The latest recruiting trend: A scholarship offer that isn’t really an offer

Every scholarship offer is different, and many could be viewed as being far from sincere and genuine.

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Former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer, back in 2004, surrounded by the hundreds of recruiting letters he has received from colleges.

Former Glenbrook North star Jon Scheyer, back in 2004, surrounded by the hundreds of recruiting letters he has received from colleges.

Sun-Times file photo

Are all scholarship offers committable?

That means does every school intend to take a commitment from a player the day the scholarship is offered to him? 

When some of the greats of the past were in high school — Glenbrook North’s Jon Scheyer, Simeon’s Derrick Rose, Young’s Jahlil Okafor and Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson to name a few — were extended scholarship offers, they didn’t have to worry about whether or not the offer was legit. 

But what about today? Are all those offers being thrown around actually true, valid scholarship offers? 

While it’s a question that’s been asked for years, it’s especially being asked a lot behind the scenes in today’s basketball recruiting world. 

“That’s a Covid offer” is a term mentioned by a few college coaches to me over the past few months. That’s the explanation to some of the scholarship offers as they see the recruiting landscape being altered over the past several months. 

Simply put, every scholarship offer is different and many could be viewed as being far from sincere and genuine.

We’re not talking about the early scholarship offer, the one that slowly fades away over time. It happens. The player’s talent never reaches the potential and the college program is nowhere to be found months or years later. 

Schools often race to be the first to offer, hoping that means something to the kid and family at the end of all the recruiting pitches and visits and a decision is ultimately made. 

That scenario, however, doesn’t always play out in favor of the prospect. The offer to a 14 or 15-year-old can go in so many directions over the next three or four years.

A player receives an offer as a freshman or sophomore, he plays it out, doesn’t progress as expected, plateaus or falls as a prospect, the phone calls from the staff quit coming and the offer is essentially gone. A player is a then a junior or senior with old “offers’ he still lists but simply aren’t really there anymore. And refraining from embarrassing any individual recent prospect or ones from the past, we will stay away from naming names as prime examples of this. 

And we’re also not talking about an offer being made to one player and it being snapped up by some other recruit, whether it’s a month, six months or a year after the offer was extended, essentially filling up a college’s recruiting class. That’s more of a snooze-you-lose situation. 

What we’re talking about is a college coach offering a scholarship on Tuesday and the prospect committing on the spot or calling Wednesday morning and saying, “I’m committing, coach!” 

How many of those offers are actually committable? You would think they all should be, right? 

Not always. If a particular player tried to commit, there are many situations where they would be brushed off, told to wait or flat out turned down. Offers today aren’t what they used to be. 

“I told a family to take it, to take the offer from the high-major right there on the spot and see what happens,” a mid-major head coach said when questioning the validity of a particular offer for a prospect and family the coach knew well.

There are still many that are as legit as an offer can be, but so many simply aren’t. And it’s a shame, really. 

But whether it’s players or their parents or their private trainers or their club program coaches, scholarship offers are coveted at all costs. They crave offers. They salivate over these things. And I get it. 

The kid is ecstatic over the offer and, on the surface, really should be. It shows their hard work has paid off and, in today’s world of social-media satisfaction, brings a lot of attention. 

Families think they’ve hit the lottery with four years of college at a cost of $100,000, $150,000 or more taken off their plate. Trainers feel legitimized that the money they’ve been paid from families was worth it while club programs can tout “Look what we’ve done for this kid’s exposure” and use it as a platform in attracting younger players to their program. 

I’ve still never quite understood why it is that almost all the high school coaches stay in the background, behind the scenes and don’t go on and on in public about what they’ve done for this player and that player. There tends to be a little more grace and professionalism. But that’s another story. 

Unfortunately, all these offers aren’t all legit. 

There are still college head coaches and programs who take pride in offering scholarships to student-athletes. They limit their offers but believe their offer is like gold. But there are a whole lot who don’t feel this way about the 13 scholarships they have to offer student-athletes.

“What’s going on right now in particular is partly due to the circumstances of the shutdown, but it’s still something that’s been going on in recent years and is a bit of a joke,” said one mid-major head coach who spoke off the record on the rise in scholarship offers. “The real problem is that it’s really difficult for a kid or family to differentiate between what is real and what’s not.”

