Sportswriters are not supposed to write fictional stories, so I feel pretty foolish each time I'm forced to let readers know that a high school athlete has made an early college commitment when there's a good chance it's about as true as when a mother writes a note excusing her son from P.E. class for a toothache.
All these Internet publications that rush to announce commitments have started to use the term, "soft verbal," which means the commitment is worthless and the kid is eagerly accepting phone calls and offers from other schools.
This is the silliness of 2011. The NCAA recently decided not to get rid of early offers, so let the games and misleading information continue.
"These early commitments are a bunch of baloney," Long Beach Poly football Coach Raul Lara said.
Thank you, Coach Lara, for saying what needs to be said. How a 17-year-old is supposed to finalize his college choice without taking an official visit, without examining all the academic and athletic consequences and without meeting the people he's going to be around for four and five years, such as teachers, administrators, coaches and fellow students, is ridiculous.
And yet, it keeps happening, these early commitments, only to see the teenager change his mind, which comes as no surprise.
Two weeks ago, four Long Beach Poly football players committed to Arizona State, three of them receivers. That's 10 months before they can even sign a letter of intent. How did it happen?
In the case of receiver Richard Smith, he said he was wooed after attending a junior day at Arizona State.
"I got so excited and rushed and committed," he said.
But on Saturday, Smith said, "I'm still going to keep my options open."
In other words, let recruiters keep coming with offers. Arizona State might be his leader, but Smith isn't yet a Sun Devil, so forgive me if I haven't written a story about four Poly players committing to Arizona State. They have their entire senior season to come, not to mention a summer of constant recruiting, and if they continue to develop, other schools are going to make their recruiting pitch. Call me skeptical for not believing they're all going to end up in Tempe.
Upland receiver Kenny Lawler is another Arizona State "soft commit," but he's suddenly picking up offers from UCLA, Nebraska and Washington. South East receiver Robert Lewis committed to Southern Methodist, but he has offers now from Oregon and Colorado.
If you're truly committed, then stop having your coaches and advisors put out information about additional offers.
Another example of an early commitment being too early involves pitcher Mathew Troupe of West Hills Chaminade. He committed to Oregon State prior to his junior year. Last November, he signed with Arizona even though everyone expected him to sign with Oregon State. On the night before, he said he changed his mind. He had taken an official visit to Oregon State in October and began having second thoughts.
He said the lesson he learned was "don't let the idea of committing to a school too early get into your head. I thought it was the coolest thing and didn't think about it. I was so young."
Of course, college recruiters are putting pressure on athletes to commit early and threatening to pull their offers. I say call their bluffs. If a coach really wants someone bad enough, he'll wait, especially if the kid has the grades and talent.
I think back to Jan. 23, 2008, the day Matt Barkley, a junior at Santa Ana Mater Dei, announced he would attend USC. There was no news conference. There was no live TV announcement. There was no picking from three different college hats. It was a simple email informing media of his decision. Barkley was certain of his choice because he had gone to USC numerous times. He had done his research. He made it clear his recruitment was over. There was real integrity and commitment in his announcement.
How refreshing in an era when no one knows what to believe.