High-stakes college football loyalty cuts both ways.
Coaches on Wednesday must avoid big signing day mistakes, or suffer the public indignity of having to return courtesy vehicles while accepting a seven-figure contract buyout.
Programs want to protect their recruiting investments, soon to get more costly with major conferences likely to embrace "full cost of attendance" scholarships.
But players only love you when they're playing - the earlier the better. More top prospects are looking at college as a brief stop on the way to big money; 103 players have declared for early entry into the 2014 NFL draft, up from the previous record of 73 set last year.
It all makes for pumped up signing day drama against an increasing backdrop of truth or dare. Many coaches dangle "committable" and "non-committable" offers to sophomores and juniors. Players "flip" from one school to another more frequently.
"Coaches, whether you like it or not, they're going to battle 'til the very end, until that pen hits paper," ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said. "In their opinion, a verbal commitment is just an indication of who they have to beat on a prospect."
Cliffhangers aside, real recruiting battles last longer than signing day sound bites.
Longer and longer by the year, it seems.
The best prospects have all the leverage, but coaches are countering with early offers. Hedged offers, in some cases. Alabama head coach Nick Saban last spring acknowledged a poorly kept secret within the recruiting circles of various college sports - that many offers are "committable" only after the coaching staff has evaluated a player during an on-campus camp.
Particularly, Saban said, for those at "certain positions."
'How you intermingle'
Quarterback, for instance. Alabama gave class of 2014 Georgia high school star DeShaun Watson a non-committable offer after Watson gave a verbal commitment to Clemson (Watson is now enrolled at Clemson).
If you want these things to work out as well and fair as possible for players and programs, there's nothing wrong with a careful approach.
"Coaches are doing this not only to protect themselves but to be up front with the prospect," said Luginbill, Georgia Tech's starting quarterback in 1994. "They're saying, 'OK, we would like to offer you a scholarship but it is predicated upon you coming to campus, you coming to camp and participating so we can further evaluate you, see how you respond to us.
"See how you intermingle and interact with other prospects around you. Would you fit here?' So what they're trying to do is narrow the margin of error in making an error of evaluation because (recruiting) is happening so early."
This is the wave of the near future, complete with teenage negotiating tactics.
"So what happens?" Luginbill said. "One of two things. The prospect goes, 'Well, why would I come to your camp when you haven't offered me yet?' That right there is a red flag to me if I'm a coach. Or, the prospect says, 'Absolutely, coach, I'll be there.' That tells you something about that guy."
Except that, too often, the promise makers break promises.
Coaches bolt for more cash, get fired, become TV experts.
"The reality of the situation is, kids are going to commit to coaches," Luginbill said. "They're going to commit to a relationship they've developed. They're going to commit to a comfort level with individuals who they've interacted with. The problem with that - and I'm not saying that's entirely bad - but in this day and age, the likelihood that a prospect will actually play for a position coach, coordinator or coach on the staff that recruited them for a span of three to five years is minimal."
Which is one of the reasons why some prospects consider flipping.
Which keeps fans flipping from smartphones to TV channels to websites on Signing Day.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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