Archive for College Recruiting

COLLEGE RECRUITING: Verbal Commitments versus Letter of Intent

I gets lots of queries all the time when it comes to the arcane world of college recruiting, and one question comes up all the time:

How can a college coach offer an athletic scholarship to a kid in 8th or 9th grade — is that offer really legit,or just some sort of publicity stunt? And in addition to that first question, others follow right away:

1 – Can the athlete count on that scholarship money being there when they graduate HS?

2- What happens if that college coach who made the offer has since moved on, or has been fired? Is the university and the subsequent new coach on the hook for the scholarship for the kid?

3 – And what about the athlete? Suppose they change their mind about going to that college which offered the scholarship….are they legally bound to go there because of what they decided when they were in 8th or 9th grade?

I thought it was relevant to explore this subject on the air, once and for all. But in truth, some of this discussion came up the other when a top HS football player in NJ was suddenly blindsided by the new football coach at UConn who told the kid that yes, the previous UConn head coach coach had promised you a scholarship as a verbal commitment, but that coach is gone now, and I’m the new coach, and sorry….but I don’t have that scholarship for you.

Or as the coach, Randy Edsall, put it, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction”….meaning that he wanted to offer that football scholarship to another player. Meanwhile, the kid who was counting on going to UConn was hugely disappointed.

Fortunately, the young football player (and his parents) learned a harsh lesson. The verbal commitment he made to UConn really didn’t amount to any kind of obligation from the university. All it really told other potential college football coaches was that the youngster was really set on going to UConn, and as such, they shouldn’t even bother to pursue him.

But when Coach Edsall delivered the bad news – that he had given his scholarship to another HS player – the NJ kid was the odd man out. And since this happened just a few weeks ago, it appeared that the football player was out of luck. Fortunately, as word got out about the kid’s predicament, some other college football programs contacted him, and now he’s looking at offers from other schools. But no, after being psyched to play for UConn, that dream went away, thanks to a short phone call from the UConn coach.

Even worse, this kind of thing happens more than you might think.


In any event, when it comes to athletic scholarship do’s and don’t’s, I always invite long-time Sports Edge contributor Wayne Mazzoni onto the show.

Wayne has been dispensing advice to scholar-athletes and their parents for many years, and he also serves as the pitching coach at Sacred Heart University.  (For more information about Wayne and his speaking engagements, go to his website:

Wayne made it very clear that these so-called verbal commitments from college coaches to young HS athletes really have no legal binding whatsoever on the college or on the kid. Rather, it’s nothing more than a way for a college coach to basically “stake their turf” to announce to other college programs that “we really like this kid, and we want him or her to go to our school when they graduate.”  But beyond that, the college is not obligated to give the kid a scholarship, nor is the kid obligated to attend that college when he or she graduates.

So, in effect, it’s a nice boost to the kid’s ego, but beyond that, it’s not more than that.

Things change, though, when the kid is entering their senior year, and the deadline comes to sign a national letter of intent. This process is carefully monitored by the NCAA, and they make it clear to the university tendering the athletic scholarship that they are now officially locked in to giving the kid what has been promised. At that point, in most cases, the young athlete is thrilled to sign the letter, which formally acknowledges this is a done deal (however, I should point out that there are various loopholes when the letter of intent, for example, if the college coaches leaves for another program; this kind of thing happens all the time.)

But by and large, it’s that written letter of intent that binds the university to offer the scholarship to the kid. From what I can tell, it’s more binding on the school than the youngster, who retains the right to change his or her mind before actually matriculating at the school.

And just as a reminder: there are three divisions in the NCAA: D-I colleges, which can offer the maximum number of athletic scholarship by sport. Note that a D-I school doesn’t have to offer any scholarships, but they can if they choose to. D-II colleges are allowed to offer athletic scholarships as well, but at a much reduced level from D-I schools. And D-III colleges are not allowed to offer athletic scholarships at all.

It’s a generalization, but usually only football and basketball give out full rides, and that’s because thanks to attendance and TV contracts, they provide enough revenue for the college to do that. With other sports, like baseball, soccer, field hockey and so on, those athletic scholarships are usually sliced and diced considerably. For example, a baseball player usually receives only 1/4 full ride as compared to a buddy who is on a baseball team.

The point is, if your son or daughter is lucky enough to be recruited, you need to educate yourself on the rules and regulations. The NCAA handbook is a very thick and complex book, so before tackling that, you might want to check out


An Interview with Sue Bird, All-American at UConn and WNBA Superstar

I had the opportunity to interview Sue on my show this AM, and I jumped at it. Lots of questions for her, but most of all, how and why is Geno Auriemma, the long-time head coach at UConn women’s basketball, so successful year after year. As you may know, UConn just won its 11 NCAA championship, which is a national record in any sport.

