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NCAA Looks at Early Verbals

The NCAA’s blog, the Double A Zone posted a link to an interesting article from the NCAA News, by Michelle Hosick, that affects college hockey.

The article discusses athletes that verbally commit to colleges as 15 and 16 year olds. It has become commonplace for top college hockey prospects to commit to a college two or three years in advance. Last fall, high school freshmen Nick Pryor committed to Wisconsin just two months after his 15th birthday, making him the youngest player to commit to a college hockey team ever. The NCAA hasn’t been in favor of this trend, however, and has created a "working group" of university officials to look at this issue and possibly recommend rule changes.

The NCAA doesn’t seem to have any complaints about the process of players verbally committing to schools. Most of their complaints seem to focus on a lack of understanding from players and their parents. Ms. Hosick wrote, "Some officials fear that early commitments occasionally leave student-athletes without the means or opportunity to attend college, much less participate in collegiate sports. That unfortunate outcome could be for a number of reasons, including the prospect not meeting academic admissions standards at a particular institution, the prospect not meeting NCAA Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse criteria, or a change in the coaching staff."

I suppose I can understand the argument about a coaching change leaving a player without a school to play at, although I’d be willing to guess the large majority of coaches would honor commitments from the previous regime. I certainly can’t think of any recent examples where a new coach released a player that had already verbally committed to a school. But I fail to see what an early verbal commitment has to do with a player meeting the NCAA’s Clearinghouse requirements. A player that doesn’t pass high school won’t play in college whether he commits at 16 or 18.

I thought it would be fairly obvious that a player had to be admitted into the school before he could play there. After all, every press release I’ve ever seen reporting new signings ends with "All signings are contingent upon admission to [school] and compliance with NCAA rules, including certification by the NCAA Clearinghouse." If schools tell the general public this stuff, they can’t be keeping it a secret from the players they recruit.

One suggestion the group is looking into is forcing teams to have a prospect’s academic record reviewed by the university before they can verbally commit to a player. ACC associate commissioner Shane Lyons feels that this extra step of red tape is "…more concrete evidence of a true commitment from that institution"

There’s also been suggestion of banning verbal commitments altogether, though it would be impossible to enforce since all verbal commitments are completely unofficial. Thurston Banks of Tennessee Tech, also a group member, said, ""If it were in the book as an NCAA bylaw, at least coaches and institutions would understand that they’re not supposed to do it, and they might not do it as liberally as in the past," But would this honestly stop any college coach when he knows that every other team he competes against is verbally committing to players?

Much like the NCAA’s witchhunt against certain mascots they deemed "offensive," this group is another example of the NCAA’s liberalism run amok. Instead of fixing a problem, they’ll likely end up creating more bureaucratic red tape and another useless page in the already over-sized NCAA rulebook.

I think this group needs to look more closely at whether or not this issue really needs to fixed. Again, like the mascot issue, the NCAA may not like it, but certain things are outside of their control, sometimes throwing a bunch of rules and regulations at problem only makes the situation more difficult and confusing.

Ultimately, the responsibility in this situation needs to fall on the player making the decision, and not the NCAA. There is no one forcing these kids to commit to a college at such a young age. But if a player does choose to commit early, it is definitely a case of "buyer beware". It should be up to them to make sure that the school they are committing to is the right fit for them athletically and academically. Most people would think it was foolish to buy a $20k car without doing a fair amount of research on the vehicle. The same should be true when choosing a $100k education.