Decision-Making Exposure/Evaluation KPB Blog

The Truth About Verbal Commitments

A verbal commitment, stating publicly one’s intentions to attend a certain institution, is a non-binding, oral agreement between you and the institution. The only binding nature of the commitment is your word and the institution’s promise. The NLI program does not recognize verbal commitments. It is not uncommon for a student to verbally commit to one institution and subsequently sign an NLI with another institution. And, on some occasions, a school may accept your verbal commitment and later offer the NLI to another prospective student-athlete. -National Letter of Intent Official Website
Verbal Commitments are No Guarantee

There is a lot of fanfare surrounding commitments. You have likely seen plenty of announcements online about players verbally committing to schools. Verbal commitments are an important symbolic milestone in the recruiting process. They reflect a lot of hard work on the part of the player and the program they commit to. HOWEVER, verbal commitments are not the end of the recruiting process. They are not a guarantee of anything – roster spots and scholarship money included. When verbally committing to a school, recruits need to be 100% clear on what that commitment means and how it can end.

Most prospects end up navigating the post-commitment road to campus without incident. However, there are plenty of cases where verbal commitments don’t hold up, for a variety of reasons. With rosters impacted by COVID-related eligibility relief, we can expect more decommitments than usual to continue. Also, the transfer portal may be full, as coaches try to balance out rosters. This makes it even more important for players to understand exactly what a verbal commitment is and what it means. The rest of this article explains verbal commitments in detail.  We clarify why recruits need to understand what can go wrong  before  they jump the gun and commit without all the information they need. 

What is a verbal commitment? 

A verbal commitment is a “gentleman’s agreement” between a recruit and a coach. It states that the recruit will attend that school on a prearranged financial award. However, the deal is only as good as the word of the two parties involved. Legally, it is a non-binding verbal agreement with no guarantees. That is true regardless of the terms that both sides arrange. No matter what a coach says, when push comes to shove, there is nothing legally holding the deal in place. A program is only obligated to honor the agreement once a recruit has signed a written financial agreement or National Letter of Intent (NLI) during his senior year of high school. 

How often are verbal agreements broken? 

It’s hard to say exactly how often verbal commitments fall through. That’s because there is no fool proof way to track when verbal commitments are reached. The NCAA research team released a D1 study on early recruiting. They found that players who verbally commit to a school before 11th grade are less likely to enroll at that school. They are also more likely to have the coach of the program where they commit leave. And, the terms of their scholarship/financial agreement are more likely to be changed. The survey also found that in many sports, later recruitment was associated with more positive recruit feelings about the recruiting process.

These are significant findings and lend credence to exercising patience in the recruiting process. While the majority of verbal commitments end with the player attending the school he commits to, you don’t have to look hard to find deals falling through for a number of reasons. Because there is nothing legally forcing a coach or recruit to hold up his end of the deal, verbally committing to a school, especially before junior year, should not be considered a sure thing. Recruits need to do their homework before they make any commitment decisions. 

What do I need to know before I verbally commit to a school? 

There is a lot to consider when deciding if you are ready to verbal to a school. We detail these considerations in great detail in Step 8 of Recruiting 101, 9 Questions to Answer Before Committing, and in our new article, Ready to Commit? Things to Consider. The bottom line is that when you commit, you need to make sure everything is clearly laid out and that you understand how and why your agreement might fall through. You can probably tell by the number of resources we have devoted to it that commitments are a big deal. Below is a list of 6 more pointed questions you should be able to answer about your verbal commitment.

6 Questions to Ask Specifically About Verbal Commitments

1. To Know:  What is the coach/program’s track record of sticking with verbal agreements? 

Question to ask:  How many verbal commitments have you de-committed in the last 3 seasons? Why? 

2. To Know:  Academic obligations moving forward. 

Question to ask:  What are my academic obligations moving forward to keep the commitment in place, ensure that I am admitted into school, and receive my financial package? 

3. To Know:  Playing obligations moving forward. 

Question to ask:  Is this commitment dependent on my on-field performance moving forward? 

4. To Know:  What can go wrong? 

Question to ask:  What would lead you (the coach/program) to renege on the verbal agreement and de-commit me? 

5. To Know:  How do injuries impact my commitment? 

Question to ask:  How would a career-altering injury impact my commitment? Would I still get into school? Would I still get my scholarship/academic money? 

6. To Know:  How would  changes to the coaching staff impact my commitment? 

Question to ask:  What happens to my commitment if there are changes to the coaching staff? What would happen if the coach that recruited me or the current head coach leave? 

The Case Against Early Verbal Commitments

We will leave you with 6 things you should know as you decide when you should verbally commit to a school. 

  1. It is important to note that you should have all the financial, academic, and athletic info you need to make an informed decision before verbally committing. You should never commit to a school until you are 100% ready, as we describe in this  KPB article. All  recruiting timelines  are different, so comparing your time of commitment to another recruit’s often leads to trouble.
  2. A lot can change. As the NCAA early recruiting report suggests, earlier commitments fall through more often. The longer you are verbally committed before you sign your NLI, the longer there is for circumstances to change (your interests, coaching staff, direction of a program, etc.). 
  3. Research also indicates that players who start their recruitment (engage with coaches) later tend to feel more positive about their recruiting experience.
  4. You can be sure that teams are continuing to recruit and look for players after your commitment. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are recruiting over you, but they will have backups in place if things fall through. Meanwhile, you stop searching for schools and other schools stop paying close attention to you. This can leave you in a vulnerable position if things fall apart, especially late in senior year.
  5. There is a double standard when it comes to verbal commitments. Players who de-commit are often labeled as having character flaws or being unreliable. When a coach or school de-commits a player, the decision is often also framed in terms of the player’s shortcomings (not performing, other issues, etc.) with the excuse that coaches have to make these decisions to stay competitive. When it comes to de-commits, accountability is often a one-way street. Because of this double standard, it is even more important to get informed and be 100% sure when you commit.
  6. Recruits can no longer take campus visits (unofficial or official) led by college coaches until 9/1 of their junior year. This makes it pretty difficult to have a complete picture of the school and program before 9/1 of junior year. Plan your commitment accordingly. 
Final Thoughts: 

Verbal commitments are an important part of the process, but they are more symbolic than practical. It’s meant to paint an honest picture of where verbal commitments break down, not condemn any college coaches. Many coaches and recruiters honor their verbal agreements and care wholeheartedly about their recruits and student athletes. This article is also not meant to make you fearful of verbally committing to a school. After all, recruits do this every day. Our  aim is to emphasize the importance of finding a fit and making a fully informed decision, rather than jumping the gun when you are in an excited emotional state. By doing this, you will do everything you can to prevent post-commitment problems. We hope no matter when you decide to commit, KPB has helped you find your fit!