Rush to Judgment
The early-signing period has increased, not eased, pressure on recruits
The NCAA created the early-signing period for high school seniors in 1982 to ease the stress on recruits who were ready to commit. Instead, it has forced an increasing number of schoolboys to make hasty decisions.
An unprecedented number of top-flight prospects will sign national letters of intent during this Nov. 11-18 period, and that seems to have increased the pressure on high school stars to commit earlier and earlier. Eighty-one of the top 100 players ranked by Bob Gibbons, publisher of the recruiting newsletter All Star Sports, had made verbal commitments to schools by Oct. 28. Many of those commitments were given before the school year even began. "It's like a stampede," Gibbons says. "One ACC coach called me recently and said, 'I need to sign some players. Who's left?' I said, 'There is no one left. If you don't have them by now, you'd better start scrambling.' "
The trend reflects changes in the recruiting process that have focused attention on younger kids with each passing year. "You open up these basketball magazines and you see a list of the best sixth-graders in the country?' says Providence coach Tim Welsh. "It's just not healthy, and coaches have created a lot of it. I'm complaining about it, but if I don't put pressure on a kid to commit early, I'm going to lose out."
Recruits such as Tony Robertson, a top-rated 6'3" point guard from East Providence, are feeling the heat. Robertson took a visit to Connecticut at his own expense on Aug. 15, saw the lay of the land—that UConn coach Jim Calhoun was courting three other top-ranked point guards—and gave a verbal commitment to Calhoun on Aug. 20. "I just wanted to make sure I had my Number 1 choice before someone took my scholarship," says Robertson, who claims the Huskies had been at the top of his list for some time. Still, he might have changed his mind had he taken his planned official visits to Kansas, Kentucky and Florida in September and October.
Robertson's signing caused other dominoes to fall. Robertson informed his friend Majestic Mapp, a 6'2" point guard from New York City who was also considering UConn, that he had committed. "He was kind of shocked" Robertson says. A week later Mapp scheduled an unofficial visit to Virginia, which prompted Cavaliers coach Pete Gillen to call another recruit, 6-foot Todd Billet of Lincroft, N.J., to try to press Billet to make a decision. Billet decided to make like a point guard and pass. "I just didn't feel that [choosing under pressure] was a good way to decide on a college," he says. Mapp committed to Virginia on his visit Billet is still sifting through offers from five other schools.
The way coaches and recruits are forced to make increasingly hurried decisions might help explain why there appears to be an increase in transfers the last few years, especially among elite players such as Jason Collier (who moved from Indiana to Georgia Tech), Mike Chappell ( Duke to Michigan State), Luke Axtell ( Texas to Kansas) and Loren Woods ( Wake Forest to Arizona). "The early-signing period is kind of obsolete now with all these [verbal] commitments," Billet says. "The system needs to be altered somehow so we can see the schools and get more comfortable with the coaches."
Rating the Recruiting Hauls
The Rich Are Getting Richer
Because very few top high school seniors will be available when the April signing period begins, college coaches will try next week to get as many as they can while the gettin's good. Here are the schools that apparently will clean up during the early-signing period:
1. Kentucky. The Wildcats locked up commitments from two players who will be on most top 10 lists: 6'4" Keith Bogans from DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., and 6'10" Marvin Stone from Huntsville, Ala. The Cats also expect to have the services of 7-foot, 290-pound John Stewart from Indianapolis, who could thrive once he loses some weight.