Are College Basketball's Handshake Deals Still Viable?

↵ ↵Terrence Jones' recruitment was the weird story of the college basketball silly season this year. Jones originally committed to Washington, going so far as to do the pick-up-and-put-on-a-U-Dub-hat routine at a press conference—then changed his mind and picked Kentucky. This sort of thing happens fairly often in college football: fluid and loose "commitments" tossed around in the summer and fall, no recruits off limits until the ink is dry, and National Signing Day usually featuring a handful of recruits decommitting or switching schools. ↵

↵

↵But basketball is different, and has been for a long time. Coaches recruit smaller classes and have more time with their recruits, and a committed player defecting is a rarer thing. Listen to Bruce Pearl tell it, and decommitting shouldn't even be permissible. ↵

↵
↵⇥"In basketball, once a young man makes a commitment, we're supposed to be hands off," Pearl said during a Big Orange Caravan stop this week. "In football, that's not the case." ↵⇥

↵⇥... ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥"To me, it's consistent with contract law," Pearl said. "If a kid gives me a verbal commitment and, God forbid, he gets hurt and never plays a down or a minute, he's going to be on scholarship because that verbal contract is as good as signing a national letter of intent to me. ↵⇥

↵⇥

↵⇥"I think that's how we should operate." ↵⇥

↵
↵Pearl's preference, of course, does not an NCAA edict make, and his idea of verbal commitments and handshakes being legally binding is laughable. But his point is worth considering: is it possible to streamline recruiting and make it more black-and-white? ↵

↵It would be a lot easier to enforce binding verbal commitments in basketball recruiting than it is in football recruiting, sure. But basketball coaches switch jobs as often, if not more, than their gridiron counterparts, and that uncertainty is what leads talented players like Brandon Knight to eschew a letter of intent and keep their options open. ↵

↵

↵If Pearl wants to play by his rules and guarantee Tennessee honors his commitments to recruits, he's perfectly capable of doing so, but he has to understand that the recruits are high schoolers who make capricious decisions all the time, and those kids shake hands with a great many coaches. Pearl can talk about wanting recruits with the character to stick to a commitment all he wants, but, especially with underclassmen committing more often in basketball than in football, a rule requiring binding commitments would create new problems as it solves others. Austin Rivers would be required to go to Florida under a binding system, and the saga of Ryan Boatright would be a case study in how awful binding deals could be. ↵

↵

↵Perhaps there is a solution somewhere in between total freedom and binding verbal/handshake deals, like a way to sign a scholarship guarantee that isn't a letter of intent, tying a recruit to a school as long as the coach doesn't leave, with the time period for guarantees limited to a recruit's senior year. It's not perfect, but nothing about recruiting ever will be, and Bruce Pearl pining for a mythical world of ethical recruiting seems more like positioning of Tennessee as a paragon of conduct (well, in basketball, at least) than an honest stab at reform. ↵

↵

↵And what could that ethics-are-great approach help? Recruiting, of course. ↵

↵

↵(HT: Rocky Top Talk.) ↵

↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.