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Commitments in sports — are they made to be broken?

Western Hills’ Wandale Robinson originally committed to Kentucy but now will go to Nebraska.

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about commitment. There appears to be a lot of confusion about what a commitment really is. Some people have said that a commitment doesn’t really mean anything. Others say that a commitment is your word and it should be final. Your word is your bond.

The Cambridge Dictionary says the definition of commitment is, “a promise or firm decision to do something.”  A promise is generally accepted as a pledge that shouldn’t be broken. And yet we see people break commitments every day – especially in the world of athletics.

Why is that? Why do people feel no need to honor their commitments. In today’s society it is rare when we see a day go by that someone in sports is not breaking a commitment. Sometimes it is a coach breaking a written contract with his current employer because he has the opportunity to move to what’s considered a higher position where he can make more money. Other times it is an athletic director telling a coach that even though they have a written agreement he no longer has a job as the coach because the athletic director or powerful boosters feel that the coach isn’t winning enough games or maybe doesn’t control the program the way they feel it should be controlled.

Either way both sides have taken their “commitment” or pledge and thrown it out the window. It means nothing. And we have taught that same level of commitment to our children.

How many times has an athlete “committed” to a school only to come back later and renege on that commitment because they see what they believe is a better opportunity. How often do players accept a scholarship only to later transfer to another school because the circumstances aren’t what they thought they would be and now the grass looks greener somewhere else.

So since everyone — athletic directors, coaches and athletes — are all breaking their commitments should it really be a big deal?

Well let’s look at a couple of instances. Let’s use football as an example. Recently the University of Louisville fired its head coach, Bobby Petrino. They were no longer committed to Petrino because he only won two games this season. Of course they have to pay him the entire sum of his contract so most people say, “no big deal if they broke the commitment, he’s getting paid.” 

But think about it. Because the commitment was broken there are now several assistant coaches who are unemployed. They may or may not be getting paid. They now have to uproot their families, move to a new location and start all over somewhere else. There are all kinds of support staff positions that lose their jobs — strength coaches, dietitians, assistants, etc. – that are also impacted by the breaking of this commitment. The players will now be playing for a new coach in a different scheme that they didn’t commit to. The ripple effect is felt by a lot of people, sometimes for a very long time. So is it important to keep the commitment?

There is also additional fallout from this broken commitment. The new head football coach that was hired at U of L decides that the commitment U of L Athletic Director Vince Tyra and former Head Coach Bobby Petrino made to 15 to 20 high school players that they would have a football scholarship next year at U of L now means nothing. The new coach, Scott Satterfield, told all his “commitments” that he was revoking their scholarship offers from U of L. Now these players, who passed up other offers because they were “committed” to U of L have nowhere to go to school. Since it is three weeks until National Signing Day most of the other schools have already moved on and made commitments of their own to other players. That means these former U of L “commitments” are left holding the bag because someone else decided to break their commitment somewhere back up the line.

What about the reverse situation of this? Let’s say a coach recruits a player for a couple of years. Puts in long hours traveling to see the player play. Works hard to build a good relationship with the player. Misses his own kids games, school events, birthdays so they he can build this great relationship with a player hoping to get his “commitment.”  The player decides  to commit. Holds a big press conference and publicly “commits” that he will play his sport at the aforementioned coach’s school. The coach is thrilled. He needs the player to help him win games and keep his job. All the hard work and sacrifice has paid off. He has a commitment.

Then in the last few days before National Signing Day the player gets a visit from another coach. A coach that represents a big powerhouse school. He didn’t bother to recruit the kid because the coach thought he could get a better player elsewhere . But now at the 11th hour he needs a player at this kid’s position. So he swoops in and makes an offer.

And like a girl who gets a last minute invitation to the prom from the most popular guy in school the player “de-commits” from the coach that spent literally years of his life developing this relationship and signs with the coach that only spent a few hours showing the kid his championship rings and how cute the girls at the new school will be.

Is that ok to de-commit? What is the fallout for the old coach? Now he has to scramble at the last minute hoping to find another player to fill  his spot — maybe he will and maybe he won’t. If he can’t then maybe the next year the coach doesn’t win enough games and he gets fired. Another commitment is broken and the ripples start all over again.

So back to the original question. Is it ok to break your commitments? Do they really mean nothing? Here’s my take on it.

