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De-Commitments of Football Recruits: A Recurring Phenomenon


Verbal commitments, De-commitments, Letters of Intent
© Liam Rooney/Tallahassee Democrat/USA TODAY NETWORK

Is a commitment really a commitment? Not in the world of college football recruiting, where de-commitments are all too frequent.



The Oxford English Dictionary defines a commitment as pledging "oneself ... to a particular course of conduct." It is a promise—an assumption of an obligation.


Despite the dictionary definition of "commitment," the meaning has been stripped from the word in the recruiting context. Especially where commitments have come to connote little more than transitory flirtations. Contemporary recruits commit and de-commit at the drop of a hat.


Sports reporters, fans and college coaches enthusiastically publicize "commitments" from prized recruits. But all too often, the enthusiasm is dashed when the recruits de-commit a few months later.


The Prevalence of De-Commitments

In the recruiting context, commitments should be viewed with tempered enthusiasm. Most commitments are honored, but a significant percentage are not. 247Sports has compiled a list of 50 recruits in the 2025 cycle who have de-committed. Three of the listed players are five-star recruits, four are four-stars and 41 are three-stars.



In an article published in 2011, Sports Illustrated referred to the frequency of de-commitments as a "fickleness problem." The article focused on basketball players and found that 16.5 percent of top-100 recruits de-committed at least once. Similarly, in 2013, the Des Moines Register ran an article exploring the high rate of de-commitments. It anecdotally reported that 13 players on that year's Iowa Hawkeyes football team had previously committed to other schools. In November 2023, Colorado coach Deion Sanders ("Coach Prime") spoke out against the phenomenon of de-commitments, noting that it involves elements of betrayal and disloyalty.


Recently, two five-star defenders de-committed from USC in a span of less than 24 hours.



Verbal Commitments vs. National Letters of Intent

In the collegiate football recruiting context, current conventions and nomenclature have supplanted dictionary definitions. Commitments are non-binding but signed letters of intent must be honored.



National Letters of Intent

An executed National Letter of Intent (NLI) constitutes a binding agreement between a student-athlete and a college. The student-athlete agrees to attend the academic institution for one year, and the institution agrees to provide financial aid—typically a scholarship—for one year.


Once a student-athlete signs an NLI with a particular college, no other schools are permitted to recruit the student-athlete.


If a student-athlete breaches the terms of the NLI by failing to stay at the school for at least one year, he/she loses one year of eligibility.


For 2025 FBS recruits, national signing day is Feb. 5, 2025. However, there is an "early signing period" in December 2024.


National Letter of Intent
© Clayton Freeman/Florida Times-Union/USA TODAY NETWORK

Verbal Commitments

The NLI website explicitly declares that verbal commitments made by student-athletes are unenforceable.


"The NLI program does not recognize verbal commitments," according to the website. "It is not uncommon for a student to verbally commit to one institution and subsequently sign an NLI with another institution. And, on some occasions, a school may accept your verbal commitment and later offer the NLI to another prospective student-athlete."


Thus, the unenforceability of verbal commitments has paved the way for the prevalence of de-commitments.


While many, like "Coach Prime," frown upon de-commitments, they have become a significant component of contemporary recruiting in college football.


Re-Committing

Another aspect of the de-commitment phenomenon is that a substantial percentage of recruits who de-commit end up re-committing and/or signing with the school to which they originally committed. For example, 247Sports forecasts that one of the two five-star recruits who recently de-committed from USC (EDGE Isaiah Gibson) is reasonably likely to end up playing for the Trojans.


It is a head-spinning process. The bottom-line lesson, however, seems to be that one ought not put too much stock in a mere verbal commitment.



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Jun 23

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