of athletes who were confused about the nature of their recruitment from a particular school, and they mistook general recruiting interest as a verbal commitment, without actually being extended an offer.

Why do athletes verbally commit to a college?

Athletes commit to colleges early because it can simplify their recruiting process. By making an early commitment, athletes signify to other coaches and their peers they are done looking at potential schools. For most sports, this means college coaches will stop recruiting them, and they can focus on finishing out their high school career without worrying about the recruiting process.

Another reason an athlete might commit to a school is because the coach has extended an offer and given them a limited amount of time to accept. For example, coaches might say, “I would like to offer you a scholarship, and I need to know if you will accept in the next two weeks.” Coaches do this because they are under pressure to lock down recruits ahead of other programs.

When can you verbally commit to a college?

Currently, there are no NCAA rules regulating when an athlete can commit to a college. An athlete can make a verbal commitment to a school whenever they want, assuming the coach at the school has made them an offer. If you receive an offer from one of your dream schools, your family is comfortable with the decision, and you think the coach is likely to stay in their job (admittedly, this is hard to know), you should feel comfortable committing to that school.

What do you say when you verbally commit?

There are no magic words, but these are some of the scenarios where you might make a commitment:

  • During a campus visit – This is when some of the most productive conversations between coaches and undergrad prospects happen. If you are further into the recruiting process with a program, don’t be surprised if they extend an offer during a visit.
  • During a phone call – There are several ways a coach and a recruit can talk on the phone before the “official recruiting period” begins. If you are having advanced discussions with the coach, don’t be surprised if they extend a verbal offer on the phone. If you like the offer, a simple “yes” can lock down your verbal commitment.
  • Following up with a coach after they extend an offer – It is likely you won’t have to make a verbal commitment on the spot. Most likely, you will get an offer and the coach will give you a few days or weeks to decide. Many verbal commitments happen when an athlete follows up with a coach via email or a phone call.

It is a good idea to back up the verbal commitment in some written form. For example, you might commit during a phone or in-person conversation with a coach and then confirm that conversation by sending a short letter or email thanking the coach and telling them you are excited to have committed to their school.

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