Athletic Recruiting Coach Communication Recruiting for Parents Starting Early

The Changing Face of College Commitment

ice hockey player portrait with stick raised

You might have seen headlines in the last few days about 4-star Class of 2015 quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who committed to Notre Dame after a weekend visit to the school. Brandon had been committed to Penn State.

You can read more about Brandon’s decommit over at the Bleacher Report.

Different sport, same problem

What Brandon’s change in heart means for football is one example of the changing landscape of college recruiting. The gentleman’s agreement in hockey, which had–theoretically–meant that college coaches would no longer recruit a player once he had committed, is another, as College Hockey News reports.

In hockey, the total number of players who are backing out of their college commitments has reached an all-time high. In response, some college coaches have announced they won’t honor verbal commitments, while others are digging in.

“To me, a commitment is a commitment,” [Jeff] Jackson said. “The word de-commit doesn’t exist in Webster’s Dictionary, it’s breaking a commitment. To me, I won’t do it. I won’t go out and recruit a kid who has committed to another school, I don’t care if it’s a big school or a school at the bottom of the standings.”

Incidentally, Jeff Jackson coaches hockey at Notre Dame.

In addition to other schools potentially poaching players, NCAA hockey programs also need to worry about losing talent to the Canadian Hockey League. If a player signs with the CHL, he becomes ineligible to play in the NCAA.

With an eye to the scouts of the CHL, coaches are looking at younger athletes–like 13-year-old Oliver Wahlstrom, who committed to UMaine as a seventh grader in January, reports.

And not all coaches are convinced a student-athlete that young can make a firm commitment.

“I think if my son is 15, and he’s not quite sure if he can get his driver’s license yet, how you can ask him to pick a school is really not in the best interest of the young man,” [BC head coach Jerry] York said. “It might be in the best interest of the schools, they can lock up guys very early, but if we’re in this to help the young guy make a very educated decision on where he will spend his next four years.”

What it means for student-athletes

As if the recruiting process weren’t complex enough, do athletes and their parents have a new mountain to climb? Drew Palmisano, head ice hockey recruiting coach at NCSA Athletic Recruiting, isn’t sure. “I haven’t heard any players talking about this issue,” he says. “It’s not one that comes up until you’re being recruited by multiple schools.”

But would he advise one of the athletes he mentors to back out of a gentleman’s agreement?

“It depends on the situation,” he says. “I would advise not to ever back out of a college commitment but sometimes the coaching staff changes and it would be in the best interest of both parties to go different ways.”

I would advise not to ever back out of a college commitment.

Drew is sympathetic to both coaches’ and students’ needs. “13 years old is too young for a kid to commit to college,” he says. “However, with the added pressure and promises of the CHL at that age, and to keep the NCAA as the desired path, it might be necessary to make some sort of commitment at a younger age. An earlier deadline for the National Letter of Intent seems like a reasonable solution, but it will be hard for coaches to agree on the actual date.”

So take advantage of resources–like downloading a free copy of our comprehensive guide to the recruiting process, Athletes Wanted–and be aware of just how early coaches are recruiting at your level. “Be proactive and reach out to the coaches,” Drew says. “Parents can’t believe that recruiting starts so early, even if it’s only for the elite.”

But most of all? Focus on the ice: “Eventually it will come down to your team level and play on the ice.”

About the author
Andy McKernan

Andy McKernan is the content strategist at NCSA Athletic Recruiting. A content marketer with a background in creative writing, Andy brings several years of experience to NCSA.