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In College Football Recruiting, a Few Decommitments Aren't a Reason to Panic

by on June 27, 2019 4:45 AM


A few days ago I bumped into a Penn State fan right after a span where a highly-rated Pennsylvania recruit chose Ohio State and some previous Nittany Lion pledges had decommitted. He asked if Penn State fans should be concerned about that recruit and the run of decommitments that were occurring.

Many other fans share his concerns, but answers to allay them can be discussed without getting into specific players. Some of these highly-hyped high school players do not need any more attention.

But this friend said, “This guy is the best receiver in the country. Have you seen his highlight tape?”

Not having seen this kid play, I watched his highlights. He was the best player on the field, which is kind of the point of a highlight tape. There might be 20 other receivers who are better, there might not be. There might be more. No recruiting site can know for sure. There may even be a handful of guys that no one has ever even heard of that may be better.

To illustrate that point, Exhibit A: Penn State’s Allen Robinson. At this point in his recruitment Allen was an unknown player drawing scant attention at Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s High School outside of Detroit. Michigan and Michigan State hadn’t even offered him.

It wasn’t until after his senior season in 2010 when Allen’s high school coach told Penn State Coach Ron Vanderlinden about him. We offered him and he committed. In college football history there are countless numbers of guys like Allen Robinson.

The moral of the story is that no one recruit is bigger than the program and no one recruit makes or breaks the program. There are dozens and dozens of receivers that are exceptional enough to help a team win it all. Fans should not panic over losing a player or two.

But the second thing this friend brought up in recruiting was a lack of commitment in football from recruiting decommitments to the transfer portal. 

Recruiting rankings may be exciting, but the far more important ranking would be a retention ranking. The programs who retain players get more years developing them as they get bigger and stronger and grow from 17- or 18-year-old kids to become 21-or 22-year-old men.

Also, from a strictly business perspective, the schools who retain players get a return on their investment. At a school like Penn State, by the time an out-of-state player finishes his freshman year the school has invested a significant amount of money in tuition, food, medical expenses, books and tutoring for him. That doesn’t even include the hours and hours of training and meetings put into that player. If a player leaves that investment is gone.

Coaches and fans across the country complain about decommitments and transferring and blame a lack of character in the kids. But part of it comes back really to how you recruit players. If you sell easy fame, riches and NFL three-and-done, the player and his family expect immediate results. Often when that path hits a speed bump through adversity or even hard work players may lose their trust in the coaches. 

Many people say that kids are different now. At their core young people haven’t changed. They still want to know what the expectations are. They want adults to be honest with them. They want to know what attaining greatness will require from them.

The kids haven’t changed but the adults around them have changed. This generation of parents is definitely different. Talk to teachers or coaches and they’ll tell you how parents’ behavior has changed. Some are more impatient than the players as they see their star football-playing son as a lottery ticket. But if that is what they are being sold and that is the pitch they get from wave after wave of coaches then you see where they develop that lack of perspective.

Now as it relates back to my friend who asked about the decommitments, over the long run you’re better off without them. You’re better off knowing that now rather than having that player bail in a year when you’ve put a lot of time and money into him.

It is a challenging time in recruiting and coaching. For years there have been coaches who would say anything and everything and break lots of NCAA rules to get kids. But with the transfer portal creating a level of accountability after a player signs, the need for honesty up front in the recruiting process may be the key to improving your retention rate. Through player development over time that retention may well end up improving your program and team as well.


State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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