#RealTalk - What is a scholarship offer?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

#RealTalk - What is a scholarship offer?

Six years ago I wrote a column for ESPN to illustrate just fluid scholarship offers can be. 

To do so, I recalled three personal conversations with college coaches.

In the first, a head coach from the Big East didn't know who his team had offered because he didn't put much stock in it.

The second, was a high-major assistant who admitted they offered only because other schools had and weren't even sure they could accept a commitment if the prospect tried to do so.

The third, was an Atlantic 10 assistant who reached out after seeing an offer his program reportedly made and informed me that it wasn't true and that the AAU coach was knowingly releasing inaccurate information. 

All three conversations are representative of things that still happen and the moral of the story is as true today as it was then...scholarship offers are nowhere near as tangible as they may sometimes appear, especially on social media. Whether it's a college coach, AAU coach, or even the parent or player, there are plenty of scenarios where people are motivated to create the allusion of an offer, even if one doesn't exist. 

More typical today are these "offers" being used as a form of collateral with which college coaches can barter with prospects, prep or grassroots coaches. 

For example, if a college is recruiting one player, perhaps a rising senior from a certain grassroots team, they'll extend an "offer" to a younger player or two from the same program as a way to build goodwill and help that program promote their younger players. 

Similarly, if a college has a strong relationship with a particular prep or grassroots program they may "offer" one of their new players without having ever seen them. They're not ready to take a commitment from that player, but it cements their relationship with the player's new coach by helping to build his credibility.  

Another increasingly common strategy is for college coaches to "offer" prospects in bulk early in the process, just incase they end up wanting to recruit them later, not because they've already committed to it. That way, they can say "we've been on you the longest." 

Here's the other reality, there is nothing binding about a scholarship offer. Even if it is a legitimate offer initially, it isn't on the table forever. When a school decides to recruit a certain position or need, they're almost never putting all of their eggs in one basket by recruiting just one player at that position, and so if someone else takes the spot first, it's gone.

Schools will also "back-off" if, upon further evaluation, they realize a prospect might not be able to help them quite as much as initially thought or even if the needs of their team change. They never formally take away the offer, but they'll stop calling and attending games. 

Conversely, the narrative that an offer is only valid if the head college coach calls the head high school coach isn't always true either. Different schools operate in different ways, both in the way in which they decide to hand out offers and the way in which they communicate them. 

So what does it all mean?

Some offers are real and some are simply not. Some are favors, others are conditional, and some are outdated. They aren't tangible chips that can be collected or accumulated and they can't accurately be listed or measured anywhere online.

For prospects, their families and coaches, the way to counter all of this misinformation is with education, awareness, and maturity. They need to be aware of the fact that college coaches are sometimes intentionally ambiguous; be able to identify the warning signs of less concrete scholarship offers; understand the fleeting nature of even true offers; temper their enthusiasm when rushing to their computer or smartphone to promote their latest news; and not get discouraged by the incomplete and often inaccurate information that exists online and on social media.