What if nobody made a commitment?

What if nobody made a commitment?
January 13, 2012, 11:35 pm
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What would happen if not a single high school athlete, football or basketball, chose to make an oral commitment until after the school year?

That's right, seven months after the NCAA's early signing date in November and two months after the April signing date for basketball and four months after the February signing date for football.

No oral commitments from sophomores or juniors. No commitments from athletes during the summer prior to their senior years. Sorry, coach, I won't be announcing my decision until after I graduate in June.

So what would happen?

"Nothing," said longtime Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network. "That's what they used to do prior to the early 1990s when Penn State started to offer players after their junior year because coach Joe Paterno had lost so many prospects. Now most football recruits are committed before their senior year."

Lemming said college coaches might like the no-early-commitment proposal because they wouldn't have to worry about recruiting and could concentrate on their own season.

"Now recruiting is a year-round process. It never ends," Lemming said. "College coaches didn't have to put as much emphasis on it in the 1970s and 1980s. Now kids are more into the publicity. They take campus visits in the spring and summer, commit earlier, then switch to another school."

Glenbard West defensive lineman Tommy Schutt was all set to commit to Notre Dame before the Irish pulled his scholarship offer and gave it to another defensive lineman from Indianapolis. So he called Michigan, which wasn't even on his list of five finalists. But they had filled their quota.

So he called Penn State, which accepted him with open arms. He said it was the school he always wanted to attend. Then the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and Schutt changed his mind. To his good fortune, he got a call from Ohio State's newly hired coach Urban Meyer. After visiting the campus, he committed as fast he could say "I'm a Buckeye."

Montini wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp, whose stock soared like Google after his record pass-catching performance in his team's 70-45 victory over Joliet Catholic in the Class 5A championship game, also had second thoughts about his college destination.

Westerkamp committed to Nebraska in May. At one time, he insisted he would never change his mind, that Nebraska was the place he was destined to attend, that he loved everything about the program. That was before Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called. Before you could say "Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame," Westerkamp was on his way for a campus visit, claiming he was doing it as a favor to his mother, a long-suffering Irish fan.

"When I went up there (to Nebraska) for the spring game, I said to myself: 'This is where I want to spend the next four years," Westerkamp said.

Later, he said he had no intention of taking any other visits other than his trips to Lincoln in the summer and fall. "My recruiting process is over. I get mail from a couple of schools but that's about it. I don't receive any more calls or anything. I don't plan on going to any other schools for any other reason," Westerkamp said.

After visiting the Notre Dame campus and receiving an offer from Kelly in December, even the most loyal Nebraska fan was conceding that Westerkamp probably was going to change his mind and opt for Notre Dame. Imagine their reaction last Monday when he announced he was honoring his pledge to Nebraska.

"I had to go out and take that visit (to Notre Dame)," Westerkamp said. "I had to see if I felt the same way about Notre Dame as I did Nebraska. I didn't get that feeling about Notre Dame. I went with my heart."

Shouldn't there be an NCAA rule hast prohibits schools from offering scholarships to athletes who already are committed to other schools? There ought to be. Such a rule could restore a degree of credibility and respectability to an organization and a process that desperately needs both.

Remember Quinn Buckner? The Thornridge footballbasketball star was one of the most widely sought athletes of the early 1970s. John Wooden dispatched one of his assistants to personally evaluate him, a rarity for Wooden, who recruited most of his players this side of Lew Alcindor from southern California.

Buckner waited and waited until his father lost his patience and, in early July, ordered his son to make a decision. Finally, Quinn chose Indiana over UCLA. One reason was because Indiana allowed him to play football as a freshman. As a sophomore, he dropped the sport to concentrate on basketball.

Could Buckner wait until July to make a decision today? Could anyone? It isn't likely. It hasn't happened. But what if it did? What if the best basketball player in the country couldn't decide between Duke or North Carolina or Kansas or Kentucky?

"The current rules still allow a player to sign a grant-in-aid letter that isn't binding to either party until the player enrolls," said longtime recruiting analyst Van Coleman of Top100Hoops.com. "The player would have to make up the missed summer hours that most players take in June and July to get a jump on the required hours toward graduation.

"No doubt it would be a major story nationally because of the potential to affect the preseason magazines and projections as it was with Buckner. It is manageable from a schoolplayer perspective but it would drive the Internet media absolutely bonkers as they tried to be the one in the know on what that player was going to do.

"The player would be able to play in the summer because he could head to prep school if he couldn't make his decision. So he could play right up to August when he would have to make a decision and enroll either in a post-graduate prep school or a four-year college. So he would have cameras following his every move. It looks like a reality show in the making. Maybe he could date a Kardashian."

How would the college coaches adjust to such a scenario? After all, they are used to persuading most prospects into making early commitments on their own time schedule. Kids are often pressured into committing early, worried that they might be passed over for another player, that there won't be a scholarship left for them, that they won't go to the school of their choice.

"When you are dealing with the top prospect in the class, coaches like Kentucky's John Calipari are going to find a scholarship to keep in their back pocket. They will hold one or create one. Remember, a fifth-year senior pays his own say," Coleman said.

"Most schools would hold a scholarship for a player who can make that kind of impact on a program, especially is you believe you are in the hunt for a national championship. Sure, the risk is great. But the reward of landing that kind of talent outweighs it.

"After all, in basketball, one player (like Derrick Rose or John Wall or Kyrie Irving) has proven he can change a program's fortunes in the first year. So an Alcindor level talent is a no-brainer for a coach with one spot to fill to make a run at a national title or a coach who is looking to change his program's fortunes."

Coleman said the bigger question is: What does it take or what would a coach do to land a Rose or Wall or Irving? "That would be the greater scenario that has the most meat and would be where the bigger story could lie," he said.

So what would a coach do? How far would he go? What would it take to land a player who will take your program to the promised land?

"It depends on the coach," Coleman said. "Some would bend rules or stand in the gray area, like washing his car every day on the player's route to school or just happen to be eating at a local pizza parlor that the player is known to frequent.

"Some would just happen to show up at practice (in non-evaluation or contact periods) or waive any believe in other contact rules (phones). While others might do a variety of illegal things, like inviting a prospect to his house during a non-contact visit or providing girls on campus visits or making payments to AAU coaches or handlers or making payments to players or their families or hire family members or coaches. And the whole thing can escalate to offering cars, houses and lock boxes with money."

Coleman and Lemming, who have been observing and monitoring the recruiting process since the late 1970s, have been witness to the fact that all of these things -- and more -- have been done to get a great player. And they still are being done today. And no college is immune from the temptation.