Sue starred for UConn as a 5-9 point guard, graduating in 2002 on an undefeated UConn team. Voted Naismith Player of the Year, and was selected number one overall by the Seattle Storm in the WNBA.

But growing up in Syosset, Long Island, she recalled that she played a variety of sports, including soccer, right through middle school and into HS. It wasn’t until she was entering her junior year and transferred to Christ the King HS that she focused solely on basketball. That was when she was about 16 and began to realize that college basketball scholarships for her were becoming a real possibility.


“Growing up, I would have never played basketball all year round as a kid,” Sue said, “I mean, just playing one sport all year round would have been boring. I enjoyed playing other sports, and besides, with soccer, I’m quite sure the footwork and quickness I learned from that sport helped me with my basketball progress.”

Sue was prompted to say this because one caller said he had a daughter who was 6-1 in middle school, and as a very good basketball player, she was being pressured by travel teams and even HS coaches to forego all other sports and just focus on hoops. We advised the father to be very careful about these outside pressures, that focusing on one sport all year round can definitely lead to burn out and repetitive use injuries.

Sue did mention that she started to receive form letters from college programs when she was in 8th and 9th grade, but it wasn’t until she was well along into HS that the college coaches really came after her.


She liked Geno right from the start because “he was honest and upfront. Coach Auriemma made it clear that if you came to his school, you would work hard and maybe have a chance to win a championship. But there were no promises about playing time, and no other fluff.”

When she decided to enroll at UConn, Geno showed his rare talent to reach each woman on their individual level. “I’m the kind of athlete where if you yell at me, I will respond to the challenge and step up my game. And Coach Auriemma knew that, said Sue. “But with other players on the team, he knew that if he yelled at them, they would become de-motivated and not play well. Coach had an amazing ability to know how to reach every player in just the right way.”

As to how UConn’s Auriemma prepared them for each game: “He would tell us that you have to prepare for the next game in the same way you would prepare for a big test in school. That is, you need to study hard and then study some more. That way, when you walked into the exam, psychologically you knew you were ready. Same with preparing for basketball games. But if you slacked off during the week and tried to cram the night before the test, you would go into the text being nervous and tentative. Again, same with basketball. You can’t do that and expect to win.”

Excellent advice for coaches who want to learn from Geno Auriemma’s example. And clearly those lessons have stayed with Sue for her entire collegiate and professional career.


COLLEGE RECRUITING: Insider Tips from Noah Savage, Princeton Basketball

With March Madness and state basketball playoffs ongoing, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the concept of college recruiting of HS basketball players. To that end, I asked Noah Savage, who served as the captain of the Princeton basketball team in 2008 and who, as a 6-8 sharpshooter, was an All-Ivy selection, to come on the Sports Edge this AM to talk about what aspiring players (and their parents) should know about playing in college.

Being not that far removed from being a HS player himself, Noah spoke candidly on a wide range of topics and handled a number of calls. Here’s a brief recap of his suggestions:

Division I or III? If you, as a player, don’t know where you might fit in as a college player and at what level, Noah cautioned that pretty much every teammate of his at Princeton had been superstars at their respective HS programs. That is, regardless of how much playing time they got in college, they ALL had been All-this or All-that in HS. Noah recalls that when he was being recruited by Princeton, one of the recruiting coaches told him that Noah — who was All-State in New Jersey – would be competing against a kid from Ohio who had recently scored 52 points in a game.

But as Noah points out, the game changes dramatically once you’re in college. “Let’s say you were a 6-5 center in HS….in college, suddenly, at 6-5, you’re being seen as a guard. The kids are bigger, faster, and stronger than the kids you competed against in HS. And for many players, it’s just too bi of a jump.”


In any event, Noah had some good advice. “Go to a showcase or summer camp, and ask the college coaches there who have seen play — ask them directly for their assessment of where they think you can play. These coaches will tell you the truth. It may not be what you hoped to hear, but unlike a lot of AAU coaches, or HS coaches, or even parents, the college coaches will tell you the truth.

“And by the way, if the coach says you might be a preferred walk-on, don’t be seduced. Walk-ons rarely play, and often get cut the second year as new recruits come into the program.”

I pointed out that, according to the New York Times, close to 40% of all college basketball players transfer out by the end of their sophomore year. “That’s because the college coach tells the sophomore player that the kid is not as good as we thought he was going to be. In other words, the coach is telling the sophomore that he’s probably never going to see any playing time.

