Published Jan. 31, 2023
BY SAGE MELTON
For student-athletes, the recruitment process has always led up to the moment of signing the dotted line in an official college commitment, yet now through verbal commitments this opportunity can come much earlier for some.
Non-binding agreements made by student-athletes with colleges before the official signing period, verbal commitments act as a large part of the recruitment process for many athletes, allowing them to develop a close connection with the school’s coaches and team and make a formal contract with their desired college, although there is still a degree of uncertainty that comes with them.
“In my experience with verbal commitments, they are exciting for high school athletes to receive,” explains Mike Kelly, Carmel High School varsity baseball coach. “But the athlete needs to understand a whole lot can happen between the time they commit to a school and the time they actually sign their scholarship paperwork.”
Although these verbal commitments allow student-athletes a glimpse at the future of their athletic career, there is also the possibility their offer could be rescinded.
Freshman Matthew Maxon recently received multiple offers for baseball and in the fall, announced his verbal commitment to Stanford University, whose team currently ranks third in NCAA Division-I baseball.
“I have to maintain my skill level for baseball and continue to improve,” Maxon explains.
Coaches say if the student-athlete endures a lasting injury or does not continue to play at an expected level, or if there is a change in their prospective college’s coaching staff, the whole agreement may fall apart. If the verbal commitment does not hold, players have to reopen their recruitment and consider other offers.
“When I was coming out of high school, there were no verbal commitments as a freshman–you couldn’t talk to anybody until after your junior year,” says former pitcher Mark Williams, who graduated from CHS in 1993 and went on to play baseball for Stanford on a 96% scholarship. “It’s a very different world now, I think a much more stressful world.”
On top of staying healthy and keeping up his pitching statistics, Maxon will also have to hold over a 3.7 unweighted GPA and take nine AP classes, emphasizing that athletic talent does not serve as the sole basis for such offers as coaches will look at a variety of other aspects.
“What kind of teammate are they? Are they coachable? Can they handle criticism?” CHS varsity football coach Golden Anderson asks when discussing the main factors college coaches look at.
Class of 2021 CHS graduate J.T. Byrne, who now plays football for U.C. Berkeley after playing two seasons for Oregon State University, went through a similar recruitment process as Maxon’s. Byrne verbally committed to Oregon State University during the summer of 2020 and officially signed soon after at the end of 2020 during an early-signing period.
“Oregon State was the first school to send me an offer,” Byrne says. “Once you get an offer out there, other schools start noticing you too.”
Verbal commitments often lead to a more competitive recruitment for the student-athlete. Although many student-athletes will commit with the intention of still looking for other places, for Byrne, once he committed to Oregon, he decided to shut down his recruitment.
Other athletes, such as CHS junior volleyball player Sebastian Daste, have decided to not verbally commit to any school, as they want to keep their options open. Daste has most recently been recruited by schools including U.C. San Diego, Ohio State University and Princeton University, which he attributes to the large visibility of his club team, Bay to Bay Volleyball Club, which ranks first in the nation for his age level.
“You have to be on the right team, which is about pure luck,” Daste notes.
Maxon’s club team, Alpha Prime Baseball, has played a large role in his recruitment as well, helping him deal with offers and his verbal commitment as a lot of his communication with schools is done through his coaches.
Sometimes the recruitment process is initiated by the student themselves if they feel they have the statistics needed to join a team.
“I would email the head coach, include my statistics and transcript, and explain why I was interested in the university beyond simply athletics,” says Lauren Pritchard, 2021 CHS graduate and track and field star.
As a high school senior, Pritchard sought out these opportunities herself and from there started conversations with various colleges about offers, eventually committing to UCSD for track and field.
Pursuing athletics in college is a large commitment and often a hard decision for student-athletes. Williams, who was ranked second in the nation during his senior year, was faced with the decision of choosing between going straight to the professional level or going to college.
“I turned down going into the minor leagues as a first-round draft pick and decided to go to college,” Williams explains.
Although Williams could have gone professional, he has no regrets about his choice, and after he blew out his knee, he was able to use his degree from Stanford to transition into the field of finance and real estate.
The path to college athletics can be different for many, but verbal commitments allow student-athletes a glimpse into their future, potentially providing them with motivation and goals throughout their high school career.