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What Does a Verbal Agreement Mean for an Athletic Scholarship?

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Q: Could you please address what a “verbal agreement” is? When someone has verbally agreed to a school does the player or school have to honor it? Or can either get out of the deal if they come across a better situation prior to signing the Letter of Intent?

A:  The verbal agreement is not binding in any way.

A verbal offer is made by the sport’s coaching staff and not by the school or athletic department. Because the offer is not binding, either the athlete or the university can back out of the commitment at any time. Many athletes do, but it is not recommended. In fact, if you aren’t an elite, five-star athlete, you can face some roadblocks in your recruiting if you get a reputation for not honoring your commitments. Even if they aren’t legally binding.

Coaches can also withdraw their commitments, but there are a few reasons that they would stay loyal to a recruit they offered a scholarship to:

  • The PR of withdrawing a spot from a committed player is tough to overcome, especially with the athlete’s high school. It may take a college coach a long time to heal that wound.
  • Other college coaches might use it against them as long as it is effective, saying that a player can’t trust the coach’s word, which is huge in recruiting.

For many coaches, when they offer a scholarship, nothing short of legal problems, a major violation of high school rules or academic failures would be cause for rescinding a committed player’s scholarship. Open communication with a coach or program is the best way to avoid any unpleasant surprises… on either end!

About the author
Aaron Sorenson

28 Comments

  • What if there is a coaching change? Will the incoming coach generally honor verbal commitments made by the outgoing coach?

  • teresa – It’s more common for the player to rescind their commitment. See Coach Taylor’s comment, “The offer and subsequent commitment is much more sacred to the school’s coaching staff for a couple reasons….”

    Anne – If there is a coaching change and the new staff likes the new player, then they’ll honor it. If not, they won’t. There were coaching changes at Tennessee and Syracuse this past season. A 4-star recruit was negatively impacted when the new Tennessee coaching staff told the young man he didn’t fit into their plans. A young man is now playing Juco football in CA because he was offered a scholarship by Syracuse that was not honored by the new staff.

  • Coaching changes can go either way.

    When we went in to Minnesota a joint decision was made with our head coach and the athletic director to honor the commitments of the old staff. Part of the reason was we felt the athlete chose the school; coaches come and go. Another large factor was the PR part of the issue. If we came in and cut loose the commits, especially the in state kids, this would be more damaging than taking a player we thought was marginal for what we wanted to do.

    On the other hand some coaches come in to a new school, evaluate the commits and keep who they like. They feel they have every right to pick their own players. In the end, these kids are the ones a head coach will keep or lose his job with.

  • Are all athletes asked to make a verbal commitment? … Letter of Intent or an athletic scholarship agreement.

  • A “verbal offer” is made to prospects that are good enough to be deserving of a scholarship offer. If a college coach makes a verbal offer of a scholarship, he’s offering a scholarship, it’s as simple as that.

    The college coach should be clear enough to the prospect that there should be no question what’s being offered.

  • What if I do make a “verbal agrement” will other colleges shy away from me and stop recuriting me? I plan on making a verbal agrement before my sr. season but dont want to put it on paper till midway thorugh my season incase of any late offers.

  • If you commit, honor that commitment!

    If you want to visit other schools or wait for a better offer, don’t commit!

    Most schools will shy away because they know the meaning of the word commitment. Other schools will look at your commitment and know who the competition is.

    Putting the commitment in writing is the same as a verbal commitment.

    Think of all the people who are affected by your commitment. For one, college coaches lose jobs for recruiting failure!!

    Two, backing out on your commitment looks bad for you and people will think your word doesn’t mean anything!

    The verbal commitment has been watered down too much. REMEMBER THAT A COMMITMENT IS A PROMISE.

  • Alrite, Thanks
    so when is a good time to make that step and commit? How long do I wait for late offers?

  • You commit when you know it’s the “right fit” for you. There should be no doubt!

    A school may put pressure on you but you’ll know when it’s time. Be honest with them and ask them to be honest with you.

    If you have a relationship with the coach recruiting you, which is a must, you’ll know when you’re hearing the whole truth. Be sure to have your family involved for a second opinion and a 3rd party, if necessary.

    Late offers may never come. The class of 2010 is about 99% over for most D1 schools. At least the evaluation process anyway. The college either has you on their list or they don’t.

    If you have some favorites, contact them directly. Get a hold of the coach that recruits your area or position, the recruiting coordinator or the assistant to the RC. Ask them where you stand. This will help you eliminate or add potential schools and will help with your decision.

    Again, if you know now get it over with and concentrate on your upcoming season and grades.

    By the way, have fun too!

    Good luck.

  • Michelle – If you aren’t accepted by the admissions department at that university, you won’t be able to play. You can look into junior colleges or other 4 year colleges with less stringent admissions standards.

  • Good job Keith.

    This is one of the worst things a coaching staff can do but it happens. The university and especially admissions will not be happy with this as it makes them look bad. My guess is that the school will put pressure on the AD to not let this happen again.

    In some cases, the coaching staff can’t make an offer without it being approved by admissions. I think schools like Stanford and the Academys work this way.

    The coaching staff was probably hoping that the athlete would get their grades up to be admitted or that the athlete would be one of the few to be a “risk” admit.

    My concern in this situation is if the athlete is just now being told they can’t be admitted what has changed since the beginning of the fall semester. An ACT or SAT score could have come in and it’s obvious that the individual wasn’t going to make it happen.

    Be aware that some coaches, not many hopefully, will use academics to get out of a commitment because they got a better player to commit at the same position or the staff changed their mind.

    Michelle, the athlete and the family should be sure to get a satisfactory explanation of what made the school deny the admission. This will most importantly help the student athlete with other schools during this process and it will help to be sure this was a legitimate reason for taking the scholarship offer away.