“That’s a tough conversation, but at least it’s honest. Then the player can decide for himself whether he wants to remain in the program, or transfer out. In other words, the kid can decide what’s best for him. And a lot of them do transfer out.”


Noah also advocated two other key points:

One, you MUST do your homework and ask the recruiting coach the tough questions, e.g. where do I fit into your program? How much playing time when I have my freshman year? Will I be on the travelling roster? What year is the kid on the team now who plays my position? And of course, how much scholarship money will I receive?

Being told you’re a preferred walk-on, or let’s see what kind of freshman year you have and then we’ll talk about possible scholarship for your second year are serious red flags. In other words, the coach is under no obligation to you at all.

And two, leave your parents out of the decision. Yes, they can and should meet the college coach. But after that, all communication should come from the athlete to the coach, never from Mom and Dad.

To hear the entire interview, go to and find the link for Rick Wolff’s podcast.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: What’s the Perspective on Recruiting from the College Coach?

Wayne Mazzoni has dual careers: one, he’s the long-time pitching coach at Sacred Heart University (Bridgeport, CT) which is a very successful D-1 program, and two, he’s a nationally-recognized expert on college recruiting (check out his website at

Over the years, I have had Wayne on my show to talk about college recruiting tips from the view point of the HS athlete and his or her parents. College recruiting is always a hot topic.

But on this morning’s program, I turned it around a bit. I asked Wayne about how the college coaches themselves viewed the recruiting process, and Wayne’s thoughts were fascinating.

For starters, he emphasized that too many kids (and parents) fail to realize that with the exception of D-I football and basketball, most colleges are very limited by their budget for athletic scholarships, and as a result, it’s the rare athlete who gets anywhere close to a full ride, again, with the exception of football and basketball. As such, Wayne made it clear that many HS athletes, who have excellent grades, can often qualify for an academic scholarship which, along with a partial athletic scholarship, will help pay their tuition.

“If there’s one piece of advice kids need to know is that they really ought to pay attention to their HS grades,” said Mazzoni. “Because if the recruiting college coach can tell the admissions office that your grades are good, that’s going to help a lot in terms of paying bills. Remember, college these days is expensive, and it’s foolish not to get all the scholarship money that you can, regardless of whether it’s for academics or athletics.”


In addition, Wayne cited a statistic that most aspiring athletes don’t realize: that about 50% of the kids who start college playing a sport will end up leaving that sport as they continue in college. There could be any number of reasons for this, e.g. injury, lack of playing time, too much practice time, etc. But very few students seem to know this when they look at colleges. Maybe that’s to be expected — after all, they anticipate being a key member of their college team.

But sadly, this doesn’t always happen. And kids can become depressed and lonely when they stop playing their sport in college.

“This is why I tell kids over and over again that you must find a college where you will be happy for four years even if you aren’t playing a sport there,” Mazzoni says. Remember, for most athletes, their career ends at the end of high school. Playing sports in college is extra dessert.

It’s a good point. The attrition rate for kids leaving a college sport is very high. And don’t forget, with each incoming freshman class, there are more recruiting athletes coming into the mix.


Whether one likes it or not, if your son or daughter wants to be seen by a college coach, getting seen at a reputable showcase is a big, big help. As Wayne says, “I receive hundreds of videotape highlight reels each year, all of them polished, and all accompanied by glowing recommendations from their HS coach. But in truth, I really need to see the youngster play and perform in person. Tapes really don’t help that much.”

He also made it clear that the NCAA has very strict rules and regulations about the recruiting process, and that parents need to understand that the NCAA regs have to be adhered to by the college coach. That being said, any good college program is recruiting for new players 365 days a year, and they are looking for top prospects two years ahead.

One last important point. Wayne made it clear that, sometimes, it seems that kids and their parents are so focused on living their athletic career in the future that they don’t really enjoy the ride during HS. “That’s a shame,” notes Wayne. “You should focus on and enjoy your HS career. Do well there and the future will take care of itself.”

COLLEGE RECRUITING: The Recruiting Myth of College O1Campus Camps

This is the time of the year in which a number of college baseball coaches put on 2-3 day camps, where prospective college baseball players pay a good-sized fee in which to go the college campus, and basically have a chance – along with dozens of other hopeful HS players – go through their paces to impress a college coach and his staff.

These camps are all legit with the NCAA, and of course, as you might imagine, college baseball coaches are thrilled that so many kids want to come to their campus, work out for them, and ideally, get the coach interested in the kid.

