The Recruiting Game Part 1: Commitment

Umbrella Weather

Decommitments from the prospect’s end garner a lot of attention, but coaches play this game, as well. Just as a commitment can be commitment-in-name-only, an offer might not be as the word implies.

An offer can play the part of a pawn on the chessboard, in pursuit of the bigger piece. An elite-level program might be a prospect’s dream, and when the offer comes, he’ll verbally commit immediately. That doesn’t mean a scholarship or roster spot will truly be waiting.

Felder summarizes a scenario in which a prospect might be offered a scholarship as a beacon to other recruits.

“A show of ‘see we’re being nice’ of sorts,” he described. “When you recruit in a state and the high school coaches operate as a connected web, if you’re not showing love and respect to the players they all deem as ‘worthy’ then they can turn on you. Big State High might not have a 2017 you want, or even a 2018, but do you want to ignore them completely when they’ve got a 2019 that is a monster?”

For the originally offered prospect, his scholarship opportunity is a calculated maneuver — but he’s simply collateral. If the recruit doesn’t remain open to other offers, he’ll be left scrambling later in the recruiting process.

There are instances in which recruiters do such a good job of keeping prospects on a string, that it can almost become impossible for the prospects to decipher what’s a genuine offer and what’s lip service.

McCuistion has advice for athletes in that spot.

“Those are the kids that it’s really tough for, especially when you kids that have pro aspirations. When you’re talking about [a top-tier program], [its] third or fourth cornerback option [has] 50 legitimate scholarship offers. Fifty schools would take him today. And [the top program] can sit there and say ‘Well, we’re waiting on the No.1 and No. 2 cornerback to decide and we’ll see where we go from there.’”

In this, hypothetical scenario, the scholarship offer functions as a placeholder — not an overture of good faith. McCuistion sees this as a problem that needs to be tackled directly.

“For me, and this is something that the NCAA loves to talk about: ‘Oh, we want to protect our student athletes.’ They need to develop some sort, or maybe someone in [recruiting media] needs to go out and speak nationally about this,” he said. “Ask the coach’s questions, ask things, talk to them, ask a coach ‘if I committed today, coach, would you take it?’ Don’t be afraid to ask that tough question because there’s no finer point that needs to made in recruiting than that one right there.”

Should a prospect feel uneasy about a direct line of questioning, McCuistion says to look for indicators of a program’s true interest.

“If I’m a kid, the things that I’m looking for are things like who are they talking to, how often are they trying to get me on campus, and when I am on campus am I talking to graduate assistants and advisory staff and personnel people or am I running around with my position coach? Am I hanging out with Nick Saban or Bob Stoops or any of those guys?” he said. “I can assure you that if Alabama’s No. 1 offensive target is on campus that Nick Saban is going to see him. He’s going to talk to him that day. That’s going to happen. If it’s some journeyman from Mobile that they’re not sure about and might end up at Mississippi State, Nick Saban may not see him.”

But then, a youngster can easily get caught up in the glamour of being a recruit. Fashionable gear, multi-million dollar facilities, coeds, promises — all combined can cloud one’s judgment.

McCuistion said a prospect’s support system then becomes crucial.

“It comes down to more of parents and their high school coaches and people around them have to be realistic about what they are seeing,” he said.

As a recruit, Woody said he experienced the dizzying effect of promises. A preferred walk-on (PWO), Woody said he was told lie after lie after lie throughout the recruitment process to the point that it eventually forced him to alter the way he approached recruiting.

“The most important thing for me, which became most important as the process went along, as a PWO, you get a lot of lies thrown your way,” he said. “The phrase ‘we really want you’ is a complete load of crap if you’re not offering a scholarship. The constant lies and B.S…was basically my entire recruiting process.”

Woody described a “carrot on a stick,” dangled as a motivator to keep him in line while potential landing spots evaluated other options.

For him, the carrot was a scholarship opportunities. For others, the carrot might be immediate playing time. Woody detailed one such instance of the carrot dangling while attending the camp of a Power Five program.

“I went to a junior day camp…with another recruit and they pulled us both aside after, stating they loved what we were doing and would be in touch to let us know when they would be coming to our games,” Woody said. “Two days later, the other recruit announces his commitment and I never heard a single word from [the program] again, not even to tell me it was over.”

Programs face obstacles at the same time, however. They have a limited number of scholarships to offer — usually 25 in a given recruiting cycle for an FBS team, and no more than 85 total at any given time.

Coaches simply cannot provide scholarships to every athlete they’d like. However, Woody learned an invaluable lesson that can apply to any recruit’s process, and alleviates some of the issue on the program’s end.

“Honesty was the only thing, by the end of the recruiting process, outside of general relationships, the only character trait I cared about.”

Honesty. The cliche each and every one of us is taught at some point in our young lives says, honest is the best policy. It’s as true in recruiting as any other facet of life.

However, just as in any other avenue, not everyone will adhere to the best policy.

“Every, single time we went on a visit, my dad and I, one of us asked why I wasn’t being given a scholarship,” he said. “They would have some roundabout excuse saying, ‘You know, we really like the way he plays, but we just don’t know if he’s got the athleticism for this next level, but we think he’d be a great fit here and we really want him here.’”

Woody’s advice for those navigating the recruiting landscape: carry an umbrella.

“Bullshit. Don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining. Tell me the facts.”

This is Part 1 in a three-part series.