Tuesday, May 7, 2013
What does a scholarship offer mean?
By Adam Finkelstein
Every Friday, I write a collection of recruiting news and notes to sum up the week that was in the Northeast region. Last week’s article was essentially a running tally of Northeast prospects and who they had claimed scholarship offers from in the previous five days. With the April evaluation period having just come to a close, it was far and away the longest list I have produced this year.
By the time I was done, I felt compelled to add this disclaimer: Reporting scholarship offers is one of the more difficult things to do in recruiting, because it’s almost impossible to confirm from the source since college coaches aren't permitted to speak about prospective student-athletes. Therefore, all offers are only as good as the source of the information and should all be considered “fluid.”
So what does that really mean? Essentially, it means that while scholarship offers are often perceived to be definitive, more often than not they are anything but.
To better illustrate that point, here are three conversations I’ve had firsthand in recent years:
Conversation No. 1: It was last summer in the final week of the July evaluation period. I was standing next to a high-major college head coach, who asked me for my opinion about a player. I answered the question, but followed up with a question of my own.
“Haven’t you already offered him,” I asked.
“Aw hell, I don’t know,” he responded. “We might have.”
Conversation No. 2: It was two summers ago and there was a prospect whose recruitment had taken off, leading him to essentially pick up new scholarship offers every day. I had a conversation with a high-major assistant coach that went like this:
“What’s the latest with [the player’s] recruitment,” he asked.
“Apparently he has a ton of offers, but supposedly you guys are in there pretty good,” I answered.
“I’m not even sure we can take him,” the coach responded.
“But you just offered, right?” I asked.
“I had to do that just to stay in the mix,” the assistant answered. “[The head coach] doesn’t even know I did.”
Conversation No. 3: Last August, just after the end of the live evaluation period, I got a call from an assistant coach at a school.
“I just read on Twitter that we offered [player 1] and [player 2],” he said.
“You didn’t know?” I asked.
“No, because we didn’t offer,” the coach responded. “We barely know who those guys are. [The AAU coach] called and said we should be on the kids, but that was it. Then we see on Twitter that we supposedly offered them.”
The moral of these three stories is this: Scholarship offers are nowhere near as tangible as they may sometimes appear. Whether it’s a college coach, AAU coach, parent or even the player himself, there are plenty of scenarios where people can be motivated to create the allusion of an offer, even if one doesn’t exist.
In today’s era of social media, those allusions can spread like wildfire until they are widely perceived to be cold, hard facts. But in many cases, perception doesn’t match reality.
In its purest form, a scholarship offer is on the table if, and only if, that school would accept a commitment from the prospect on that very day. If the coaching staff is unsure or unwilling to make that commitment, then the player doesn’t have an offer.
Moreover, those true scholarship offers typically come directly from the head coach’s mouth to the player’s ears and are quickly reiterated to the AAU/grassroots coach and the high school coach to avoid any potential for miscommunication. If a prospect doesn’t hear the offer firsthand or hears it from an assistant coach, there is reason to be skeptical.
Even legitimate offers aren’t contractually binding, so there’s a definite yet undefined statute of limitations on them. How does a prospect know if his offer is no longer on the table? As soon as the phone stops ringing and that school stops pursuing him as aggressively, it’s pretty clear the school has moved on. If the school has changed coaching staffs, it’s starting from square one. If it has landed a commitment from a prospect in the same class and position, again, it’s a good bet the initial offer no longer stands.
Ultimately, the only true way to confirm a scholarship offer is to go right to the source: the college head coach. But the problem is twofold. First, college coaches aren’t allowed to comment on recruitable student-athletes. Second, as illustrated by the first conversation above, many college coaches don’t take these offers nearly as seriously as prospects and their parents and coaches do.
So with less clarity and more misinformation than ever before flying around online, what can be done about the issue of scholarship offers? The reality is that because there’s nothing binding about them, change isn’t going to come by way of the NCAA, nor should it need to.
Instead, the answer lies in education, awareness and maturity on the part of the prospect, his family and his coaches. They need to be aware of the fact that college coaches are sometimes intentionally ambiguous; be able to identify the warning signs of less concrete scholarship offers; understand the fleeting nature of even true offers; and temper their enthusiasm when rushing to their computer or smartphone to promote their latest news.
Admittedly, my weekly news and notes story might not be quite as long, but the disclaimer at the end might also not be necessary anymore.