Coaches pulling offers from recruits?

As National Signing Day approaches, we are likely to read more stories like this about coaches pulling scholarships from recruits.

Case in point: UConn’s Randy Edsall pulls the scholarship from Ryan Dickens in the 11th hour of the recruiting process (NLI signing day is February 1). After Dickens verbally committed to UConn back in June, Edsall reportedly told him over the phone this week, “We just decided we’re going to go in another direction. We don’t have a spot for you.”

For Dickens, it’s devastating. The young man sacrificed everything to earn this opportunity. He told other interested schools that he’s a Husky, period. Then a new coach arrives on campus and with a phone call, ends the dream.

On the surface, it’s a terrible situation all the way around. Your heart breaks for this young man. And while I don’t know Coach Edsall personally, I have to believe this was a phone call he dreaded making.

My gut tells me, however, that a great school will come along in the next few weeks and secure Dickens to a full scholarship. He will make his mark on his new school, and he will look back on his courtship with UConn and (hopefully) benefit from the experience somehow.

But let’s look at this scenario from the coach’s vantage point. I’m sure Coach Edsall is taking a bit of a beating in the public eye over this story, but here’s the reality: It’s his program. The buck stops with him. If he fails to recruit the right kids for his program, his job at UConn is short-lived.

In many states, the Division I football coach is the highest paid public employee in the entire state. There’s immense pressure to win the recruiting war. In fact, most college coaches these days (in all sports) have no choice but to extend more scholarship offers than they have scholarships available each year. In fact, last I checked, UConn had offered scholarships to 89 seniors(including Dickens) and had just 10 hard commitments to date.

How can coaches offer more scholarships than they actually have to give? The answer lies (in part) due to the “flip-flopping” that goes on when kids verbally commit to one school, then de-commit, then commit to another.

As of this article, nearly 800 senior football recruits de-committed from schools this year (source). In other words, it’s now the norm – and not the exception – for kids to renege on their commitments to schools.

See, there’s no binding agreement in a verbal commitment, so there’s much less value anymore in giving a coach your word, especially when you can call the next day and say, “I changed my mind.”

Which begs the question: What’s the point of a verbal commitment? If a recruit can change his mind about a school with no repercussions, and a coach can change his mind about a recruit in the 11th hour, then what is the true value of the verbal commitment? Parents of college-bound athletes, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

The harsh reality is that scholarships are pulled from recruits all the time. And not before signing day either. Scholarships can be pulled ANY time.

Josh Levin explains: “What few college sports fans—and not enough college recruits—realize is that a university can yank that scholarship after one, two, or three years without cause. Coach doesn’t like you? He’s free to cut you loose. Sitting the bench? You could lose your free ride to a new recruit.”

So parents, you have to be wondering how to prevent this from happening to your athlete.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about securing scholarship offers – and keeping them:

1. It’s not a done deal until you sign a National Letter of Intent. A verbal commitment is non-binding, so while a verbal offer is the strongest level of interest a college coach can extend, it means little. You must accept the fact that a coach can pull an offer at any time.

2. Stay connected with these coaches at all times. Make it virtually impossible for them to pull your scholarship by continuing to nurture that relationship. Think of the 8 touchpoints that I discussed last week. Use as many of them as you can, even after an offer is extended. Be relentless in your commitment to follow up and stay engaged with coaches. Even if you don’t receive immediate responses, don’t allow the communication to lose momentum and don’t stop doing your part to keep the opportunity alive. Coaches are extremely busy. They travel constantly. Recruiting is a 365-day job and many things can temporarily impede a coach’s ability to communicate. Don’t get discouraged if their interest ap-pears to decline either. Set up a follow-up calendar for each school, and be persistent with your communication until the coach blatantly tells you s/he won’t be recruiting you anymore.

3. When you feel you’re ready to make your commitment to attend a school, then make your commitment and communicate your decision with those coaches you’ve gotten to know well during the process. But in today’s world, it’s reasonable to leave a tiny crack in the door, too. There’s nothing wrong or inappropriate with continuing dialogue with coaches at other programs who may have also offered you. Stay connected with them. Seek their guidance. You may find this person(s) to be a lifelong mentor and/or close friend.

4. At the school you’re committed, get the coach to explain to you any circumstances in which s/he might pull your scholarship offer. Is it considered “normal” to offer a recruit a scholarship, then retract that offer? How many offers did that coach pull last year, and why? What happens if the coach leaves before the new recruiting class signs their NLI? Will those players lose their scholarships automatically or will the new coach typically honor that scholarship?

5. Be honest and open with coaches throughout the recruiting process. You must be willing to have these important conversations with coaches. Not only will it help you form key relationships, but they will help protect your collegiate future as well. You have to be prepared for a potential Ryan Dickens situation. If you suspect a coach’s interest in you is cooling, then be proactive. Call the coach and keep calling until you get him/her on the phone. Ask the hard questions. “Is my scholarship offer still intact?” If it’s not, then you need to re-open conversations with other interested schools. And if you’re honest about it, then every coach will understand your situation.

I hope this has been helpful. And if you have questions, feel free to reach out. I love hearing from parents, athletes & coaches.

Rex Grayner
Rex Grayner, SAS President

Rex Grayner

As a published author, public speaker and radio/television guest, Rex is widely considered among the nation’s premier authorities on college athletic recruiting.

Before founding Student-Athlete Showcase LLC in 2003, Rex served as a NCAA Division I Compliance Representative and VP of West Coast Operations for a large college recruiting firm. In 2008, Rex was honored with the prestigious “Forty Under 40” award by the Denver Business Journal.


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