But this is also the time of the year when I start getting emails and phone calls from disappointed parents who complain:

“I spent a lot of money on having my son go to that camp….and I don’t think the head coach ever even knew my kid was there….


“We had written the coach weeks before, and he said he was eager to see what my boy could do and invited him to the camp. But when my boy was taking BP, the coach wasn’t even paying attention.


“It was pretty evident to everyone at the camp that the coach and his staff were only interested in watching the pitchers. They didn’t seem to show much interest in the position players, and my son, unfortunately, is an infielder.

Now…let me be careful in my words here. After all, I was a college coach for many years, and I may indeed be heading back into college coaching at some point.

And I have a number of friends who are college coaches.

That being said parents – let me be candid with you.

In theory, these on-campus try-out sessions sound wonderful. After all, what better way for a HS soph or junior to visit a college they’re interested in, meet the head coach and his staff in person, and then get a couple of days to show your ability.

Prices are usually around a few hundred dollars, with some close to $600 — not including transportation and hotel room for the kid and one’s parent. In other words, this is not cheap.

But it all sounds so good.

Now, I’m not going to say that every college baseball camp is like this, but I do get a number of reports each summer that, in effect, strongly suggest that the coach is only interested in those kids who they have recruited to their school; that is, those are the ones who get their full attention.

As for the others who show up, well, unless the coach finds a diamond in the rough, they pretty much will give you and your kid a smile and a handshake and that’s about it.

So unless your kid comes in and hits 3 or 4 homers over the wall, or throws 90+ mph, it’s just pretty much a payday for the coach and his staff.

That’s a rough accusation, but as a parent, you really need to know that.

It’s almost as though the college coach should send out an email saying, “Look, we already know who we want to recruit, so your youngster is more than welcome to come to camp and work out for us, but chances are he’s not going to make us change our minds and recruit him instead of somebody else on our list.”

That would be nice to say because it’s honest and direct, but it won’t happen. Remember, college sports are run like a business, and lots of the money that is generated from these camps go to fund travel for the college team, salaries, etc.

And it’s clearly this is not just baseball. This happens in all sorts of sports, from men’s and women’s lacrosse to men and women’s ice hockey, field hockey, football, and many more. From their perspective, this gives the youngster to visit the campus, see the athletic facilities, meet the coaches (albeit briefly), and as a result, it’s a good deal. Of course, if you’re the athlete or the parent, you come in with all those expectations and much, much more.

But sadly, after the camp is over, most kids go home, and never hear another word from that coach or his staff. In short, they aren’t interested.

Friends, this is the business of college recruiting. As several of my callers mentioned today, parents have to come to grips with the reality that college coaches, especially at the D-1 level, start recruiting top athletes when they are freshmen in HS. By the time your son has finished their junior year, if they he hasn’t heard from a D-1 coach yet, chances are they aren’t interested.

Sure, there are occasionally some kids who do become that rare find at a college summer camp, but that’s very much the exception to the rule.

My advice? Parents, sit down and be candid with your son or daughter when they are applying to college. If they want to continue to play sports in college, make sure that they — and you – – explore ALL programs at different levels so that they can find a college and athletic program that’s the right fit. Don’t expect miracles to occur in the recruiting game, but they are very much few and far betwee

COLLEGE RECRUITING: Learning the Truth from a Former Division One Basketball Player

Nine Questions to Ask When Being Recruited for College Basketball

 By Noah Savage


On July 1st after a student’s junior year, coaches are allowed to have off-campus contact with you as a prospective student athlete. Prior to that, you may call a coach, and they can answer but they cannot call you back. Once they are allowed to call you, coaches are limited to one call per week.

If your high school athlete answers a recruiting call, here are the best questions for them to ask the coach:

  • Coach, have you seen me play in person?

Many coaches might be calling you due to a ranking, a list or another reason besides seeing you play in person. Coaches who are really serious about you will make the effort to see you play.

  • What do you think I do well on the court? What can I improve on and HOW can I go about improving on those areas or skills?

When I was being recruited in high school, I learned that Luol Deng, (the # 2 recruit in the country behind Lebron James at the time) would ask these questions of every coach in the country who called him or spoke to him in person. Not only is it a great way to learn from a college coach what to focus on, it also puts the right message forward about you: that you know you need to work on some aspects of your game. Just make you sure you have a pen and paper handy to take notes during the call.

  • How do you see me fitting into the team on offense and defense? What is your expectation of me? What positions or positions do you see me playing?