Many years ago a whole generation made a commitment to put their lives on the line to stop a madman named Adolph Hitler from taking over the world. Teenage boys committed to fight and die in a war they didn’t create so that others that came after them could live in a country free of tyranny.

I’m sure once they made it to the beaches of Normandy or the swamps of Guadalcanal they found out the conditions weren’t what they had been promised. They could have jumped up and said, “wait a minute , this isn’t what I was promised. Commitment or not, I’m out of here.”  But they made a commitment and it cost many of them their lives to keep that commitment. But because of their willingness to keep a commitment the United States is a free nation today.

So the next time you hear someone say, “Oh it’s just a commitment, it doesn’t mean anything” think about all the commitments that have been kept in the past so that we all can lives our lives as we do today. With a little perspective it’s easier to see that commitments are important – and should be kept – even if it costs you something. Because sometimes the cause is bigger than you are and the sacrifice is made to accomplish a task that is larger than ensuring one individual’s comfort. But of course that’s just my opinion. What about yours?

3 comments

  1. My dad taught me at an early age that the only thing you truly own is your word! Do not give it lightly, but once given, keep it at all costs! You will be known as a man of honor and your word is as good as gold. Something to treasure the rest of your life. People will seek to do business and have a relationship with you, because the can depend on your word. It is easy to cheat, lie and go back on your word, but where does it really get you in life? You can still achieve things in life, but it is a much more difficult road to follow. Value are taught at an early age by loving parents and then reflected by your children at a later date. The question is, how much do you value yourself? Why should others value you more?

  2. I have pondered this situation, primarily with respect to college football recruiting for awhile. This issue of honoring commitments should be embarrassing to the individuals involved directly involved in making and breaking them, but in our culture today, there has been a general loss of the idea of shame.

    The institutional elements of this problem extend to coaches ( the adults in the picture) because they clearly refuse to honor the commitments that young recruits make in the recruiting process. Kids learn from the adults in their lives.

    Once a commitment is made, all coaches who covet the services of that player must have the integrity to stop all contact with that player. No exception, no grace period. A commitment must be honored to have any significance. However, college football coaches refuse to honor these commitments.

    A recruit, having made a commitment, is not bound to that commitment under usual rules, and that recruit may formally withdraw his commitment at any time prior to signing with his school. However, there is a proper way for a recruit to withdraw a commitment. First, the recruit should notify the coach to whom he had committed, of his decision to withdraw the commitment, and then and only then make a public announcement that he has reopened his recruitment. Then and only then may coaches from other schools contact this recruit again.

    This system, as it operates today, is a disgrace upon college football and specifically upon the man who run the show. They are the ones with the greatest issues with integrity.

    Have you no shame?

  3. I agree with you Keith, completely. If young adults can drive cars today, vote at an age many still consider them as adolescents, and be able to join the armed forces of the United States to go and possibly give their lives to protect our freedoms, then they should honor any and all their commitments, or don’t make one, or even lead people (coaches) on. Parents should teach them this too. As Ben said, your word is your bond. Coaches are not exempt in this either, or AD’s. A handshake years ago was all that was needed. Not so today. The world of win at all costs today have turned collegiate sports into a whorish business. Our Professor on VV’s here is absolutely right in his post above. I am certainly not a Petrino fan, but Tyra did not handle that right IMO. UofL made their bed under Jurich and should have slept in it for the sake of honoring their word. What really happened is, they saw their football program struggle for a year under BP, who by the way, put them on the map to start with, and they got envious of the Big Blue in 2018. Can I just say here that UofL is trying to outshine UK in the area of collegiate sports, and you can’t blame them, and they will do anything short of murder to do just that. That is all that was about IMO. Tyra’s decision will now cost them dearly financially. Also these young men (these recruits) who made commitments to the UofL football program are sort of sucking wind now. Other men are out of jobs, and all for what? For win at all costs and the almighty dollar. As for Wandale Robinson, he can go to Nebraska, UK will be fine without him. They don’t need him, but he sure could have helped pad the current roster, he is a great athlete. That said, he broke his word to many people in Kentucky, not just to Coach Stoops and staff. Fans who would have cheered him on donning the Blue and White, and made him a state hero. Now many, including myself, will remember him in a negative way, and him a fellow Kentuckian. I am not a big Stoops fan, but I do believe down deep in my heart that UK should honor it’s commitment to him and his family, and he should honor his to UK. Good luck with all that in this day and time though. We live in a world today where wrong is right and right is wrong.

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