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Commitment not a two-way recruiting street

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Alabama fans loved it when new head coach Nick Saban sent a message to high school recruits, saying essentially that if a player commits to him, he expects that recruit to honor his commitment by not visiting any other schools.

And, if a "commitment" does decide to visit other places, Alabama would not be bound to honor its commitment to that prospect.

The problem, of course, is that while Saban expects young men to honor their promise to him, it doesn't stop him from trying to get other young men to break their promise to his coaching rivals.

Saban is hardly alone.

LSU coach Les Miles pulled his offer from West Monroe, La., defensive lineman Luther Davis after learning Davis had attempted a "secret" recruiting visit to Alabama after committing to LSU.

Miles' reasoning was the same as Saban's - that Davis was breaking his commitment to him. Of course, it may have been as much face-saving on Miles' part, because Davis accepted Alabama's scholarship offer after word of his one-day trip got out.

Alabama might also benefit from the decommitment of Tarrant's Marquis Maze, who committed to Michigan last fall but now is considering Alabama and Tennessee.

Not that Alabama hasn't felt the sting of decommitment. The Tide has lost Plant-Tampa high school quarterback Robert Marve, who decommitted recently and Wednesday announced he'll sign with Miami.

One recruiting Web site reported that among its first 100 players in this year's signing class, 39 changed their minds.

"It's never been this bad before," said Texas head coach Mack Brown, who lost a commitment from All-America quarterback John Brantley, a May commitment who now says he's going to Florida.

"It's gotten to the point where we tell the players we're recruiting that if they continue to make visits after verbaling to us, we'll remove our offer."

Aside from the creation of a new word - "verbaling" - Brown is simply echoing Saban and Miles.

What is a coach to do? He works hard to win the favor of talented high school kids, starting earlier and earlier to land commitments, very often before some prospects even begin their senior seasons.

Then coaches count on those kids to honor a commitment that the coaches themselves don't respect, because the recruiting of "committed" athletes doesn't stop until, in some cases, signing day.

Even on signing day, some rejected coaches have been known to provide scholarship papers for top prospects even when that prospect has been adamant in his commitment to play for someone else - just in case there is a last-minute change of mind.

Some coaches are pushing for an earlier signing day, perhaps as early as the end of prospects' junior school year, to stop the madness.

One alternative is for coaches simply to decide to accept a prospect's commitment to another school and leave him alone. But is that reasonable to expect from coaches who live off attempts to steal each other's commitments?

Unfortunately, what coaches are telling us is that they'll demand players keep their word to them, but they won't respect that same promise when it's made to someone else.

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