YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – More than 150,000 high school athletes sign a national letter of intent each year on Signing Day, guaranteeing college scholarships worth over $2.7 billion.
While those are big numbers, they represent less than 2 percent of high school athletes competing across the country.
Those that get the offer, football players especially, have a big decision to make. When they should make that decision is debated.
They call it a “hat dance.”
Youngstown State University head football Coach Bo Pelini has another word for it.
“It’s become a bit of a circus,” he said. “I think it’s sending the wrong message to young kids.”
The first Wednesday in February is the first opportunity that college coaches have to officially sign their recruiting classes, and for players, to honor their verbal commitment.
ScoutingOhio.com Founder Mark Porter said being committed doesn’t necessarily mean that you are committed, however.
“It means the college is committed to you, but it’s advantage player right now. It’s always been advantage player,” he said.
College coaches would like some of that leverage. Porter said somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of college football recruits change their mind, sometimes on Signing Day itself.
“Maybe it makes too much sense, I don’t know. Somebody offers you a scholarship, you commit. Why not sign?” Pelini said.
Porter said if Signing Day does end, it will be chaos.
Instead of getting rid of it, the Collegiate Commissioners Association, which runs the National Letter of Intent Program, announced earlier this month that it will add an additional signing period in late December. That 72-hour window, beginning on December 20, will allow players to end the recruiting process and sign early.
While that will ease some of the last-minute frenzy for college coaches, it can’t prevent the pressure they apply on recruits to verbally commit early.
“A lot of times, when you get that first offer, they put pressure on you,” Porter said. “They tell you, ‘Hey, we offered seven linebackers. The first to commit gets the $100,000 scholarship. The other six get nothing.’ So parents will jump on that right away and say, ‘Hey, we’re not fooling around with this process. We want the $100,000. We’re not in a position to lose this scholarship.’ So they commit.”
Nine high school football players from the Valley earned a Division 1 scholarship this year, most of which verbally committed before their senior season. However, they didn’t all go where they initially said they were going.
Mark Porter, founder of ScoutingOhio.com, said recruiting doesn’t cool off after Signing Day. Warren G. Harding senior Lynn Bowden signed with the University of Kentucky in February after verbally committing to Indiana a year earlier.
“Good schools don’t go to uncommitted players when they steal someone. They go to very good committed players. So being committed means nothing to guys that want you. It just means that you’re really good because someone else took you. It confirms their belief of you,” Porter said.
Cardinal Mooney senior Ray Anderson also felt the pressure to commit early and did by accepting a football scholarship to Navy.
“Early on schools were telling me, if you don’t commit now then we won’t even give you the offer so it’s like, I kind of felt like it’s my experience, it’s my time,” he said. “I want to venture in all the things. I’m only going to get this opportunity one time. I want to take full advantage of it.”
Anderson did just that by de-committing to Navy and signing with Youngstown State University a few days later.
“My advice to those guys is, the money in the bank can never hurt you… Commit,” Porter said. “Commit to that place. Put your money in the bank. You can still go to camps. You can still play great football your senior year, and other people can still notice you.”
Anderson said he would tell any recruit to take their time and not rush into any decision.
“If things change, things change. You’re going to hurt somebody and make somebody happy no matter what decision you make, and just do what makes you happy and what you think would be a good thing,” he said. “And knowing I could do that makes me feel like a better person when I’m walking down the halls and it makes you feel proud of all the work you put in.”