Vorel: In college football recruiting, 'commitment' can be hard to find

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

In my line of work, there are two disparate definitions of the word “commitment.”

One comes from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which tracks the word’s first known use to 1579.

The other lives on Twitter (est. 2006) and the phones of select physically talented, technology obsessed teenagers.

1. Commitment (noun): an agreement or pledge to do something in the future, or the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled.

2. Commitment (noun): the state or an instance of writing something in the notes app of your iPhone, taking a screenshot and posting it on Twitter alongside a (insert fire emoji) edit and a program-specific hashtag, like #IrishBouND18.

The problem with the second form of “commitment,” in some cases, is that it’s barely a commitment at all. In the 2016-17 college football recruiting cycle alone, there were 786 nixed verbal commitments, according to 247Sports.

7-8-6. That’s both an astounding statistic and an area code in Florida (which produced 144 of said de-commitments, if you’re keeping track at home).

One of those 2017 Floridians personifies the erratic nature of the current recruiting climate better than most. Dear readers, meet DeMarco Artis — a 6-foot-3, 218-pound consensus three-star defensive end/outside linebacker from Sanford, Fla.

In the span of barely more than a year, Artis:

• committed to Kentucky on Dec. 20, 2015,

• cut ties with Kentucky on Feb. 2, 2016,

• committed to Central Florida on June 21, 2016,

• flipped commitment from Central Florida to Florida State on Aug. 3, 2016,

• “parted ways” with Florida State (which could mean he nixed his commitment, or the Seminoles politely withdrew his offer) on Jan. 24, 2017, eight days before National Signing Day, and

• committed to Baylor on Jan. 31 and signed with the Bears the following day.

That’s four teams, four “commitments” (again, see interpretation No. 2) and one very loose definition.

Of course, if you follow Notre Dame football, then much of this should sound familiar. In the 2016-17 recruiting cycle, on the heels of a disastrous 4-8 season, the Irish lost six verbal commits while also signing five players who were once committed elsewhere. On Saturday, they lost their first commit in the 2018 cycle, when consensus four-star cornerback Kalon Gervin dropped his Irish pledge 83 days after first committing.

In Brian Kelly’s eight signing classes in South Bend, Notre Dame has lost 25 verbal commitments, while signing 42 players who first had to de-commit from somewhere else.

To be clear: I’m not saying Gervin — or Artis, or anyone else — should be effectively bound to a verbal commitment. These are high school kids — albeit uniquely talented ones — that are trying to decide their futures between chemistry class and lunch. Coaches are calling at all hours of the day. Fans are messaging them on Twitter, spewing praise and empty promises. Their families are whispering in one ear while their friends occupy the other.

Now, imagine having to make the most important decision of your life.

Coaching staffs change. Feelings change. Decisions can change with it.

Remember, too, that each program has precious few available scholarships. This is a game of “musical chairs” that you never want to lose. If you wait to make a decision, and then five comparable players at your position commit to your favorite school, well, then I hope you’re satisfied with the alternative. There is pressure to commit, and commit early. Because of that, it’s inevitable that some players will commit without truly being committed.

In recruiting, think of a verbal commitment like a dinner reservation. If you make a reservation, they’ll save you a seat. If you wait too long, you'll have to settle for a lesser restaurant. If you cancel said reservation, they’ll give your seat away.

And, occasionally, the restaurant will cancel it for you.

Take UConn, for example. Last winter, new head coach Randy Edsall pulled a scholarship offer from a player — linebacker Ryan Dickens — who had been faithfully committed to the program for seven months.

Seventeen days later, Dickens signed with a Division I FCS program, Lafayette College.

A year earlier, Michigan’s coaching staff displayed a similar lack of commitment, when new head coach Jim Harbaugh pulled the scholarship offer of offensive lineman Erik Swenson, who had been a Wolverine pledge for more than two years. Swenson ultimately signed with Oklahoma after being granted all of two weeks to find a second home.

Obviously, these are examples, not absolutes. There are plenty of programs that honor their existing commitments, just as many prospective players stick with their initial pledges. In the wacky world of recruiting, there are hard commitments, soft commitments, strong commitments, silent commitments.

And, yes, there are genuine commitments — just not as many as you might think.


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame cornerback commit Kalon Gervin received an invitation to The Opening Finals in April. (Tribune Photo/TYLER JAMES)

The following players either withdrew Notre Dame commitments in the 2017 class, or signed with the Irish after having previously been committed elsewhere.

Notre Dame signee (previous committed school)

WR Jafar Armstrong (Missouri)

S Jordan Genmark Heath (California)

K Jonathan Doerer (Maryland)

DE Kofi Wardlow (Maryland)

Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (Virginia)

Former Notre Dame commit (school signed with)

DE Robert Beal (Georgia)

DE Donovan Jeter (Michigan)

LB Pete Werner (Ohio State)

WR Jordan Pouncey (Texas)

CB Elijah Hicks (California)

CB Paulson Adebo (Stanford)