NCAA Survey Reveals Earlier Commitments Result in More Changes

Welcome to SwimSwam’s feature, called simply SwimSwam Discussion. We might rename it at a later point in time (Hospitality Room, anybody?), but for now that’s what we’ll call it. In this series, we’ll take a question about swimming, usually geared toward the more hardcore of our nerds, and pose it to our audience. These questions will be based on real-life conversations SwimSwam staff has had with real-life swim fans, usually coaches, and we will invite our audience to discuss the subject in the comments section.

This is our 2nd time looking at this issue in SwimSwam Discussion. See the first chat here.

Sometimes, statistics defy expectations. Sometimes, though, they validate what everyone already assumed they knew. The latest statistic from the NCAA will surprise literally nobody. The organization that governs most collegiate athletics in the United States has released results of a survey they conducted on transfer trends in Division I (see more here). They highlighted one result on their Twitter account: that high school athletes who commit earlier are less likely to wind up at the school they first


This will be of concern for swim fans, because the sport is trending toward earlier-and-earlier commitments – with junior verbals no longer being that surprising, and even sophomore commitments increasing in frequency.

I once was watching a show on some science-themed television channel (Discover, The Science Channel, something along those lines) that was trying to draw trends among incredibly successful leaders. They eschewed any trends about college degrees, intelligence levels, or personality types, instead focusing on one very specific commonality: the uber-succesful leaders are procrastinators.

Procrastination for those at the top of the food chain is a different animal than what most of the world deals with. Top leaders in industries are often more focused on discussion and decision-making than nose-to-the-grindstone work. So by procrastinating, the benefit for those leaders is that they have as much information as is possible before making their decisions, and therefore by procrastinating, on average, make better decisions than the rest of us.

And that feels applicable to the college commitment process. Yes, there’s lots of work to get to that level – but ultimately, the recruiting process is a decision-oriented process, not a process-oriented….process.

The outcome implied by those studies then is that by making decisions earlier, and with less information, high school athletes are, on average, making worse decisions, and therefore wind up changing their decisions more. All of which makes sense.

What is there to do about this? Unless the NCAA finds some creative legislation to stop it, there’s not much that can be done on a macro level (though an individual parent or coach is free to try and fight it for their student-athletes).

And swim fans will be happy to know that so far, the number of 4-year college to 4-year college transfers are actually trending down back to the NCAA’s first-reported results in 2004.

Still, if athletes are trending toward making worse decisions, then the key is to change the mindset – accept that athletes might change their minds more often, hopefully before enrollment rather than after – and learn to embrace that reality with a positive attitude. Don’t view a transfer or change of commitment as a black mark – view it as the athlete making a decision for a better outcome.

“Commitment” is viewed as one of the golden qualities of success in our modern American society. You’ve made a decision, now live with it. But perhaps allowing some room for thoughtful deviation from that premise will help better outcomes overcome worse decisions.


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Honestly, I do not understand the negative backlash against committing to a school early. As a recently committed swimmer in the class of 2018, I can relay that the college search process is extremely stressful, and as soon as I was able to find the school I loved and commit to them I felt an enormous burden lift itself off both mine and my parent’s shoulders. What sometimes gets lost in this whole discussion is the fact that you are able to research schools, programs, swim teams, and your potential fit into all of those in a way that was unprecedented and unavailable before. It is easier to make a well informed and stress-relieving decision much earlier than in prior… Read more »

A non-e mouse

What’s the use of rushing a decision for the purpose that it is “stressful”? That seems like a good way to add more stress later on if you didn’t happen to make the right decision. And while resources are certainly out there to find good academic and athletic fits, in my opinion the social fit is really what is important for a college athlete and the best way to get a good “feel” for the social aspects of a team is an official visit. I would say in my experience most transfers are because of a lack of “fitting in” at the school rather than academics or swimming. Just my two cents though


I was trying to convey that the acess to technology allows the swimmer to decide what schools to prioritize. Many schools offer junior days, which are wonderful opportunities to meet the team and see if you would fit in, as you aptly say. Sometimes at these unofficial visits it can be revealed to the recruit that this particular school checks all of the boxes and creates a welcoming environment. On top of school regulated dates, students have the ability to look at schools and go on visits at their discretion, as long as they pay for everything on their trip. I wasn’t trying to state that there is any rushing of the decision of any early commits, as some people… Read more »

Steve Nolan

I think there’re two separate critiques about early commitments. There’s the one Braden talks about here – by committing early, a kid’s more likely to be unhappy with where they ended up and transfer. That one seems pretty fair to me. But then there’s the other side, the people that go nuts that THAT STUDENT MADE A COMMITMENT AND MUST HONOR IT, which, idk, people are dumb.


The #1 read and shared article at the NY Times is No doubt that the pressures from perceived expectations from parents, friends, peers, and the swim community would make a teen in an already pressurized world crave the luxury of dealing with a “normal” adolescence.


Dude all of high school was 9000% harder than it needed to be.

The student part of student athlete pressures for college drove me right off the elite path (nat top 10 as a freshman), and I ended up settling and committing to a school that wasnt a good fit because I didnt think I had the grades and didnt want to deal with the system.

In retrospect I shoulda either BSed harder and rode them 2.0s all the way or quit school sooner and start my rap career earlier. But I turned out alright. Some of these kids…. didnt.


Timing is everything and for some Juniors it is certainly in their best interest to “strike while the iron is hot.” I’ve heard of several talented swimmers not necessarily getting the offers they expected due to the schools were “running out of money” from earlier commits.

Justin Wright

I’ve been saying for years, if swimming continues the trend of earlier and earlier verbal commitments, we are going to see an increase in decommitments as well. I also figure people will get used to decommitments and they will no longer be “taboo”. Now call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather encourage athletes to wait and make informed decisions the first time rather than a strictly emotional and uninformed decision early.


This currently seems to be a one-way process (swimmer decommitment). The problem would be more concerning when coaches start denying the swimmers more frequently. If the whole process is shifting towards earlier years (junior, sophomore), then we can expect that swimmers will start peaking early in their high school years. If their results start to decline in their senior years, it is possible that the decommitment could be a two-way process. If I were a coach, I would be careful not to offer a scholarship early and pay close attention to swimmer’s performance trend including the senior year. I am not a coach, so would like to hear their opinion.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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