I guess my first substantive post is going to be about recruiting, considering that LSU has apparently received its second verbal commitment for the 2008 class. PJ Lonergan, an offensive lineman out of Rummel has given his verbal commitment. He is about to finish his junior year of high school.
Recruiting is, they say, the life blood of a football team. For those of you unfamiliar with football recruiting, I'm going to start with the very basics, in multiple parts. We'll be getting a lot more complex as time goes on.
LESSON #1 - Commitments
What is the difference between a verbal commitment and a written commitment?
Good question. The simplest way to explain this basic part of recruiting is to say that a player's recruitment (usually) ends when he has signed his "Letter of Intent" and faxed it to the school of his choice. I won't get into the scenarios in which this would not actually end the player's recruitment.
A Letter of Intent is a binding written statement by a player that he is accepting a scholarship offer from a school. Once he signs and faxes this statement, he is bound to his agreement and cannot get out of it without paying a heavy price (sitting out a year of football).
A verbal commitment is a statement by a player that he will one day sign a letter of intent. It is totally nonbinding and a player may change his mind at any time before going through the process of signing and faxing. It is a promise to the coaching staff (and the fans) that he will be going to a particular school, but is otherwise not particularly meaningful.
Well, why don't players just skip the whole "verbal commitment" thing and go straight to signing a Letter of Intent?
Well, there is a very important rule about this. While a player may verbally commit at any time, a player may not sign and fax his Letter of Intent before a day called "National Signing Day", which is usually (always?) in February of the player's senior year. If a player wishes to commit before this date, he can only give a "verbal commitment", and that's it. Right now, recruits for the 2008 class are almost one full year away from National Signing Day. Recruiting for 2008 is in full swing, however, and coaches are looking for their commitments.
Are there any rules at all about verbal commitments?
No. A player may verbally commit at any time. A six year old can give his verbal commitment. Further, other schools may continue to recruit a player who is verbally committed to another school as if the commitment never happened. A player may remain verbally committed for a year, and then change his mind without warning on National Signing Day, announcing his choice by faxing his Letter of Intent.
Well, why are verbal commitments so important if they are totally non-binding?
While verbal commitments are non-binding, and a player may retract a verbal commitment at any time, most players honor their verbal commitments. Every year will see several high-profile recruits change their minds as recruiting continues, but 9 out of 10 recruits will end up signing with the school to which they initially committed.
There are certain pressures on a player to honor a commitment. First, no kid wants to be known as a liar or a flake. Every kid who changes his mind about this, in an age where there is a substantial portion of the media that covers recruiting, will become known as a person who went back on his word.
Second, I think there is a more internal pressure to keep a verbal commitment. A recruit who gives his verbal commitment to a school instantly becomes part of that football program. Many will try to encourage other recruits to commit to his team. Many will develop friendships with players currently at the school. Many, particularly kids who live near their chosen college, will become local heroes for picking the local school. Psychologically, there is a resistance to changing all of that around. It's a little like the phenomenon that occurs in every new car lot in which the salesman knows that if he can get you to test drive the car, you will probably buy it because you'll develop an emotional attachment to it from having driven it. The recruiter is like the salesman and the verbal commitment is like the test drive. If he can get you to give your verbal commitment, he knows you will probably sign the Letter of Intent in February.
This is why the verbal commitments are so important, and why coaches push for them so early.