Said another mid-major assistant coach of his head coach and the program he works for, “We offer freaking everyone.” 

Some of the offers have become the nature of the beast in recruiting. Coaches are offering because it’s a sign of “we are recruiting you” more than a “we want you today.” They don’t want to lose ground to the schools that have already offered. They can’t be left behind. 

Sadly, the scholarship offer has now become more of getting your foot in the door rather than the tale end of a player’s recruitment. That’s especially true for high-profile players targeted by high-major programs. If a kid is offered early, before he’s actually a bonafide high-major prospect, a school can say at the end of a long-lasting recruitment, “Remember, we were there in the beginning with that offer before these other schools came in.”

“Because some players are receiving so many of these offers, now, if we don’t offer, they may not allow you into the recruiting process,” says another mid-major head coach. “The offer is now like a ticket to be able to recruit them. 

“Before it was a high-major would keep a kid warm by telling them we will watch you through the spring and summer. But now a lot of these high-majors are throwing out offers just to keep them warm. Kids think they have offers from that level when in reality that’s not always the case.”

In the past month I’ve had coaches admit they offered a scholarship based solely on watching a highlight tape and others who said they had not even seen the prospect play at all. Think about that for a moment. 

I’ve had stories told to me that a coach only offered a prospect as a “courtesy” or “favor.” The individual player may or may not have known that to be the case, but someone in that player’s circle did as the offer was used to simply “drum up business” for the kid, with no intention of ever committing to the particular school that offered.

“Social media is a big part of it and having all these quote, unquote talent evaluators on Twitter tweeting made-up offers,” said a high-major college assistant coach. “They don’t know any better, so they tweet or re-tweet the offers the kid says he has or what schools are recruiting him.”

Following the lead of a prospect’s tweet or a tweet sent out by one of the now endless list of basketball scouts/evaluators on social media regarding a player receiving a scholarship offer, I’ve called or texted a coaching staff and asked, “Is this legit?” The sometimes answer is, “No, we never offered that kid.” 

Recently I reached out to a Division I coaching staff I know well, saying “So you offered [insert player’s name]?” 

The response: “Who’s he?”

But what’s a college coach and program to do once it happens and it’s out there? Tell the kid and the family — a player they are actually recruiting but haven’t offered — that what you put out there isn’t real? If they were to do that then there is no chance of landing the kid when and if they decide to pull the trigger (and extend a legitimate offer). 

More offers are going out today before sound evaluations have been made than ever before. 

Disingenuous? Sure. Part of today’s recruiting world? Yes. 

“We won’t offer unless we are all in,” says a head coach and rising coaching star at the mid-major level. “And there are a lot of offers that are put out there just so you can stay in the race. We don’t do it. I think it leads to transfers and problems. We have to do more homework. We have to see a kid play live. You can’t see the intangibles on film –– how they talk to teammates, their coach, the referee, their body language and so much more. That’s championship DNA.”

A coaching staff of a rising program on the West Coast recently talked with me about their philosophy with recruiting and, specifically, offering prospects. They remain “old school” in their pursuit, to the point where they won’t offer a player until they can get them on campus for a visit. 

Well, that was the case before the pandemic hit; they may need to alter that plan since the evaluation dead period has been extended to Jan. 1. That means no college coaches will have seen or watched a player live in over nine months. 

“We still want our offers to mean something,” said the coach from that West Coast school’s staff. “When we offer, you know we are invested in you and want you. And hopefully that does mean something.”

Some possible changes to the offer and commitment process have been bandied about in recent years. Those include allowing a prospect to immediately sign with a program when an offer is made or have what would essentially be an expiration date on an offer, such as a month-long window from the time the offer was made. 

There has even been the thought of enforcing the old written offer rather than just the verbal offer. That would include a written offer from a school, something that would be a little more irrevocable. Some say that would slow down the increase of de-commitments of players and halt the non-committable scholarship. 

The fact is the scholarship offer today, in many instances, simply isn’t the same as it was 15 or 25 years ago. They are thrown out like candy. And it’s important for players and their families to realize that and dig deep into how valid that scholarship offer is from the particular school and coaching staff. 

“With those programs that offer everyone, you have to ask, ‘How bad do they really want me then?,’” a mid-major coach says families need to understand. “Our program wants to stay away from that stigma.”

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