College football recruiting, the loose meaning behind verbal commitments

The Wildcats high-five K-Staters who made the trip down to Norman, Oklahoma on Oct. 18, 2014 to see them upset a ranked Sooners team for the second time in Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Norman. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

From the comforts of his home in Georgia, Mohamed Barry decided on his future. Another 18-year-old star athlete weighed the options and chose the one, he felt, would maximize his potential.

That decision was to sign for head coach Mike Riley and Nebraska as the 16th member of the Huskers’ 2015 recruiting class. With his family at his side, Barry revealed the news via Twitter.

The response online was surprisingly civil considering what we’ve seen in recent years with recruits. For those not up to speed: Barry had originally committed to Wisconsin this past June. He then parted ways with the Badgers in October, with media outlets citing academic issues as a factor, and committed to K-State in November before teasing Miami and Nebraska in the weeks following his second commitment.

In the end, Nebraska swept in and secured Barry’s talents, concluding a roller-coaster recruiting trail.

Down south in Louisiana, four-star linebacker Leo Lewis flipped from Ole Miss to either LSU or Mississippi State while in Baton Rouge for an official visit. That’s right: Lewis, the No. 1-ranked linebacker in the country, informed the Rebels that he would not be playing for them this fall while on a visit to another school.

Monday, three-star defensive back Kylan Johnson flipped his commitment from K-State to Florida.

Talk about a lot of drama.

For those unfamiliar with the process of college football recruiting, this isn’t anything new. Recruits flip their commitments regularly leading up to National Signing Day. But it’s exactly that which is the problem: “commitment.”

Verbally committing to a program used to be the equivalent of a gentlemen’s agreement. It was an informal, non-binding way for recruits to tell a school, “I’m coming here,” prior to putting pen on paper.

That’s not the case anymore. Verbal commitments are now the equivalent of updating your Facebook relationship status — in a relationship one moment, “it’s complicated” or single the next. Oftentimes it’s for leverage.

The unfortunate issue here is that there are no concrete rules or officials in place to change the process. NCAA regulations limit coaching staffs during recruiting, but little is done in the way of the athlete and how they go about the selection process.

Should that be changed? Probably not. As it stands, the NCAA already has too much power. Still, though, the word “committed” appears to mean very little nowadays. Barry hinted at that fact in a recent interview with GoPowercat.

“Committed to K-State, not committed to K-State — that doesn’t matter anymore,” Barry said. “I’m not trying to be negative about it, I just mean that commitments mattered back in the fall. By this point, the only thing that matters is that letter of intent and where you are signing.”

With the current recruiting format, players are set up to fail. They are expected to announce a verbal commitment early on and either follow it through to signing day or make a flip. Either way, the athlete gets thrown under the bus by the personnel and fans of the school, or schools, he has decided not to play for.

Of course, part of the problem is us, the media. You can now be hired solely for the purpose of following high school prospects through the process to signing day. These writers often do a phenomenal job, but with a greater focus comes more questions, which inevitably makes for more storylines and unneeded drama.

The easiest way to fix this format is to trash verbal commitments altogether. There are simply no good reasons for an athlete to corner himself with a choice months ahead of even stepping on a college campus as a student athlete.

Barry and company have the right to sign wherever they see fit. So many of us can likely recall laboring over which college to attend; I assume very few of you, myself included, had to factor in being a Division I athlete on top of everything.

Will dropping this step fix the fallout of the inevitable decision on National Signing Day? Absolutely not. But it certainly will eliminate an outdated step in the recruiting process that has proven to have little meaning.

Tate Steinlage is a junior in mass communications.