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Verbal commitments, and the case of St. Edward's Shaun Crawford

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There is a good reason the verbal commitments are non-binding.

That being said, shouldn't one's word be enough?

In high school football recruiting now-a-days, it seems more like a ploy than a true commitment. Players MAY verbally commit to a school to have other schools stop recruiting them. They may be sick of the recruiting process, or may just want to give their full attention to the upcoming season. Some of them will do this, but still take secret visits to other schools. So, in theory, the team that the athlete committed to, and the athlete himself really never stops being recruited. With college teams having to recruit kids earlier and earlier, kids are committing earlier to certain schools. Freshmen and sophomores in high school are now verbally committing, two and three years before their high school graduation.

It spells nothing but trouble

Anyone who has teenage kids realize how quickly they can change their mind. They are perfectly content with their Android phone, but promise them an IPhone (better facilities) and they change their mind. They are all set to take one of the family cars off to college, but promise them a new car to take (playing time) and they change their mind. They are just fine with their recruiting video being sent out to a couple of recruiting services, but promise them that you will send it out to all the dozens that are out there (TV and media exposure) and they change their mind.

Which brings us to St. Edward's Shaun Crawford

Shaun Crawford is a special athlete. Although a bit undersized at 5 foot 9 and 165 pounds, Crawford's feats on the football field and track gives many a fan that "wow" moment that so few athletes can give. He is so good as a defensive back and kick returner, that he was being recruited by all the big time Division I football programs. On the track, he set AAU records as a sophomore in both the 100 and 200 meters. The kid can flat-out FLY. He is currently ranked as the 10th best cornerback prospect in the country, according to recruiting service 24/7 Sports. After attending Notre Dame's Irish Infusion Football Camp last weekend, Tyler James of the South Bend Tribune had this to say about Crawford's ability:

Crawford put together the best performance of the camp, proving his ability to lockdown in man coverage. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Crawford primarily plays safety at St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio, but looked the part of a cover corner.
On most reps, Crawford stayed step for step with the opposing receiver and showed explosive closing speed to make plays on the ball. On one rep, he blanketed his receiver so well, the quarterback refused to throw the ball – a rarity in one-on-one drills.

Here is where the tale of Shaun Crawford takes off

On August 23rd of last year, Crawford gave his verbal commitment to the University of Michigan, just a week before his junior year of football would start at St. Edward. Nothing special there, just another big time player making up his mind early to get the recruiting process out of the way, right? Crawford was quoted after committing to Michigan as saying:

When I first started getting offers, I was just waiting and waiting for that Michigan one, and when it finally came, it was a relief. It was a dream come true

I am sure it was. Getting your college paid for is every athlete or student's dream when graduating from high school. Crawford decided early, and Michigan landed a big time player. Ah, but the devil is always in the details.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke (along with MANY other college coaches) have what they call a "no visit" rule. What that means is once a kid commits, coaches, including Hoke, do not want them visiting other schools. In turn, coaches will then make the promise to not recruit any other player to fill that spot in the recruiting class. If a player chooses to take other visits, then coaches are free to recruit other players to fill that recruiting spot. However, coaches and teams do not withdrawal the offer or remove the kid from its commitment list, they just keep their options open for that position, just like the kid has kept his options open when visiting other schools.

Sounds fair, doesn't it?

Sure it does. As long as everyone is on the same page, and there is open communication. That being said, as late as last month, rumors began to surface that Crawford was making visits to other schools, including Miami, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. As the rumor mill swirled with these "visits", word from the Crawford camp was that these visits had been in the works for "quite a while". One problem with this:

Nobody told Brady Hoke or the University of Michigan

Last month, during all this recruiting turmoil, Crawford's father was quoted by BuckeyeGrove.com, an Ohio State message board and recruiting site as saying that Shaun was still "100 percent Michigan".

You can probably see where this story goes, can't you?

You guessed it. On May 24th, Crawford announced he was no longer a Michigan football commit. Did he call Brady Hoke and let him know? No, he announced it over Twitter. On Father's Day of this year, Crawford made a verbal commitment to attend Notre Dame. In a quote to Cleveland.com and Northeast Ohio Media Group, Crawford had this to say about his second verbal commitment:

I wanted to take advantage of an opportunity that most people don't get. I feel Notre Dame will make me the best person and player possible. Notre Dame is a prestigious university that my athleticism has gotten me in to. However, I will rely on my intelligence and hard work in the class room to succeed at Notre Dame

There are two ways of looking at this. First, kids are free to change their minds, especially when it is a decision that will take up the next four years of their lives, and have a huge impact on their lives after leaving whatever university they choose to attend. It was well within Shaun Crawford's right to change where he felt was best for him to attend college. However, the second way of looking at this is the effect it may have on the university he is leaving, after making a verbal commitment to.

I don't mind Brady Hoke or any other college coach for that matter for having a "no visit" rule. It is a way of protecting themselves from what happened in this case. Michigan lost almost nine months of the ability to try and recruit another player that would take Crawford's place in their class. I am sure not only Brady Hoke, but other college coaches across the country, have channeled their inner Jerry Maguire when a kid does this to them by thinking:

I am still sort of moved by the whole...My word is stronger than oak thing

Shaun Crawford has a right to change his mind. He also should have had an obligation to do it the right way

There-in lies the danger of the verbal commitment, and a verbal commitment given so early. Just think of it this way: It's one of the biggest decisions anyone will make in their lives. Shouldn't you look around, and take all your visits before giving a commitment? There are people today that put in more research into buying a car than they do with searching for a college.

Here is how I would change the controversy surrounding verbal commitments:

  • No verbal commitments until the end of your junior year.... You may tell a certain coach you plan on committing there, and you may get an offer that is your dream school, but no "committing" until end of your junior year
  • At that time, make it "somewhat" binding.... No visits to any other school without clearing it first with the school you are verbally committed to. The only time this would not apply is if there is a coaching change, then all bets are off
  • Take the allowable visits to each school recruiting you.... No verbal commitments should take place until the athlete has taken at least 3 of the 5 official visits he is allowed.
  • Be honest with coaches and recruiters.... This will lessen the pressure and time committed by these schools and you the athlete with phone calls, letters, tweets,..etc. Don't waste their time and yours by giving up that time to schools you aren't interested in
  • Do the research.... It's the next for years of your life, and maybe more. Have a good idea of the academic requirements and life after college with a degree from the school you are thinking about. Have a major in mind, and see how that fits with what the school is offering. What if you suffer a career ending injury? Does the offer still apply for four years of education?
  • Your word SHOULD be as strong as oak.... It's a trait of someone with strong character.

Cases like the one involving Shaun Crawford aren't going away anytime soon. It's the new wave of college recruiting, getting to them earlier and earlier. I don't mind that Shaun Crawford changed his mind and decided on Notre Dame. He has that right, and for a decision that is as important as the one as to where to attend college, one has to be 100 percent sure. What I do have a problem with is the WAY it was done.

A commitment should mean just that. It should be more than just a handshake deal.

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