An closer look at the small and LARGE print of recruiting letters
Programs face a bit of a catch-22 when they put scholarship offers in writing. They want to express their dedication to the prospect, but they also must leave themselves an out in case the prospect's skills decline or in case a better player at the same position decides he wants the scholarship. The basketball programs at Davidson and Northwestern got burned by written offers; the schools had to settle out of court with prospects who sued after the programs reneged on written offers. Hawaii may have a leg to stand on in its defense of a lawsuit from former prospect Daniel Smith, because Smith never received a written offer. Still, to avoid any messy legal squabbles, schools now try to include some kind of disclaimer in their offer letters. Of the 21 letters posted to Forcier's site, only the letter from first-year Washington State coach Paul Wulff did not contain any disclaimer.
The letters from South Florida and Michigan specifically mention NCAA bylaw 15.5.5, which limits programs to 85 scholarships total and 25 signees a year. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, who has had some recent experience with attorneys, must have had a real legal eagle help him with his letter, which contains the slickest -- and one of the most accurate -- disclaimers of the 21. "This letter remains viable until such time as NCAA Rule 15.5.5 regarding squad limits (85 total) would appear to be compromised," Rodriguez wrote. "Therefore, as a necessary consequence, grants may only be awarded on availability."
The award for brutal honesty goes to Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, whose longest paragraph addresses the possibility that the program may bail on the offer. "We could fill our scholarships before you make a commitment to accept this offer," Sherman wrote. "Also, we could fill our designated allotment of scholarships at your position before you make a commitment to accept this offer. I assure you, if you are one of the first prospects to accept this scholarship offer, we will honor your commitment to A&M, and firmly count you as one of our prized signees. We will keep you informed of our situation as other prospects also commit to A&M."
While some sections of the letters -- the disclaimers, for example -- are pure boilerplate, some coaches made sure to personalize their offers as proof of their true, heartfelt desire to obtain Forcier's signature on a letter-of-intent. Paterno, Rodriguez, Wisconsin's Bret Bielema and Baylor's Art Briles all included handwritten notes beneath their signature. Other coaches offered their cell phone numbers and told Forcier to call anytime. Still others offered the cell phone number of a position coach and told Forcier to call that guy anytime.
To prove they embrace the traditions of the programs they represent, some coaches signed off with the school's catch phrase. Where other coaches wrote "Sincerely," Texas A&M's Sherman wrote "Gig 'em." Bielema wrote "On Wisconsin," Baylor's Briles wrote "Sic 'em Bears," LSU's Les Miles wrote "Geaux Tigers" and Auburn's Tommy Tuberville wrote "WAR EAGLE!"
Some schools also try to impress with fancy letterhead, while others keep it simple. Clemson coach Tommy Bowden's three-paragraph offer letter arrived on letterhead adorned with nine photos. They included images of Howard's Rock, a dance team member, two Clemson players being interviewed by ESPN's Chris Fowler and former Tigers defensive end Gaines Adams being introduced as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2007 first-round draft pick by Bucs coach John Gruden. Penn State, Meanwhile, takes the same attitude toward letterhead as it does toward uniforms. The Nittany Lions need only a navy stripe down their helmet, and their letterhead requires only the name of the school and a simple navy stripe on the top and bottom of the page.
Despite all the flourishes, or lack thereof, the offer letter itself is only a piece of the recruiting puzzle, but it's a corner piece. The letters promise tuition, room board and books, but they also promise a bright future, whether they come from Arizona, Auburn, Michigan or Oklahoma State.
"DURING YOUR TIME IN STILLWATER, BESIDES PLAYING CHAMPIONSHIP FOOTBALL, YOU WILL ALSO EARN AN EXCELLENT DEGREE AND MAKE MEMORIES THAT WILL LAST A LIFETIME," OSU's Gundy wrote to Forcier on Feb. 16. "I WOULD LIKE TO SPEAK TO YOU AS SOON AS POSSIBLE ABOUT OSU AND THIS OFFER. PLEASE CALL ME AT..."