*Disclaimer: These thoughts are my own and do not reflect the opinions of SB Nation, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, it’s other writers, or editors.
I think national National Signing Day is stupid.
NSD is the climax of most of these high school seniors’ football careers to this point, and understandably so. Most of these kids decided to forsake 75% of the average high school experience the minute they realized there might be the potential for them to play at the collegiate level. Some might have known that they weren’t stars, but were more than happy to take the FCS or D-II route. Others, however, had this day circled years ago, picking and choosing who it was that would receive the privilege of recruiting them.
Recruiting hasn’t always been this way. Okay, well yes, there have been stories of “bag men” since the ‘70’s, but even then, it was an exceptionally large deal if any player got anything more than extended-regional coverage and maybe an appearance on TV. There was no constant presence of the internet like there is today though, and that might be the single largest key. But Twitter doesn’t type it’s own tweets and message boards don’t start rumors unless there’s a human being present to punch their greasy keys and set the ‘crootin landscape ablaze.
Where then does the blame fall for tainting the egos of our newest college football players? Well to me, it starts with the coaches in today’s top programs. They’re the ones that set the tone for the programs beneath them to imitate and they’re the ones making national headlines with their antics.
On January 20th, 2016, Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan head coach, broke out his newest recruiting tactic: the sleepover. Harbaugh went to the home of “four-star” DE Connor Murphy and proceeded to “Netflix & Chill” until bedtime where the coach spent the night in Murphy’s sister’s vacant bed.
How is does this story even exist? Put it in almost any other context other than recruiting, and it becomes an outlandish story about a 50-something year old man spending the night at a high schooler’s house because he thought the kid could use some life advice. Strange right? So why does the fact that it was an act of recruiting make it acceptable? No admissions councilors spent the night at my house when I was a senior in high school and hung out with me in hopes to sway my college decision.
High school recruits end up being made out to feel and seem like NFL free agents with million-dollar price tags on their heads by these coaches. So after a couple of official visits and camps at these upper-level programs, they come out believing that they are the priceless talent-machines that they just spent the weekend being treated as.
Hmm? What’s that in the back? You say they actually could have million-dollar price tags because of the amount of revenue that they generate for their respective programs, conferences and NCAA by lending their talents to these programs? Well, my friend, that is a different discussion for a different time, but it is an important factor to ponder.
The cycle then continues forward, perpetuating into a circus of media coverage, tipped off by the day-to-day doings of these top coaches. So, the media see the coaches deem the value of these recruits, treating them like high-profile pros, so they begin to cover them that way. Let this cycle continue for a couple years and it evolves into full-fledged recruiting websites that have PAID FOR content on HIGH SCHOOL players, paired with the perceived “expert” ability of these writers to value each player with a star rating and or a composite score.
Give it a couple more recruiting cycles and you get people like the Worldwide Leader putting out rankings of the top 300 high school players. Once again, the self proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” produces a list of the top 300 17 and 18-year-olds in the nation, breaking down their every move like the pros they aren’t.
It’s kind of like a giant positive feedback loop. Except, there’s not much truly positive coming from their nonsense.
So, who remains in our cycle of recruiting stupidity? The victims and the perpetrators themselves: the recruits. If (and this is a yuge if) we assume that we live in a perfect world and everyone recruits legally, then a solid majority of the players that just signed their Letters of Intent on Wednesday have been fielding calls from coaches all over since their junior year, some have seen letters since seventh grade.
Now, this is where the recruits take matters into their own hands. The current age of social media and 24/7 sports coverage at every single micro-level possible has provided recruits with more attention than ever before. How a recruit handles his social media can define how his recruitment will go. The more vocal and active, the more fan attention is generated and the more media that join the frenzy.
In my opinion, the most outstandingly ludicrous thing a player can do in the process of his recruitment (outside of breaking the law) is provide a running commentary on his recruitment. You have this trend where a recruit is constantly, updating his “Top Schools” list for his followers, each and every week, non-stop. That, my friends, in itself is a call for attention from an individual that doesn’t necessarily deserve it.
Second, the only people that such information should be pertinent to is the recruit’s close friends and family. It is not a 45-year-old Twitter-crazed fan’s business to know what schools a prospective COLLEGE STUDENT is deciding where to go to COLLEGE, unless you’re a reporter and it is your actual job. Not a single Twitter recruiting account tweeted at me to possibly sway MY decision to attend Mississippi State University, so why should you do it to a student that’s just so happening to play football while he’s in college?
Easy answer, you shouldn’t. You’re creepy, you have no personal relationship with the kid, and Twitter Tom’s opinion on where said recruit should attend school probably has as much value to him as my broken-down ’98 Oldsmobile Silhouette has on the open market. Just, please, don’t do it.
I want you to think back to the time when you were 17. Were you faced with a large, life-molding decision like choosing a college? Possibly an even larger decision than that? Do you remember the uncertainty, even after maybe months of deliberation? You probably even wavered from one choice to the other at one point, right?
Now add in the excruciatingly watchful eyes of the internet, a dash of blind support for option #1 paired with an irrational hate for option #2 and try to make that decision again while being bombarded with messages telling you why you should pick one over the other. The cherry on top?
You get to announce said decision on national television so that you may disappoint half, or more, of the concerned audience in real time, only to receive more messages that angrily berate you for not choosing their option.
Does that sound ridiculous? There’s a good reason for that. It’s because it is ridiculous, but it happens every recruiting cycle. That recruit thinks he wants go one place, then he sees something he may have missed or he’s presented with a new opportunity and he changes his decision to New Offer University. It’s not a crime, just an 18-year-old being an 18-year-old.
17 and 18-year-old high school seniors are not the world’s most rational individuals. It’s not their fault, it’s not their parent’s fault, and it’s not their high school’s fault, but nonetheless, that’s the way it is.
When I was 18, I was stupid, just like all 18-year-olds there will ever be. It’s science. It’s always going to be like that. But you know what’s even more stupid than recruits being dumb teenagers? Tweeting at recruits.
Don’t tweet at recruits.