When Can A High School Athlete Verbally Commit?

A verbal commitment is when a college-bound athlete verbally agrees to play a sport for a college before he or she is eligible to sign a National Letter of Intent. Because nothing is in writing, verbal commitments are not binding on the school nor the player.

It is important to understand that verbal commitments can be made at any time, and there are no restrictions in place by the NCAA. However, you’ll want to understand the different aspects of verbal commitments, what it means, and when it might be the right time to consider this option.

There are certain risks and advantages to making a verbal commit, so it’s important that you’re aware of the different factors that might go into this decision, and the implications it has on your future as a prospective student-athlete.

What Is A Verbal Commitment?

A verbal commitment is an important step in your recruiting journey. Having a solid understanding of what a verbal commitment is can help you decide when it’s the right time to commit.

Non-Binding Agreement: A verbal commitment is a non-binding agreement between a college and a player. These commitments are unofficial and do not actually guarantee anything, but the implication is that both the college and the player will stick to their word and honor the commitment when the player is eligible to sign a National Letter of Intent. A National Letter of Intent is an official written contract for the player to enroll as a member of the athletic team for at least one academic year (applies to Division I and II).

Can Be Made At Any Time: The NCAA poses no restrictions at all on the timing of these commitments. There are, however, restrictions and specific rules on when exactly an athlete can make an official commitment, which is why the verbal commitment exists and can be valuable. A verbal commitment gives an athlete the opportunity to “commit” (in a non-binding manner) before he or she is eligible to sign an official commitment.

Provides A Certain Amount Of Security: Verbal commitments allow you to choose your school provided with the security that you will receive an official offer as long as the coach honors his or her word. There are no guarantees with verbal commitments, but they do provide the benefit of completing the recruiting process at an earlier time and providing some certainty on one’s future.

There are benefits, risks, and other factors to consider regarding verbal commitments, so it’s important that you understand the idea and its implications on your collegiate future.

Why Do Athletes Make Verbal Commitments?

Making a verbal commitment can offer a number of benefits to prospective athletes, so it’s critical to know why or why not this might be a considerable decision for you.

Security: While a verbal commitment is unofficial and offers no guarantee for the player or coach, it does add a layer of certainty and simplification to the entire recruiting process. It is expected that both coaches and players will honor verbal commitments, so engaging in this agreement provides security for the future and relieves the stress of the ongoing recruiting process.

Pressure From Coaches: In today’s recruiting world, coaches want to lock down players as soon as possible, which is why some athletes are making verbal commitments as early as middle school. Coaches will often extend offers for athletes to make verbal commitments and give them limited time to accept or reject, so there can be a lot of pressure on players to make huge decisions in a timely manner at an early stage in their career. Coaches compete for players just as much as players compete for roster spots, so this pressure from programs can sometimes encourage athletes to commit as early as possible in the form of a verbal agreement.

Mitigate The Competition: The future is never certain and college programs have a sea of highly talented athletes to choose from. Sometimes a verbal offer can mitigate the risk that a program chooses another player somewhere down the line. Verbal commitments can allow players to get ahead of the competition by securing a spot before others have a chance to take it, albeit in a non-binding manner.

If you’re given an opportunity to make a verbal commitment, it can be risky to pass on it because you never know what the future holds and how much collegiate interest you will continue to attract. Making a verbal commitment at a young age puts you in an advantageous position relative to the other players trying to play at that school, so it can sometimes be the right decision.

The Risks Associated With Verbal Commitments

Verbal commitments can be risky and uncertain because they are non-binding and unofficial agreements that essentially provide no guarantees. In fact, the NCAA does not even track nor record unofficial verbal commitments between players and programs because nothing is in writing and often times the player is too young to sign anything official.

Things can change and the risk for change increases as the verbal commitments get earlier. There are important factors to consider so you can understand the various risks and ambiguities regarding verbal commitments.

Timing: To emphasize, an athlete can make a verbal commitment at absolutely any time. You need to be completely sure that you’ve taken the time to do your research, explore all your options, visit as many schools as possible and talk to any other coaches interested. If you’re going to make a commitment, it’s highly important that you’re certain that the school is the right fit and will offer you the athletic and academic experience you desire. There are tons of athletes who enter verbal commitments too early and later realize it wasn’t the right decision, forcing them to opt out. This can harm your reputation and relationships with programs, which could be costly to the entire recruiting process.

Program Changes: There are a number of things that could change within the program that you commit to before you actually enroll, and these changes can completely alter the experience that you once expected. Programs might lose a coach that you became close with during recruiting, lose other players, or go through a period of unexpected poor performance, to highlight a few examples. The point is that there are a number of things that can change in the years following your verbal commitment, and this can be a serious concern because the program you once desired to be a part of could look and feel completely different upon your collegiate start.

Closing Options: Perhaps the most relevant risk of verbally committing is the idea of closing out other options and shutting the door on potential opportunities. There’s always a chance that you could verbally commit somewhere, and later realize that there are other opportunities better suited for you and your desires, but those opportunities are unattainable because you’ve already entered an agreement elsewhere.

While verbally committing does provide some security for the future and eases the entire recruiting process, it’s important to remember that nothing is guaranteed or official, things can change, and better opportunities can pass as a result of the decision. It’s a balancing game and requires proper due diligence to ensure that it’s the best decision for you and your collegiate aspirations.

Things To Keep In Mind

No Time Restrictions: A high school athlete can verbally commit to a college at any point without restriction. The NCAA does not regulate nor track verbal commitments, so as long as all other preceding recruiting regulations have been met, players are free to enter these verbal agreements.

What A Verbal Commitment Means: Verbal commitments are unofficial and non-binding, so there is no legitimate obligation for either party to uphold the agreement. The whole point is for both the player and the program to benefit from the security that the verbal agreement will eventually convert to an official signing.

Benefits: Verbal commitments allow players to choose schools at an earlier time than they can officially sign, so it can expedite the entire recruiting process and alleviate major responsibility and pressure. Verbally securing a roster spot gives players an advantage against recruiting competition and allows them to focus more on their development and skill without as much apprehension for the future.

Risks: Verbal commitments are non-binding and can be abandoned at any time, so there is always the inherent risk that it simply won’t materialize. In addition, the earlier a player verbally commits, the more exposure there is to unexpected changes within the program. Most importantly, a verbal commitment can shut the door on unforeseen opportunities that might be preferable over the current school where they’ve agreed to play.

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