 If you’ve been playing guard / forward in AAU and high school and this college coach wants to park you on the block, maybe this isn’t a fit. Conversely, maybe you’ve been a 2-guard your whole life and the coach wants to develop you into a point guard.   Choosing a situation where you can be effective is paramount to success at the next level.

  • How many players currently do you have at my position on the team and what year do they graduate?

No matter where you go, you’ll have to compete in order to play, but you can make a better and more informed decision and can stay away from a situation where you’ll be buried until you are a senior if their best player is your position and is one year older than you.   You can also look at the team’s stats and see if the coach usually plays freshmen and sophomores or tends not to.

  • What is your style of play?

 This is a HUGE thing to consider. So much of success on the court (and off ) is the right player for the right situation.  If you put an non-athletic shooter on a team that loves to press 40 minutes a game, he won’t perform very well. If you’re physically weak and the coach loves to pound it inside to his strong bigs, you’ll either need to put on 25 lbs of muscle or get out of the way.   Either way, the coach will probably explain this in conjunction with how it relates to how you play.

      o   How many players are you recruiting at my position, and if you feel comfortable telling me, where do I fall in terms of your top recruits?

 This is a question you probably don’t want to ask during the first conversation, but can be incredibly useful later in the process. I personally had two Division 1 coaches tell me that they were offering other guys, but if those other fellows didn’t take the scholarships, they would offer me. The other guys took the scholarships and the rest is history, but who knows if these coaches were being genuine.

  • Coach, are you offering me an official visit?

Student athletes can take five expenses paid by the school as official visits during their senior year of high school. Please note that it is extremely rare that the school will offer you a scholarship or a spot on the team if they are not offering an official visit first. If the coach says no, then that may just mean they are not offering you one yet.

Coach, I am seeing some schools on unofficial visits this summer… can I come see your campus and facilities?

 A prospective student athlete can see meet with the coaches (men’s basketball excludes the dead periods and the month of July) and can see the campus at the expense of the family of the athlete.

Coach, are you offering me a scholarship?

 Obviously, this is a question you ask after developing a relationship with the coach after months of contact and (usually) an official visit.   Again, this is a late in the game question but it might help you decide to go with a sure thing rather than go to a college that is still potentially on the fence about offering you.

Coach how much are you going to pay me? Where can I pick up my car?

         Just kidding, don’t ask this.



NOAH SAVAGE, a 6-7 All-Ivy sharpshooter, served as the captain of the Princeton University basketball team in 2007-2008, and then played professionally in Europe. Highly-recruited out of high school, Savage has served as the on-air voice of the Tigers for the last five seasons.

COLLEGE RECRUITING: The Process Only Becomes More Challenging

Wayne Mazzoni, long-time baseball coach at Sacred Heart University and an expert on the process of how HS athletes are recruiting to college programs, was on the show this AM, and as usual, we just didn’t have enough time to get to all the calls.

But one recurring theme from the calls we did get to was clear: the process of HS athletes trying to be recruited by college coaches has, if possible, only become more difficult. Parents are finding this to be a real maze, full of dead ends, misleading statements, or non-returned emails from coaches.

As one caller said, “I thought I knew the process pretty well when it comes to college recruiting, but each year it becomes more and more problematic.”

Another added: “The local high schools ought to do more to educate parents and students about the system works, and what to do about it.”

As Mazzoni explained, it’s a process that is, at  best, poorly understood, and not well mapped out. And it’s up to the individual athlete and their parent to actively market themselves as opposed to simply waiting for college coaches to contact them.

Among the key points Mazzoni made:

> If you email a coach, be sure to add some key personal referral to your note, as in, a recommendation from a former player in that college’s program, or your travel team coach, or a key college alum. In other words, add something that will distinguish you from the thousands of other kids who are sending out similar emails to that college coach.

>Attending a short summer camp (2-3 days) at a college program you’re really interested in. That will cost a little money, but it will give you a real good look at the college’s facilities, the campus, and of course, a chance to meet the coaches. Plus they will meet you in person as well. That always helps.

>Paying for an online search to help market yourself is always an iffy proposition. Coach Mazzoni felt that most college coaches really don’t spend much time combing through these online services. If you do want to use one, try, which is free to HS athletes.

> Above all, you must first find a college that you would be happy at REGARDLESS of whether you play sports there or not. Since so few HS athletes go on to make a team in college, you need to first find a school where you like the campus, where it’s located, what they offer in terms of academics, and of course, the student body.

And one more thing: college today is expensive. Very expensive. So, take your time and do your homework. Make sure you find the right college that is the perfect fit for you, because you’re going to make a very big investment in it. For more information, you can find Wayne Mazzoni at