Question of the Day

Can a coxswain back out of a verbal commitment? I want to tell a very good D1 school that I will commit to go there but my coach said I should wait until after HOCR because I might be able to go to a better school if I do well. What should I do? Can you still go on an official to another school if you verbally commit?

The NCAA’s definition of a verbal commitment is this: “A college-bound student-athlete’s commitment to a school before he or she signs (or is able to sign) a National Letter of Intent. The college-bound student-athlete can announce a verbal commitment at any time. This commitment is NOT binding for either the college-bound student-athlete or the school. Only the signing of the National Letter of Intent accompanied by a financial aid agreement is binding of both parties.”

Verbal commitments are a tricky thing. They’re not binding but you’re expected to honor your word regardless. It’s one of those unspoken, common sense things. If you say to a coach that you’re coming to XYZ University, they’re assuming that you are indeed coming to XYZ university, committing yourself to the team, and forgoing any other offers or applications. Depending on how big of a score you are for the program, the coach(es) might end up pulling verbal offers that they have made to other athletes. There are definitely repercussions but I think it’s more on their end than it is on yours because they could potentially lose out on more athletes than just you if you de-commit. It would also put you in an awkward situation because they’ve spent all this time, effort, money, etc. on recruiting you and you respond by changing your mind after previously saying “yes” to them. I wouldn’t blame them for being pissed.

Related: Official vs. unofficial visits

That’s not to say that de-commiting is the wrong thing to do though. It might be the right thing for you because you realize, for whatever reason, that the school or team isn’t the right fit for you. That’s fine and completely understandable, but the reasons that prompted you to come to that conclusion are all things you should have thought about way ahead of time. I can’t think of too many things that would suddenly pop up this far into the process that would cause you to back out of a commitment.

Unless you’ve signed an NIL, been accepted by the university, and have said “yes” to the coach, no one’s going to say you can’t go on another visit. This is actually called a “soft commitment”, which means you say yes but keep going on officials. I’ll warn you though, the other coaches will ask you where else you’re looking, where else you’ve gone or are planning to go on officials, and how interested you are in those other schools/programs. This isn’t to pressure you into saying that the school you’re at is your favorite but it is to gauge your level of interest across the board. If it’s obvious that you’re leaning towards another school, they’re probably going to back off and move on to the recruits who are still very much interested in their program. If you say you’ve already verbally committed to another program (they’ll find out anyways so it’s not worth lying about) they’ll, again, probably be annoyed that you’re kinda leading them on and wasting their resources by being there when they could have brought someone in that really wants to go there and hasn’t already said yes to someone else.

The best analogy I can think of is that it’s like you’re engaged to someone but are still going on dates with other people just to make sure you’re actually with the right person. The person you’re engaged to is probably thinking “WTF, seriously? After all this time, you’re still not sure?” and the people you’re going on dates with are thinking “Why did I just buy you an expensive dinner when you’re not even available?”

With regards to Head of the Charles … I get what your coach is saying but going to college still comes back to academics first, athletics second. Sure, the crew team might be better at Washington than at Cal but Cal might have the better academic program. You have to think long term and not just about the immediate future. I guess in theory if you do well enough then you might make yourself look like a better prospect to the higher end programs you’re looking at but I don’t think it would ultimately make that much of a difference. Regatta results, let alone results at one race, are only a small piece of the puzzle. Unless you’ve applied early decision to the school you want to commit to and have been accepted (which I don’t think any schools have even announced yet…), I wouldn’t give anyone a verbal, regardless of how well you do at HOCR.

Keep in mind that the potential for something to come up that causes you or the coach to change your/their mind is always there and you don’t want to get stuck in a bad spot because you’ve turned down other schools or didn’t apply anywhere else because you were set on going to this school. Just like you can rescind your verbal, so too can the coaches. Most people tend to forget that and then experience premature aging when they realize they don’t have a Plan B. Until you’ve been accepted by the university (the most important thing) and have signed on the dotted line, nothing is official.

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