In the month leading up to National Signing Day, two players were released from their commitments to Northwestern. Three-star Defensive end Noah Westerfield and three-star safety Jordan Thomas had decided they wanted to check out other schools, which violated coach Pat Fitzgerald’s rule against players taking visits after committing.
People have written about this “policy” in the past. It seems pretty straightforward. In Fitzgerald’s view, a commitment is akin to an “engagement.”
“If you tell me you want to go date some other girl, some other schools, I can promise you our wedding is off and I’m not going to continue to recruit them,” Fitzgerald told InsideNU in August 2012. “We’re just not going to do that.
Here’s how Brad North, an NU freshman offensive lineman, described it to Scout.com last summer.
“You’re not going to cheat on them,” he said. “You’re not going to go other places and see other things. You’re going to stay loyal to that commitment.”
There didn’t seem to be any confusion about this. If you commit to Northwestern, visiting another school could result in your scholarship offer getting pulled. Which is why it seemed so odd that Fitzgerald, speaking at NU’s signing day press conference Wednesday at Ditka’s in downtown Chicago, said the following when a reporter asked him about his policy.
“I think you guys make way too big of a deal about of a lot of things,” he said. “That’s one of them, but whatever. At the end of the day, we’re going to do what’s right for Northwestern, period. That’s what I’m paid to do. So, we’re going to do what’s right for our program. We’re going to protect our program. We’re going to protect it with doing things the right way with great integrity and honesty, and if we don’t get it in return, we’re going to move on to the next kid. So, you guys can overblow everything else, but that’s at the core of what we’re going to do. So, if we offer a kid this way or that way, I think you read into some things a little bit further. But we’re going to do what’s right for the program first.”
The same reporter asked what we, the media, are overblowing.
“I don’t have a policy to hand you,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t know what that is. There’s been an internet-made policy. I’ve answered some questions and now this is what this means, and it’s hard core and it’s fast and every coach that comes into our program, I give them this policy and, ‘That’s what we do.’ That’s not the way it works. It’s a very fluid process. It’s a process that works with each kid. But at the bottom core of what it is, is honesty. And if you’re not going to be honest with us while we’re being honest with you, then you’re not a good fit for us. And I’m not saying that was the case with any of these three kids or however many kids – I don’t really care. I worry about the kids that we get, and we’re really excited about the ones we’ve got coming to play for us.”
It seems that Fitzgerald doesn’t think NU has a policy, but what about the players he recruits? Westerfield, who signed with Cal yesterday, told InsideNU he never even had the chance to decommit from NU. Westerfield said he wanted to visit Cal because he hadn’t gotten the chance to visit many major conference schools before committing.
“I told them I was going to take a visit, and they pretty much just took my scholarship away from me,” Westerfield said. “They just told me the normal protocol for someone who visits another school while they’re committed is to take their scholarship.
“From Northwestern’s standards, it’s pretty much a policy.”
Westerfield said he spoke with Cal linebacker Ray Davison, who in 2013 committed to Northwestern, but was released from his commitment after deciding to take an official visit to Berkeley. Scout's Chris Emma spoke to Davison last year.
It was when Davison set an official visit to Berkeley that an ultimatum was set by Fitzgerald: Are you in or out?
“Because I’m from California, I was interested [in the Cal offer],” Davison said in a Jan. 10 interview with PurpleWildcats.com. “I want to be close to home. I let Northwestern know I was committed to them. I knew the consequences were that I could lose my scholarship. I decided to let them pull the offer.”
Westerfield Wednesday said Davison told him, “If you take a visit or you look somewhere else, they’re going to pull your scholarship. This is a better place for you anyways, because that’s what they did to me.”
Three-star Plano West (Tex.) High School running back Auston Anderson told InsideNU Wednesday that he expressed interest in visiting Texas Tech after he committed to Northwestern last May. According to Anderson, Fitzgerald said that he would “more than likely” pull Anderson’s scholarship if he took the visit.
“That was the gist of what he said,” Anderson said. “If you try and go see other schools, were going to more than likely pull your scholarship.”
Four-star Glenbard North (Ill.) High School running back Justin Jackson also spoke with InsideNU Wednesday about Fitzgerald's policy. He recalled a conversation he had with Fitzgerald when he committed to NU in May.
“As far as I can recall, it was, ‘If you visit another school, you will not be considered a commit any longer. [Fitzgerald] would be free to use your scholarship elsewhere.’
“He said that when he offered and stressed it throughout the process.”
Jackson also said he never considered visiting other schools.