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March Update: Verbal Commitments

It’s spring and we’re in the thick of the “verbal commitment” season. Let’s talk about what these verbal commitments and offers mean and how you can navigate the process with clarity!

What is a verbal commitment?

Basically, a verbal commitment is an agreement between a coach and prospective student-athlete. The student commits to attending a particular college in return for some sort of consideration (a scholarship or a roster spot or support in admissions).  Since nearly every prospect has an agreement set prior to signing a letter of intent (or at a school that does not take part in the letter of intent program, a promise of admission or a NCAA Division 3 ceremonial signing form), just about every student-athlete will verbally commit but the timelines on that vary widely.

Key considerations for students, families, and advisors

It is important to understand that NCAA rules prohibit colleges from commenting on recruiting prior to a student signing a letter of intent, so there is no regulation of announcements being made by students and families. Keeping that in mind can help you understand that other people’s commitments should not weigh on YOUR process (they may not even be based on an actual offer). Your timeline needs to be YOUR timeline.

A serious verbal commitment ironically involves a WRITTEN outline of financial aid (often an email or text). If a coach is providing athletic aid, you can request that they provide an outline of the scholarship(s) you will receive, including estimates on other discounts (like merit scholarships) or federal aid. You want to have something in writing in case there is a coaching change or a situation where the coach wants to reduce an offer. It is important NOT to commit without knowing what you are committing to! If you are going to commit without any reciprocal consideration you are “walking on” and while that may be the right decision for you, understand that you are making it!

At highly selective schools, coaches often ask prospects to commit in return for a promise of admission, often called a “likely letter,” or of coach support for their application. This letter will come from ADMISSIONS (not just the coach) and will say something along the lines of “if you continue your current level of academic performance, you are likely to be admitted.” This is different than a coach promising to “support you with admissions.” Those promises should generate some follow-up questions about how often the coach’s prospects are admitted (it is not always going to be 100% in those situations, it depends on the school and sometimes where you are on the coach’s priority list – you should ask!). Even with these types of schools, you can ask about a “financial pre-read” and are completely justified in waiting to know what the cost will be before you commit!

Finally, understand that verbal commitments should be entered into in good faith. If you feel like you made a mistake, treat the coach as you would like to be treated. Be transparent and honest. It is YOUR life. Ultimately, if you feel like you need to withdraw your commitment, coaches are generally very gracious when you are honest – make the tough call and tell them (it will be worth it in the end). If your verbal commitment is broken by a coaching change or some other program issue, stay positive, there are ALWAYS options! You will end up where you need to be!

Empowerment and Engaging with Time Sensitive Offers

There are two schools of thought among coaches who make offers. One is to require prospects to decide on a short (usually a week or two) timeline to either accept an offer or the coach will move on. The second school of thought is that putting a lot of pressure on young prospects to commit is counterproductive and students need more time to come to a decision. Regardless, you can generally extend the window you have to consider an offer by making sure to keep the coach “in the loop” and stay engaged with them. Even coaches who believe in high pressure sales will be likely to give you more time if you explain you need it to come to a thoughtful decision about your future!

It can also help you to clarify the components of a verbal offer. There are coaches who will conflate financial aid or automatic academic scholarships with “athletic money” when they make an offer. Be sure to clarify the breakdown. I recently had an advisee who was offered a “full tuition scholarship” by a coach and given a week to respond. It was easy to find out that this college offers automatic full tuition scholarships (you pay room & board) to ANY prospective student with this advisee’s outstanding GPA. Pressure relieved.

Ultimately, be honest! If you have not learned enough about your options to commit, SAY SO. Ethical coaches will be patient and support you in your search. Do you really want to play for a person who will not?

As always, if you are looking for the individualized or institutional consulting help that puts you ahead of your peers, check out our services here! You can make an initial appointment through the link on our homepage! School administrators and counselors access our free resources, appointments and programs for school collaboration here.

For more information, contact Dave Morris, College Counselor & CEO, College Athletic Advisor, [email protected] or phone: (719) 248-7994

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