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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5 years ago

I call myself a JIT (Just In Time) decision maker – a positive spin on procrastination : ).

As for school decisions – if they call it early or late or change their mind, I still like read about it. Those who commit early and change selection later, just give swim fans more to chitter about.

5 years ago

I am confused: In one thread I am told to let kids go through the process and not be a helicopter parent. Then in this one, I am told to control kids not to make a premature decision. What about if that early decision was right and later he commits to a bad program? How is that good parenting? So, should I be a helicopter parent or a “submarine parent?” I ask those super-parents for advice.

Justin Wright
Reply to  PsychoDad
5 years ago

Probably the best route is to be neither of those options. Every decision in the process should be the athletes. That doesn’t mean a parent shouldn’t be heavily involved in the process by making sure that their athlete has all important information available to them. Key idea here is guiding the athlete, not influencing. College recruiting is far too much for a kid to go through without expirenced parents/coaches/friends.

5 years ago

It’s a vicious circle for the swimmer. Simply because other swimmers are doing things “early” and teams are committing to student-athletes early means my swimmer must do the same or risk losing any chance at either a scholarship or even walk-on opportunity.

With only about 2.5/year, if a school commits the bulk of those to juniors, waiting until you’re a senior, and you get in your 5 official visits, then take time to make a decision – the offers still available will be few, and probably not at the schools you are interested in, especially if it’s a higher rated program.

Thus my student-athlete has no choice but to start this process now, travel the country on our own dime,… Read more »

Reply to  AnotherSwimDad
5 years ago

My two cents: I do agree that scholarship money itself can dry up for swimmers who wait to commit – after all, there’s only a finite amount of money, and in swimming (men’s especially) the limit is extremely low. On the other hand, I don’t buy that a program will completely run out of roster space. If a swimmer is good enough to potentially contribute at the conference level, I doubt many coaches will turn them away in punishment for waiting until the winter to commit. That’s a bit of a bluff by coaches to get kids committed early, and I don’t believe that most coaches will back it up, not unless the kid is really borderline in terms of… Read more »

EB swim mom
Reply to  Jared Anderson
5 years ago

I think a swimmer has to find the right fit. The window of taking visits for swimming (after your first day of high school until the Nov dead period) causes unnecessary stress. In some parts of the country kids are in HS season Aug-Nov. Trying to fit in official visits, perform in HS, keep up with academics and participate in their senior year causes unnecessary stress. Why not allow for those visits after April 1 of Junior year? Then there may be less pressure to early commit. Kids will have time to take their visits and make informed decision.

We had visits scheduled Sept through October of this year. Had to cancel the last two visits (which may have… Read more »

Reply to  EB swim mom
5 years ago

Take those official visits after April 1 now inconveniences the student-athlete on the college team. You are now asking them to host a prospect during their final month of the semester when school is cranked up the most, after missing almost a week to two weeks of school for their conference championship and NCAA or NIT meets the two months before.

If a school is a better fit, book that trip first. If it is about finances, do not look at schools you cannot afford.

EB Swim Mom
Reply to  CoachClassy
5 years ago

“CoachClassy” it’s happening anyway at the parent expense. No one said it had to by in April or May.

How do you know if the school is a better fit? There is no chance to find out the way it’s currently structured. Traveling 5 weekends in a row is hard on students. BTW: we looked at 0 schools that we not in our budget.

If only it was as easy as you say.

Rick Paine
Reply to  Jared Anderson
5 years ago

Jared you are correct that scholarship money will run out sooner than later. Keep in mind that not every school is fully funded. Swimming scholarships can be guaranteed beyond the first year. Some coaches do and some don’t. The kids have to ask the coach.

Quite a few men’s teams have a cap on the number of swimmers they can have on a roster. I just found out that one particular D-I team team has a roster size limit on the number of women they can have. This is the first cap I have seen on a women’s team.

We are still trying to determine which college coaches will play hard ball with the early offers.

LIke it… Read more »

Butler Buck
5 years ago

All sports have the issue with early commitments. We have a friend who committed to a top 10 D1 baseball program as a sophomore and, three years later, ended up not going to that school due to the expense of attending an out-of-state public school. Football kids get flipped late in the process. Could be grades, could be distance from home, could be that dream offer comes through late in the process.

