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January 30, 2012

Extra-early commitments on the rise

Cameron Burrows is one of the top high school football recruits in his class. The type of player that could go to the school of his choice. The type of player schools hold scholarships for.

But after visiting Ohio State earlier this month, the Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison High cornerback told BuckeyeGrove.com and others there was no need to look around anymore. He verbally committed to the school on Jan. 19.

"There wasn't any reason to wait," Burrows told an audience at his announcement press conference.

It's not unusual for athletes to verbally commit to colleges before they officially sign a Letter of Intent during their senior year on National Signing Day, which always falls on the first Wednesday of February.

Burrows' decision, however, was a bit unusual. It came more than a year before his Signing Day. Burrows is just a junior and a member of the Class of 2013.

Burrows announcement is part of a growing trend in recruiting - the extra-early commitment.

The NCAA and its member schools don't necessarily like it. The commitments, after all, are non-binding and don't stop other schools from recruiting the athlete. But it remains a big part of the recruiting timeline.

"This has been going on for six or seven years now," Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. "It does seem to get a little worse each year with more and more kids committed a full calendar year before they can sign, and it will continue to speed up until something is done to slow it down."

But what can be done?

The NCAA instituted a rule a few years back that prevented schools from extending a written offer to an athlete until August of their senior year - it was an effort to eliminate some confusion. But it soon became apparent that there's no way to stop a teenager from announcing where he's going to play football - especially if there's a lot of interest in the answer.

In fact, the desire to stop the process - to stop so many people asking, 'Where are you going to school?' or worse, offering advice - is often cited as a reason to commit early.

"Being a big recruit, and all that goes with that, I think making this decision early will take a lot of the stress off," Beaverton (Ore.) Aloha running back Thomas Tyner said after verbally committing to the University of Oregon ... last Nov. 19

"I've been going to nearly every Oregon game this year and I got the feeling that's where I belong."

Tyner and Burrows are considered two of the top jewels of the Class of 2013. They were two of the 10 juniors that Rivals.com gave its coveted five-star ranking in late December.

Four of the 10 players on that list already have verbally committed to schools; the two are joined by outside linebacker Kenny Bigelow (a USC commit) and defensive end Reuben Foster (Alabama).

Is that early? Consider this: Three of the top 10 players in the Class of 2012 (and 11 of the 32 five-stars) still haven't committed to a school with their National Signing Day just hours away.

Of course, everyone knows verbal commitments are non-binding. Athletes often change their minds - and schools never stop recruiting players.

Foster, of LaGrange (Ga.) Troup High, started to getting scholarship offers as a freshman. He committed to Alabama last July. But that hasn't stopped schools such as in-state power Georgia and Alabama's main rival, Auburn, from recruiting him.

And it didn't stop Foster from making an unofficial visit to Georgia.

Will he eventually flip his commitment? No one can be certain. But you can be sure of one thing, the more kids commit early, the more time the kids will have to flip their choice.

"Earlier commitments obviously lead to more de-commitments," Farrell said. "Eventually the NCAA will have to address it with an effective measure. But for now, this is the way it will be in the foreseeable future."

The future - as in the Class of 2015.

That's the class of quarterback David Sills, Bigelow's teammate at Bear (Del.) Red Lion.

Sills made national news two years ago when he verbally committed to USC as a 13-year-old.

As of now, Sills maintains he's headed to USC. So does Bigelow. In fact, Bigelow cited Sills' decision as a factor in his.

"[USC coach Lane] Kiffin is great," he said. "Our players have obviously known about him since he offered David and he committed and what he's doing out there at USC is great. Knowing David will be following me out there is great, it just makes things easier."

Easier. Everyone wants to make the process easier. Or at least more transparent. Especially the NCAA.

"Verbal commitments have been an area of concern for some of the NCAA's membership since the commitments are not binding for either the prospective student-athlete or the institution," spokeswoman Emily Potter said. "Both parties take a significant risk with these types of offers."

Potter said the NCAA considered but then rejected a proposal that would prevent verbal commitments until the July 1 prior to a student's senior year. Potter said no new legislation is pending.

Meaning student-athletes are own their own.

Or are they?

Burrows, who ranks in the top ten of his class academically, is smart enough to know that other schools will not stop recruiting him - 6-foot-1 cornerbacks with blazing speed are highly coveted.

Luckily for him, the Class of 2013 best cover man has someone covering for him: His coach, Maurice Douglas.

"I'm going to tell everybody that he's off limits," Douglass told BuckeyeGrove.com. "He's (Ohio State's) until they show that they don't want him. They don't have to worry about another guy coming in and sneaking in and trying to back door them."

Now that sounds like a commitment that will be tough to break.

Tom Bergeron is the Senior Editor for RivalsHigh.com. He can be reached at TBergero@Yahoo-Inc.com, and you can click here to follow RivalsHigh on Twitter.



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