There are great stories of young athletes getting recruited to play college sports in the USA and they deserve a massive congratulations. However: some athletes that get presented with verbal commitments from coaches have been blindsided at the last minute and are turned down. This leads to huge disappointment for the athlete's, but the same thing sometimes happens to college coaches too. Coaches will often commit to an athlete and withhold funding to provide for a student but then the athlete pulls out at the last minute, leaving the coach and his team undermanned for the season. Is the verbal agreement process ethical? Should verbal commitments be worth the same as written offers or should verbal agreements be scrapped completely?
A verbal commitment is a gamble for both the student-athlete and the coach. Either party can pull out of the agreement but should this even be an option? One of the pros of having a verbal agreement is the athlete becomes, “taken off the market”. But with every pro, there is a con, and in this case, the con is that verbal agreements are not binding. Only a National Letter of Intent (NLI) is binding between the student-athlete and the school. This leads to the problem and process of decommitting.
Decommitting is when an athlete or coach changes their mind about the verbal agreement and no longer wishes to pursue the arrangement. Several years ago decommitting was unheard of and frowned upon, these days decommitting happens all too often. If a young athlete does not live up to his expectations, a coach can simply look the other way and not offer the athlete the national letter of intent. The tables can turn and the athlete may receive a better offer from another school and then decommit from their current verbal agreement.
If an NLI has been signed by both the school and the student-athlete, the agreement becomes binding and the athlete cannot attend and play sports at another college. There are a few cases where athletes can decommit from a written commitment, but only under specific circumstances. There are two situations in which a student-athlete may decommit; they are as follows:
Situation 1 – If the coach leaves the sports programme before the prospect officially attends the college. If the coach who signed the athlete leaves the programme, it is deemed fine for the student-athlete to decommit from the school and will not be penalised if he or she attends and plays at another college.
Situation 2 – If an athlete is recruited and informed that they will be the only recruit in that position; while in fact the coaches have recruited another athlete to fill the same roster position. Basically, if the coaches and the athlete have made a commitment and the athlete finds out there has been dishonesty from the coaches side, the athlete can decommit. With this being said, it is advised that the student-athlete sit down with the coaches and discuss the athlete’s role within the squad as well as the plans for the team as a whole. If the athlete is still not satisfied, they will be allowed to decommit.
So the question remains, are verbal agreements ethical or should they be scrapped completely? Many athletes, their families, recruiters and even some coaches feel that the Athletic Associations should ban the concept of verbal agreements because it is too much of a gamble that leads to disappointment. On the other hand, specialists in ethics believe colleges should hold themselves to a higher standard and if they make a verbal commitment, then they should stand by and honour it.
The banning of verbal agreements will be extremely difficult and nearly impossible to control, as coaches often promise scholarships and then begin the paperwork to be sent at a later date. This process is a form of verbal agreement. One solution is for the Athletic Associations to set an age limit to when students can be recruited. There have been suggestions that athletes should only be recruited when they are old enough to sign a National Letter of Intent. Either way, at this moment in time, verbal agreements are still taking place. Athletes need to be aware that a verbal agreement is not binding and you need to sign an NLI for your scholarships to be guaranteed.