South Carolina quarterback pledge Connor Mitch in July used Twitter as his pulpit to take on one of the recruiting world’s greatest debates: the meaning of the word “commitment.”
“Why do you say you are ‘committed’ then go visit a bunch of other schools? Own up to your commitment,” Mitch preached via Twitter on July 18. “If I was a college coach and saw that my commits were going on visits I’d take back their scholarship in a heartbeat!”
The issue – always a hot topic on Twitter, message boards and at the water cooler – isn’t going away.
With verbal commitments being made earlier and earlier, national recruiting experts say many athletes will continue to “shop around” even after they’ve made a pledge to one school.
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“This day and age in recruiting, so many kids commit early but that does not mean they quit going through the process,” said Scout.com recruiting analyst Chad Simmons. “Whether it’s right or wrong, a lot of kids do it. They go ahead and commit and secure a spot. Then they keep exploring options.”
COLLEGES TACKLE THE ISSUE
Some colleges – including Michigan, Georgia Tech and Clemson – employ a no-visit policy in which scholarship offers can be pulled if a pledge takes a trip to another school.
South Carolina coaches are careful with exactly how they handle each such situation, said recruiting coordinator Steve Spurrier Jr.
“It’s a fine line,” he said. “You don’t want a dead policy that says if anybody visits, we’re dropping you immediately. You certainly don’t want everybody visiting all the time either. It doesn’t look good. You have to be flexible in how you handle it.”
Freshman tight end Kelvin Rainey and wide receiver Kwinton Smith last year took official visits to Arkansas and Florida, respectively, after committing to the Gamecocks. Both signed with USC.
“We just try to stay in touch,” head coach Steve Spurrier said. “Sometimes they will take other visits and still stay with you. I encourage guys to look around a little bit and be 100 percent sure. We don’t have a problem with that.”
Other schools take a hard-line stance on the issues of committed athletes taking visits.
“They’re not satisfied with what they got if they’re still looking,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “You can’t have a reservation and then keep shopping around. That doesn’t make sense, and 90 percent of college coaches feel exactly the same about it. I don’t care whether they say it [publicly] or not, but they are exactly the same on this.”
Clemson came under fire in June from a high school coach after reports said the Tigers took committed linebacker Isaac McDonald of Hialeah, Fla., off their recruiting board when he took part in camps at Mississippi and Alabama.
“A verbal commitment dnt mean u own a kid,” one of McDonald’s coaches said on Twitter.
Reports said North Carolina offensive lineman R.J. Prince suffered the same fate when he took a visit to UNC.
Last year Daytona Beach (Fla.) standout running back Marlin Lane, a longtime Clemson pledge, signed with Tennessee after he and the Tigers parted ways when he visited Knoxville. (Lane’s story also made the rounds because he had a Clemson tattoo.)
Clemson’s policy will be put to the test in the coming months as defensive end Robert Nkemdiche – the nation’s top recruit and a Clemson pledge – says he will take some or all of his five official visits.
TO VISIT OR NOT TO VISIT?
For his part, Mitch said he is done taking visits.
“My family believes in loyalty,” the quarterback said May 8 when he picked the Gamecocks. “When I say I’m committed, then I’m committed.”
However, the allure of taking visits is too much for many recruits to pass up. High school seniors are allowed five official visits, trips that are funded by the college.
Dillon offensive lineman D.J. Park says he continues to hear from other colleges and might visit LSU.
“I’m not going to decommit” from South Carolina, he said.
USC linebacker pledge Kight Dallas of Stone Mountain, Ga., says his commitment is solid but he has talked to Cal, Purdue and Houston about official visits “just to see some other places.”
“I’m 100 percent committed to South Carolina but I might take other visits,” Dallas said. “They don’t mind. They are all right with it.”
Lithonia, Ga., defensive end David Johnson is a Gamecocks pledge but hasn’t ruled out additional visits.
COACHES PRESS ON
USC sometimes takes more of a “you shop, we shop” approach with recruits, Spurrier Jr. said.
“You explain that to him: ‘If you’re going to take more visits, we’re going to potentially look at recruiting other players,’ ” he said.
“It depends on who the player is. The better the player, usually the more power they have in controlling that,” Spurrier Jr. said. “If you’re in a position to do that, we’ll tell a young man that. But if he’s the best guy we can sign at that position, we’re going to keep recruiting him the best we can to signing day and hope he hangs on.”
The Gamecocks have fared well in recent years with holding onto its committed prospects, head coach Spurrier said.
No one backed off a pledge last year, even with 18 commitments by August. Two Florida athletes changed their mind in the class of 2011 in favor of schools in their hometowns. In the class of 2010, Jacksonville, Fla., wide receiver Sean Tapley – who was committed to South Carolina for several months – ended up signing with North Carolina.
The Gamecocks have 21 commitments for the Class of 2013. Six other schools have 20 or more pledges; Texas A&M has a national-high 27, while Georgia has 24.
Analysts say an increase in earlier pledges across the country could lead to more decommitments in December and January when athletes are done with their seasons and have renewed interest in the recruiting process.
If a player changes his mind and goes elsewhere, Steve Spurrier said coaches move on and keep recruiting.
“There are a lot of ballplayers out there,” he said.
- Phil Kornblut contributed to this story