Frank Jackson, the Lone Peak High basketball super recruit, announced this week that he “committed” to play for Duke, thus making his defection from BYU complete. Put “committed” in quote marks because last time he “committed” to a school (BYU), he apparently didn’t fully understand the meaning of the word.
Before you write a nasty email wondering how someone can criticize a high school senior for reversing a decision he made as a callow sophomore, read to the end; there’s plenty of blame to go around.
Jackson, as has been frequently reported, “committed” to BYU following his freshman year.
Then he changed his mind.
The media calls this “decommitting," which ought to strike you as an odd term. If the meaning is properly applied, then the word “committed” should render the word “decommitted” an impossibility. (Or perhaps it’s the other way around?)
If a coach or an athlete “commits” to something, doesn’t that mean he has pledged or bound himself to an agreement with a personal oath, and then the parties can proceed accordingly — in this case, BYU can stop shopping for 6-foot-3 guards and Jackson can tell other recruiters he is off the market?
In theory, that's how it is supposed to work. But these verbal commitments are not recognized by the NCAA, and they’re not worth the paper they aren’t written on. The National Letter of Intent website informs athletes that a verbal commitment “is a non-binding, oral agreement between you and the institution. The only binding nature of the commitment is your word and the institution's promise.”
And there's the problem — your word and a promise.
If you Google “decommitment,” you’ll get thousands of hits. The first dozen pages are almost entirely related to high school basketball and football recruits reneging on a "commitment" they made to a school.
But flakey recruits are just a symptom of the college basketball and football culture. It’s a culture in which coaches bail out of contracts for a better offer elsewhere and schools fire coaches before their contract is completed and recruits make promises they don't keep or transfer when the going gets tough. It's a culture in which schools renege on scholarship offers or cut an athlete's scholarship before he is graduated. It's a culture in which schools continue to pursue athletes after the latter has made a verbal commitment — a promise — to another school, which demonstrates a certain lack of respect for commitment and integrity.
No wonder recruits feel no compunction about "decommitting." It is a culture built on "decommitment."
Why are universities making verbal commitments with athletes since they’re meaningless? An even better question: Why are they being made with 15-year-old kids, or younger? High school sophomores can’t even decide what to wear to school and now they’re supposed to make a life-altering decision about where to go to school and where to play basketball? As has been widely reported, schools are soliciting and receiving verbal commitments from younger and younger kids. Last month UCLA made a verbal commitment with a 13-year-old basketball player.
That sounds like a "decommitment" waiting to happen.
Jackson, who grew up only a few miles from BYU, was all-in when he announced his verbal “commitment” to BYU in the fall of 2013. “It’s seriously a dream come true for me to play for coach (Dave) Rose and with all the other great players and coaches at BYU,” he told the Deseret News at the time. “It just felt right being down there BYU is a great school as well, so it was sort of an easy decision.”
A year later Jackson “decommitted.”
After Jackson gave BYU a verbal "commitment," his stock rose, and schools with flashier names came calling — Arizona, Duke, Stanford. BYU was the hometown girl who got a date with the homecoming king and then got dumped when Jennifer Lawrence showed up at his door.
That's the nature of the game. Garret Bolles, a blue-chip offensive lineman at Snow College, “committed” to BYU in the fall of 2014. Then other offers arrived from big-name schools — Alabama, Auburn, Oregon, Florida State and Oklahoma, among others. Bolles “decommitted" and is now weighing other options.
Let's stop calling it a verbal “commitment."
We can all agree it's something less than that.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org