The Commitment Project: A study of top-100 recruit behavior
Data on five classes of top-100 recruits was used to evaluate decommitments
Players who transferred high schools were nearly twice as likely to decommit later
There isn't one overarching reason players decide to renege on commitments
The AAU summer has come and gone, and as the calendar creeps toward the advent of games that actually mean something, many of the top Class of 2012 and '13 recruits will commit to colleges. Inevitably, a bunch of those recruits will cause heartbreak by either decommitting, asking out of National Letters of Intent, or enrolling and then transferring -- and jilted coaches will bemoan this as part of an epidemic that's hurting the sport. I've heard coaches use that exact word, epidemic, as a descriptor for what they consider a rising trend: Players no longer feel obligated to hold true to their word, or stay loyal to one team.
The issue with the fickleness problem isn't that coaches are wrong. There's no way to argue that the rising number of decommitments is helping the sport; it's that it tends to only get discussed anecdotally, i.e. when a recruit such as Michael Beasley switches high schools six times and college commitments once, or Terrence Jones reneges on Washington within less than an hour of putting on a Washington hat in a press conference broadcast live on the web, or LaMont "Momo" Jones sets what just might be a record by moving from Arizona to Iona this offseason: for being the only known top-100 prospect to jump between three high schools, commit to four colleges, and transfer once he was in college.
It's irresistible to focus on the high-profile and the extreme, because they make great column fodder, but that doesn't give us a real grasp on the issue. What is normal behavior for modern, top-100 recruits? How often are they switching high schools, how frequently are they decommitting from colleges, at what rate are they transferring, and why? If we're going to call something an epidemic, we need comprehensive evidence. The Commitment Project is SI.com's search for answers.
The project's data sample consisted of the past five classes of top-100 recruits, from 2007-11 as listed by the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), which combines rankings from all major evaluation services. For each of the 502 players in our database, we tracked their entire path through high school, recruitment and college, including commitments/decommitments and transfers, and the reasoning behind those moves. The complete database checked in at more than 18,000 entries.*
* SI.com interns Tommy Alter, Jeff Gasser, Jonathan Jones and R.J. Rico, provided invaluable help on this project, each handling research for an entire class of recruits.
When I ran the concept of the Commitment Project by a few college recruiters, they encouraged me to study high school switching, because, as one coach said, "The whole culture is starting there; rather than working through problems with high school coaches, kids just leave, because someone else will always take them."
The data on high school transfers was stunning. Not only were there extreme examples such as Beasley and his six stops, or in the Class of 2011, Baylor-bound Quincy Miller and Duke-bound Michael Gbinije with four high schools each, but the overall numbers reveal that transferring is rampant.
In total, 39.2 percent of top-100 recruits went to more than one high school, including stops at prep schools; 27.9 percent attended two, and 10 percent went to three or more. The trend has increased significantly over the past five years. In the Class of 2007, 26 percent of recruits went to multiple high schools, and the average number of schools attended was 1.4. By 2011, 47.0 percent of recruits had multiple high school stops, and their average number of schools was 1.7.
|The rising trend of high school transferring splits of top-100 recruits, 2007-2011|
Here's why it was worthwhile to track high school transfers: Our data revealed that a player who attended multiple high schools was almost twice as likely to decommit from a college than was a single-HS recruit. Forty-five of the 195 multiple-HS recruits (23.1 percent) had college decommitments on their record, compared to only 38 of the 307 single-HS recruits (12.4 percent). If a prospect's circle of influencers stays the same throughout high school, there's far less likelihood of him changing his mind on a college.
Eighty-three of the recruits in our database were decommitters, which puts the epidemic at 16.5 percent. The bulk of the players decommitted just once (14.5 percent), a handful did twice (1.6 percent), and Momo Jones was the lone recruit to back away from three different schools.
Decommitments only increased slightly over the five-year span from 2007-11 -- and at a far lower rate than the rise in high school transfers. The five-year progression of multiple-committers, by percentage, was 14-14-17-17-18.
If those numbers don't, at first glance, seem to constitute a problem, consider them this way: As you browse the top-100 lists for 2012 and 2013, it's likely that at least one in six players will decommit. If your school already received a verbal commitment from a blue-chipper, how much does that make you worry?
I thought it would be vital to speak with Jones, the decommitment king, to discover the secret to why players waffle. His explanations were as such:
He said his first high school jump, from New York City's Rice to American Christian (Aston, Pa.), helped him get exposure by playing alongside Tyreke Evans (reason: profile boost).
Jones left for Oak Hill Academy because American Christian closed after his junior year (reason: necessity).
He decommitted from Louisville because he pledged there as a 10th-grader, on the sole basis that he was awestruck by the idea of playing for Rick Pitino, and had a friend, Edgar Sosa, on the team (reason: immaturity).
Jones decommitted from Virginia Tech because he became uncomfortable with the idea of playing there (reason: cold feet).
He was released from USC because Tim Floyd resigned within two months of Jones' decision to play there (reason: outside factors).
He transferred to Iona to be closer to his grandmother, who was undergoing chemotherapy, and his mother and sister, who've barely seen him play in college ("It was all about my family," he said). Now he's seeking an NCAA waiver to play immediately for the Gaels (reason: family).
The conclusion is ... that you can't make one, wide-ranging conclusion on why players change their minds. Some of Jones' moves were justifiable and others were questionable. He backed out on coaches and had coaches (or schools) disappear on him. As we studied each of the 91 college decommitments/releases in our database, we found the reasons to be just as varied. The best way of assessing them was to divide them into two overarching categories: "school factors," in which the college was the instigator, and "player factors," in which the player initiated the move.
School factors included: head coaching changes, assistant coaching changes, NCAA penalties (or the threat of them), uncertainty over a coach's job status, or a coaching scandal (ex. Pitino's Porcini incident). Player factors included: "Reopening recruitment," change-of-heart, personal reasons, inexplicable reasons, package deals or pressure from family members or advisors.
As much as coaches like to put blame on the moral decay of the modern player, coaching staffs need to acknowledge their role: 37.4 percent of decommitments or releases were attributable to "school factors." Floyd's resignation alone accounted for a host of them, including Jones, Solomon Hill and Derrick Williams from the Class of 2009, Dwayne Polee Jr. from the Class of 2010, and Ryan Boatright from the Class of 2011.