    Remember – it’s always good to have a 3rd party involved to help you evaluate the student athlete’s academic and athletic status.

    Good luck!

  • My son was offered a D1 scholarship. He made an official visit before the Christmas holidays and told the coaches he would commit after the holidays. After many attempts to reach the coaches immediately following the holiday, his calls and emails were not returned. Finally, after our high school coach contacted them they called my son and told him since he didn’t commit at the time of his visit, they gave his scholarship to someone else. Is this appropriate? My son was devastated.

  • Dianne – One of the biggest frustrations with the recruiting process is the mis-communication. This is a classic example and happens a lot. What those college coaches told your son and what he heard may have been two different things. That’s why it’s so important that all “verbal” offers are in writing and parents review it. So there is no mis-communication. I’m sorry for what happened to your son and he should have opportunities to play at other schools at lower competitive levels. I wish him the best in finding a situation that’s a good fit for him.

  • The coach visited our home prior to the official visit. The verbal offer was made to my son in our living room in front of both my husband and I. We did fail to ask for it in writing as we honestly believed the offer to be a valid offer for what he quoted as a “full ride D1 scholarship.” My son was receiving calls after the holidays from other schools and he was telling everyone he was commited to this school. Unfortunately, he just thought the coaches were busy and would eventually call him. It’s a very sad situation now as the other schools have filled their rosters, and my son is left struggling.

  • Diane – I’d like to talk to you directly. Please contact the NCSA office at 888-333-6846 and have whoever answers the phone get a hold of me with your number so we can talk.

    Call ASAP!!

  • Coach Taylor-I have been contacted by many D2 and D3 programs via e-mail and regular mail however after i intiated contacted they stopped replying to my e-mail messages. This is basketball we are tlaking about and i know the sport is still in season will the coaches contact me in the spring after basketball or have the stopped thier interest in me. Im a 2013 recruit so im a bit young

  • Arman- There are recruiting rules that will restrict the kind of mail/email you can receive and when.

    In D2 you can ONLY receive a questionnaire, camp information and general information from a university as a freshman and sophomore. The only time a D2 staff could respond to your email at this time is if it was related to camp but could not include recruiting discussions.

    Beginning September 1 of your junior year you can receive recruiting information and the coaches will be able to return your emails.

    In D3 there are no restrictions on correspondence. They may be building their future prospect list.

    Remember, you can call the coach that sent you the email at anytime. In fact it’s a great way to start building relationships with each school’s staff.

    The good news is that you’re on these schools radar which is where you want to be righ now! Your job is to get yourself on as many school’s radar as possible.

    Good luck!!

  • Coach T,
    My son, a junior, has offers (baseball/D1). Many of the school/coaches, on unoffical visits and phone calls have said, “do not make a commitment without talking to me first.” What is your experience with this situtation. He thinks each coach will want to know what the other school is offering so they can try to beat it. Is it ethical for a student to share what the other programs are offering? Seems a little slippery but several coaches have said verbatim the same comments.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Dear Coach,
    In helping a Canadian school recruit for their women’s programs I am constantly talking to parents about scholarships, or as we call them up here sports bursaries. As expected with Title IX, we are now in competition for our athletes with soccer schools in the US. From what I read in the NCAA website, I have been telling parents that the national letter of intent signing date is Feb. 2nd of this year, yet many of the girls we are recruiting are emailing us telling us they have already ‘committed’ to a scholarship from a US school. I am assuming frm reading the other posts that this is simply a ‘verbal commitment’ which means they are not ‘exclusively tied’ to it, although when one of the other posts referred to ‘getting it in writing’, what is it that they mean? Are you telling me coaches ‘put their offer to be in writing first’, then commit them to a letter of intent 8 months later? It seems a little bit ridiculous to me to do this and, based on what I have heard from parents of these kids, there seems to be a lot of pressure being applied by coaches (i.e coach ‘meeting his timelines’) to accept these verbal offers. Can you expound on this for me? Why do coaches ‘verbally commit’ these folks long before Feb 2nd (close to 8 months)and then apply pressure to the kis to accept the verbal offer?

  • Dave,

    As a former recruiting coordinator in college we always felt that if we got a kid to commit it would be very hard for another school to beat us. There’s a promise made that the recruit will sign with us when signing day comes along and we have a scholarship held for that player.

    Your right, they aren’t binding, just someone’s word and sometimes a hand shake.

    The letter of the offer is something that makes the prospect feel more confident that the coach won’t back out. Many times the prospect requests it.

  • Coach Taylor,
    How does one get a written “verbal” commitment from a college? I didn’t realize such a thing existed. My son made a verbal commitment to a college, but we didn’t get anything in writing. Should we and is that typical of a “verbal” commitment?

  • Karen – In order for everyone to have an understanding of the money involved, books, tuition, room & board, other fees, a verbal commitment is in writing with an accounting for all of those expense items. Typically, that’s only for the first year in college, not beyond the first year. Ask for it on the coach’s letterhead. If they aren’t willing to provide it, that could signal something else. If you need more help so you don’t leave any money on the table, call: 866-579-6272 so an expert can help. Good luck!

  • My son has two official visits set up with each a month apart from each other. The first school may offer some money while the second and top choice school will probably only offer a spot.
    He know he wants his first choice but is checking out the other school just to give it a chance. How to proceed without losing the priority school?

  • there have been schools (Stanford Women’s Soccer for one) who have been sued over a rescinded verbal offer; Stanford lost this particular case…

  • My daughter has accepted a verbal offer to play D2 soccer at her first choice school. Should she stop talking to the other colleges that are looking at her?

    She has a friend who had a verbal last year and a coaching change left him in the lurch. He did end up with another offer from a D1 school so it worked out for him but it makes her gun-shy about burning any bridges.