A verbal commitment is when a lacrosse recruit tells a college coach that he wants to come play for their program and that coach tells the recruit that he has a spot (and possibly a scholarship) in that graduating class on their team. Basically, it is a promise from the player to play there and a promise from the coach that he will have a spot on the team. Now, I fully believe in integrity and keeping promises, but not when those promises have a detrimental affect on everyone involved.
Here are some of the reasons that I feel early commitments have a negative affect on the world of lacrosse in general. As a volunteer assistant coach at DU, I stay out of the recruiting. This is why I walked away from a secure and lucrative career in coaching. I could not stand the whole idea of recruiting and how it was done, especially with the early verbal commitments that were being made. These are some of the problems that this practice creates :
1. It is a system based on fear. A coach fears that if he does not manipulate and "wrap-up" enough recruits early on, then his team will not be good and he will eventually get fired. Players fear that there will not be a spot for them somewhere (mostly in Division I lacrosse) on a good team, so they feel the pressure to commit as early as possible. Anytime we do anything out of fear, it has negative side effects. It is like greed in our society.
2. It creates surpluses of good players on certain teams. Right now, there are too many good players on good teams right now. There are players sitting on the bench of some Division I teams that could start on many other programs throughout the country. This is why we are seeing some high profile transfers.
3. It's not fair to the player who commits early. I know…I know. The coaches have their political line, "We are giving these young men a chance to come to a great university and play lacrosse for an outstanding program." I hate that statement because it is so arrogant. Like these coaches are some kings or lord of lords that can grant you the key to the kingdom. Most of these players that commit early can go WHEREVER they want because they are that good. Any coach out there would be more than happy to make a spot on their team for them. So coaches, don't act like you are their savior doing them favors. It's gross. Kids in high school need time to grow and mature so they can make an informed decision on where they would actually like to go to college. Also, many of these players lose their motivation to actually work hard and get better. If they already have reached their goal of being on a team without having had to work for it in high school, what is the message we are sending to them?
4. It's not fair to all the other players out there! For a lot of lacrosse players, their dream in lacrosse is to play in college. Many want to play Division I (although there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing in Divisions II or III or the MCLA). As a club coach, I notice a ton of players who are becoming discouraged by their sophomore year because the dream of playing for their ideal university is over. I can speak from experience that when I was a sophomore in high school, I was very small and had not developed as a goalie yet. I needed those two extra years to improve and develop into a Division I recruit and fortunately, that is the way it worked back then. Everyone chose where they were going to go in the fall of their senior year!
5. The coaches can back out. Not everyone knows this, but coaches are starting to back out of these commitments. Or coaches get fired and the incoming coach does not honor these commitments. It leaves these players in a bad spot because most of the other coaches (due to this silly early recruiting schedule) have their classes filled.
So, here's the latest in the insanity of college recruiting. Two FRESHMAN have now verbally committed to major lacrosse programs. Obviously, people are freaking out once again. "This is ridiculous! The NCAA has to do something! This has to be stopped!". I agree fully. But, you know who has the power to make a change with all of this? Not the NCAA, but YOU.
This past fall, I got to have breakfast with Jim Mora, the UCLA head football coach.I was curious to learn about recruiting from him and what went on in the high pressure environment of football recruiting. Amazingly, despite all the cheating, back-stabbing and lack of morals that generally goes on in that world, they actually do it right in one way much better than lacrosse.
How can it possibly be that football is less screwed up than lacrosse when it comes to early commits? Well, it hit me when I asked Coach Mora this simple question, "Do you guys take early verbal commitments?," and he replied, "Well, we get them. They don't mean anything though! We don't think we have a player committed until he signs on the dotted line in his senior year." And there was the answer : if we all stop respecting the verbal commitment, then all the emphasis will go back to the senior year and the written commitment. So...
1. If you are a player, repeat after me : THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@! You can tell a coach that you want to go to his school and then keep looking for better offers from other coaches. I have seen a couple players do this and it has worked out for the best for them. As they get older, coaches may want to give them bigger scholarships or players may change their minds on where they want to go to school. This will make the coaches motivated to keep working hard for you to come to their school, as well. Go ahead…do whatever you want! You will not know what you really want to do in your first couple years of high school anyway. It is in the best of everyone involved, so do not feel bad about it.
2. If you are a parent, repeat after me : THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@! I know, I know…you want to raise your son to be a man of his word. But, this is the real world and sometimes we have to play the game and do what is best for us and for others. Committing early is actually hurting others. So, allow your son to commit early if he wants. But, then allow other colleges to keep recruiting him. It will actually work out for the best for everyone involved, so it is actually in integrity.
3. If you are a high school or club coach, repeat after me : THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@! You guys are the ones under the most pressure in all of this. The parents expect you to get your players recruited. Unfortunately, unless a kid is a monster stud athlete and a dominant player in his first two years of high school, then that is not going to happen. It takes away from your ability to develop players toward reaching their goals. So, explain this to everyone and make a change in the system.
4. If you are a college coach, repeat after me : THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@! Yeah, I know…most of you are all friends. You do not want to be that guy that goes after someone who has already committed. But, your school and your program might have something better to offer that kid, so I say, go for it! There are some coaches out there that have already had the cajonés to go out and do this and I respect them for it. This is the only way we will work our way out of this insanity. You all know that the NCAA is not going to do anything about this. Also, I know you guys don't like this idea at all because it means more hard work on the recruiting trail. But, if you care about the game and you care about the players involved, then you will do this because it's the right thing to do.
5. If you are an online lacrosse publication, repeat after me : THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@! By publicizing these promises that players make to coaches, you are perpetuating the problem. Players and parents are fighting for that one little blurb on your site so they can tell the world that they got their golden ticket! I know how badly you guys need content, but you are not doing our world any favors.
If we can deemphasize the verbal commitment, then college recruiting will go back to the way it should be. It should allow for players to work hard and develop over their high school careers. It should give the top players unlimited options for where they want to go to school and play lacrosse. It should create an environment where everyone is given a chance to succeed. It should put the people who matter the most, the players, in control of their destiny.
It may seem like an ideal situation that is impossible to create, but actually it's simple. Just think, "THE VERBAL COMMIT DOESN'T MEAN SH#@!" and we can end this insanity. It would take a lot of work though, needing all to buy in and everyone checking their egos at the door. How much do we care about our game and the youth that play in it?