Monday, April 23, 2018
Colleges

Word is some recruits' pledges are shaky

commit: to bind as by a promise; pledge; engage

(Webster's New World Dictionary, Third College Edition)

The abuse must stop at once.

No word in the English language is mutilated the way "commitment" is on the football recruiting landscape. Its misuse is the biggest farce this side of a Kardashian marriage.

We're talking interpretation, not pronunciation. We'd have no problem with kids butchering those three syllables if only they meant what they mangled. But if 21st century football recruiting has taught us anything, many don't.

Instead, they casually toss "commitment" around cyberspace, where it ricochets off a Twitter feed, takes a wild hop off an Instagram image, maybe bounces through a blogosphere. Therein lies the problem: It rarely sticks.

"I don't think it holds much substance anymore," said Chris Nee, a veteran Florida State recruiting analyst for 247sports.com.

Neither does Plant High coach Robert Weiner.

"Of all groups of people that should really understand the importance of the words we're using, it should be football coaches, football players, people involved in football when you're talking about the word 'commitment,' " Weiner said.

"It's important that if you say you're committed to something that you're going in with a true commitment. That doesn't mean that it's okay to just move on to the next thing, whatever the whim is."

Yet whims rule the day in 2014.

The scenario has grown trite.

Kid feels love from staff at School A and publicly commits to it. He feels more at home during his visit to School B and subsequently "decommits" or "flips his commitment." Later, he discovers the best chance for immediate playing time is School C, so he reneges again.

"I think in Florida, out of the top 20 (overall prospects), five or six of them have been committed to at least two places," Nee said. "Some of them three."

Coaches are equally culpable.

How many prominent recruits are reassessing their options because the school to which they committed just lost its coach? How many other kids were pressured to commit on the spot by a coach at a junior day or summer camp? How many committed then had their offer rescinded?

"It's a vicious cycle," said Jamie Newberg, a national recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "And it's getting worse and worse."

So maybe the system can't be rectified overnight. But the semantics can.

Time to abolish "commitment" from the recruiting vernacular. If society can rid itself of AstroTurf, the BCS and The T.O. Show, surely it can wean itself off a word simply not compatible with big-time recruiting in its current form.

That goes for its preposterous spin-offs as well. No more "soft commitments" or kids claiming they are "80 percent committed" to a school. Quick, name one coach in America — any sport, any level — content to have an athlete who is 80 percent committed.

"I hate 'soft commitments,' " Newberg said. "I don't know how that started years ago. I think that should be stricken from the books altogether. Because if you're committed and you take a visit (to another school), you ain't committed in my book."

The other alternative, of course, is radical overhaul of recruiting's structure. These days, the system essentially demands kids make college decisions earlier, compromising their ability to think things out and make a solid commitment.

Newberg theorizes this trend originated with coach Mack Brown at Texas. Around the turn of the millennium, Newberg noticed the Longhorns were securing a full class of commitments by the end of each May evaluation period.

"That allowed them to look ahead," Newberg said.

In time, virtually every major program had at least a dozen commitments by early summer for a class that couldn't officially sign until early February.

Unofficial visits (taken in the spring and summer) became more important than official ones (taken in the winter). Kids who didn't commit early couldn't be assured their scholarship offer would still exist a few months down the road.

So kids began committing earlier, and the travesty really gained traction. Sometimes, the coach to whom they committed in June lost his job in December. Conversely, the coach sometimes fell out of love with the player or the player grew enamored with another school.

Others simply liked the attention they generated on recruiting websites when they committed and decommitted.

And the commitment was really no commitment at all. Hence, part of the reason calls for an early national signing day for football are gaining steam.

Weiner has a more radical idea: no signing day at all. Simply allow a kid to sign his national letter of intent — which officially binds him to that school — the day he commits with a stipulation the letter can be voided if the coach leaves the school (by his or the school's choice).

"That would end all of that," said Weiner, who has had only one player decommit during his decade at Plant. "That would make kids really value their decision-making process more. That would make colleges value their decision-making process more when they offer someone."

Until that revolutionary day arrives, all we can do is tackle the language.

Time to decommit from the word "commit."

"I don't want to act like every kid's that way. You've got a lot of kids that are very solid commitments. They stick to their word," Nee said. "But there are plenty of kids that turn it into a circus, and that's the part that everybody remembers."

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