It would be interesting to see if the real reason around the changes (including freshman transfers) is around $$$$ of a kid going out of state and then having to come closer to home due to affordability/debt.

With the number of swim programs that were cancelled… Read more »

5 years ago

Our swimmer researched programs early and made a list of schools based on swim program results, reputation of education programs and field of study, watching videos of teams and coaches in action, taking virtual campus tours, etc. From there we attended as many junior days and unofficial visits as possible, and they had weekly calls with recruiting coaches. There was some pressure to early commit, but we encouraged our swimmer to stay the course and do as many official visits as possible. Our swimmer’s #1 school was moved to the bottom of the list after the official visit. Teams aren’t always what they seem on the surface, based on stats and rankings and brief encounters. The official visit was the… Read more »

Reply to  Swammer
5 years ago

Yes! This is spot on and exactly what we did with our swimmer. I echo the importance of official visits – you do NOT get the same feel for the team (swimmers and coaches) during an unofficial. Also, it’s important to understand the team dynamic and how you will FIT in that program. If you commit as a sophomore or junior, the majority of the swimmers on the current team will BE GONE by the time you start your freshman year in college! Lots can change in 2-3 years. If there’s no “expiration date” on an offer, why rush to accept it? If there are college coaches giving deadlined-offers to sophomore and juniors, then that’s the source of this problem!

5 years ago

“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.”

What defines a “better” decision? Some swimmers/families may be weighing different factors when making this decision. For some, the amount of money they get is the primary driver, so it pays to commit early. For some, it is the school that they always dreamed of going to because they are lifelong fans and their parents, siblings, or even grandparents attended the same school. They would go to that school even if swimming weren’t a factor. For others it’s the school they feel gives them… Read more »

5 years ago

This is a slippery slope. What is interesting is that swimming has been one of the hold outs. Other sports have already slipped into the abyss. I personally know kids in other sports like baseball, that committed before they ever swung a bat in high school. In some cases both coach and player held true, but others didn’t… Both ways. Injuries, progression, etc from the coach. Change of heart by the player. But the premise of the article is right, the earlier the committee, the higher the probability of change. These past few years, it’s just started to get worse in swimming it seems. I can’t recall many sophomore commits till ASU this year. Hand it to Bowman for being… Read more »

Seth Huston
5 years ago

Who can blame juniors in high school making the biggest decision to date in their life when they are being endlessly contacted and encouraged to respond and visit with college coaches. It is an ego boost and flattering to be noticed and appreciated. The NCAA has softened its long standing recruiting contact rules in an effort to give more control to specific sports, coaching associations and in an effort decentralize its power.
Instead of juniors trying to figure out who to go to homecoming with and when they should sign up for the ACT/SAT and preparing for their club and high school season; they are responding to texts and setting up sales calls and visits at their own expense… Read more »

Reply to  Seth Huston
5 years ago

Although I agree with most of what you are saying, I think there is nothing wrong to follow the standard process. Juniors/seniors do not need to commit early unless they are offered full scholarships, but again, that is only a special group of swimmers, not the general case. It is important that parents should be supportive of their kids in the process and not let them make a premature decision. This is also a double-edged process for the coaches: a swimmer may peak early in high school with excellent times but end up not doing so well during the college years. I can’t speak for the coaches, but I would rather want to work with swimmers with an increasing performance… Read more »

Reply to  SwimDad
5 years ago

Seth is a coach – Head coach at Rice University

Reply to  Seth Huston
5 years ago

Lacrosse changed their rules recently as 8th graders were verbally committing. Now no college coach contact before Junior year.

I think swimmers should be able to take officials after Jan 1 junior year. It’s happening unofficially anyway, the cost is just being absorbed by the parents. This year is so much different than even 2017.

Rick Paine
Reply to  Seth Huston
5 years ago

Seth, I couldn’t agree with you more. We will be seeing more transfers because a decision that a 16 year old might make is not the same decision an 18 year old will make. I think we will see some kids who commit early decide to be less serious about their training after they commit.
I has become a feeding frenzie and yo are right, it will get worse before it gets better.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner 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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