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Trust is lost when verbal commitment is taken back

February 2, 2011

There’s a scene in Jerry Maguire in which Jerry, the do-anything-at-all-costs agent, is going over the particulars with Matt Cushman, father of quarterback and surefire top pick Frank. Besides appeasing his pseudo clients with dollar figures and draft stature, Jerry aims for some reassurance from the Cushman camp that he will be entrusted with the negotiations with the NFL team that selects Frank.
Matt Cushman closes the discussion with a firm handshake along with the following: “What you have is my whole word, and it’s stronger than oak.”
Turns out that Matt’s alleged promise – nothing was even scribbled down on a cocktail napkin – was as believable as the magical city of Atlantis. The Cushmans chose to head in a different direction (blast you, Bob Sugar), leaving Jerry to wonder if anything is truly sacred.
We use Hollywood as a way to explain Ricky Ledo’s choice in using his Twitter account to announce he was taking back the verbal commitment he pledged to Providence College on Christmas Eve. The move raises all sorts of red flags, the most alarming aspect being that a teenager can renege on a promise he declares publicly. Ledo also utilized Twitter to denote his intentions of becoming a Friar.
To Mike Hart, the veteran St. Andrew’s head coach who coached Ledo last year, recruiting ceases once a kid issues a verbal. There is no need for further discussion on the matter. Case closed. More importantly, the time is at hand to abide by said decision and pledge faithfulness until the day arrives to sign and fax off the all-binding letter-of-intent.
Got that college coaches? A verbal means they are off limits. Got that high school prospects? No more waffling!
“I think a verbal commitment should be a written commitment, then the kids would be serious about it,” expressed Hart, unyielding in his tone. “It’s just like in life. If you give your word on something, people expect you to follow through. When you don’t follow through, your reputation takes a hit.
“Kids really need to investigate both the academic and athletic opportunities at all of these schools, and they don’t,” Hart went on. “Some kids may verbal because they liked the uniforms worn on ESPN that night.”
Or in Ledo’s case, sit behind the PC bench while donning a Friar sweatshirt. Whatever prompted him to change his mind in a month’s time is certainly open to interpretation – was somebody in his inner circle whispering sweet nothings in his ear, hence the “view my other options” speak? The bottom line is that Ledo pulled anchor, which Hart is adamant about preventing with his players.
“I know if a kid in our program wants to make a verbal commitment, I tell them there’s no turning back,” he said, adhering to the Gospel according to Matt Cushman, pre Bob Sugar. “It’s about who has got the kids’ ear at that moment.”
Hart shared a story involving East Providence native Tony Robertson, one that reveals the wavering nature of those fortunate to be in a position of weighing prospective offers from big-time schools.
“It was the July heading into Tony’s senior year [at St. Andrew’s], and he looked at me and told me that he was going to Florida. A week later he said, ‘No, I’m going to Connecticut,’” Hart recalled. “He never verbaled to Florida. He was just trying to figure out things. I told him he needed to make sure he would be comfortable. I’m not the one going to college. He is.”
The underlying message is clear: look before you leap and leave no stone unturned. That way, on the day of reckoning, there is peace of mind knowing that the correct decision was reached. Clearly Ledo still has reservations about PC, yet he should have ironed out any and all concerns before taking to the information superhighway.
No, Ledo didn’t break a NCAA rule. What he did was break a gentleman’s agreement between himself and the Friars. And yes, it may seem unfair to lash out at a teenager who clearly misses the boat on what a verbal commitment entails, but there is a bigger picture to consider.
If the precedent is set in which kids can ignore the unwritten rule that a verbal commitment carries as much significance as the real deal, then the basketball culture we’ve watched struggle to remain on the straight and narrow will continue to sink into lower depths. Kids will still make uneducated and uninformed decisions, which in turn could set them up for trouble on a much larger scale.
“I think it does hurt the kid’s perception,” said Hart when asked about the fallout when someone opts to re-open the bidding wars. “He’s considered damaged goods. Part of that is the kid’s fault. Part of it is on the basketball culture.”
There is a way to clean things up, Hart feels. “I think college basketball needs to step in and not allow any verbals until the spring of their junior year. Second, there needs to be a written, formal agreement for a kid not to be recruited when he verbals. To some (college) coaches, verbals don’t mean anything.
“Your loyalty is questioned when you renege on a verbal,” Hart continued. “That’s how I would operate if I was a college coach, and I know that’s not how they operate. That’s why I stay at the high school level.”
And that’s why Ledo, with his uncanny talents and mercurial disposition, doesn’t figure to be the last kid we hear about withdrawing a verbal commitment.

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