There are a few of what I like to call nothing events on the annual sports calendar. One of those is the Major League Baseball Home Run Derby which occurs the night before the All-Star Game. Nothing like watching some MLB player take batting practice from an aging pitching coach and trying to hit one of the stadium while ESPN’s Chris “the blimp” Berman grunts all over the place.
But in my opinion the most nothing day on the calendar is College Football’s National Signing Day. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not a recruiting guy. I don’t follow it, don’t care about it and anything I know about it would come from reading something else. I don’t have a list of the top recruits in the nation. Hell, I don’t even know who the top recruits in the nation are. I just know that every school wants them.
Why don’t I care? Well, I don’t care because about 1/3 of those who sign with certain schools won’t contribute to those schools, and finish their careers somewhere else or quit altogether. When you show up at school, work your ass off, do what the coaches ask of you, go to class, make good grades, stay out of trouble, and become a player I’ll care then. Until then just because you could push around a high school offensive lineman and throw a high school quarterback who’ll never play beyond high school around like a rag-doll doesn’t mean that you are going to be a player in college. Adjusting to college is difficult enough, but add in the demands of football and there are just some kids who aren’t ready for it and will flame out. Last year one of the top recruits in Virginia was an offensive lineman from Rockbridge County High School in Lexington, Virginia. He originally committed to South Carolina, flipped and signed with Va. Tech and today – after just one year of not playing and apparently not adjusting to the demands – quit.
I understand that recruiting is the life blood of a football program. You have to have players. But, there are some elements to it that are just getting ridiculous. Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh has, during this recruiting cycle, spent the night in the house of a recruit, climbed a tree and has invited famed professional wrestler Rick Flair into Ann Arbor to celebrate this year’s recruiting class. I doubt seriously if any of the kids signing with Michigan have ever heard of Rick Flair. Hell, he was wrestling when I was a kid in the 70s and I’m now older than most of the current recruits’ parents. He’s entertaining and if I got the chance to have my picture made with him, I would, but what he has to do with Michigan football is beyond me. Notre Dame has been sending its equipment truck around the country to sit in front of recruits’ homes. That might look impressive and it might sway some kid to go to South Bend, but when he gets on campus he’s just another player learning that this ain’t high school football anymore. Alabama’s Nick Saban is doing something called the “dab”. I’m sure he looked natural doing that. He’s trying to show he’s cool. My guess is that the player who signs with Alabama will show up on campus for fall practice and find out quickly that Coach Saban is less interested in the “dab” and more interested in winning games because that’s what keeps him employed and you are just a piece on the chess board. He’s going to push you right in the deep end and you’d better swim or your Alabama career will be over before you know it.
And that brings up one of the problems with recruiting. These coaches are playing games with these players. I know the players are in many cases also playing games. But, the fact is that coaches recruit the hell out of kids they have no intention of ever having play for their school. They recruit, get a commitment from the kid in the summer before his Senior year and then around December or January tell the kid that they don’t need him anymore because they got the person at that position they really want.
The saddest part of the process to me is the maddening “hat dance” that is done every year and will be repeated numerous times on television on Wednesday morning and afternoon. You’ve seen this crap. A kid sits down in front of a table with several hats on it and then puts one of them on and thanks to our old friend ESPN it’s on national television. The network plans to come on the air at 8:00 a.m. on signing day and stay on all day on one or more of its myriad of networks. You’ll see the hat dance repeated a 100 times, and all day there will be analysts to discuss each school’s signing class and analysts to analyze the analysts. This is the part of the process that the NCAA needs to take control of. The “hat dance” will stop when the NCAA puts a stop to it and make no mistake they should. It might also be a good idea for the NCAA to move signing day to during the football season. The association’s biggest money maker is the NCAA Basketball tournament and instead of highlighting the great sport that is college basketball during February to build momentum for March, the season is interrupted with stupidity like reaching in a bag of hats and some mother deciding that she doesn’t like where her son decided to go to school and refuses to sign his National Letter of Intent. Legally minors cannot enter into contracts so if mom refuses to sign what happens then? This has happened before and will happen again.
Signing day is like Christmas day for recruiting geeks. There are bunch of people (not all of them) living in their mother’s basement – who by the way never played football, have never had a job much less file a tax return – who are watching tape and projecting the next great thing for the class of 2017. Go for it guys, but understand that recruiting fails to measure one critical thing, the heart of a person so some player in the Nation’s top 10 will wind up flipping burgers while someone who was passed over by everyone will wind up in the NFL. Thankfully after tomorrow, the geeks go back to the basement and we get set for the next big nothing event on the sports calendar: Spring football games.