Wednesday, February 06, 2013
Today is National Signing Day. Which means thousands of grown men have taken the day off work so they can monitor which 17 and 18 year old high school football players will fax (yes, they still use fax machines for this in 2013) a signed letter of intent to their favorite college. Thousands more grown men will spend most of their day at work monitoring these same activities via their computer. Many of these are successful, intelligent men. If this all sounds completely ridiculous to you, that's because it is. On the other hand, it's also understandable.
College Football has (over the last decade) become America's second most popular sport behind professional football (Translation: Americans like football. A lot.) and College Football is a sport where a team's success is largely determined by a University's ability to recruit, sign and develop the most talented high school football players in America. Millions (and increasingly billions) of dollars are at stake each National Signing Day. Many people do not like the attention paid to National Signing Day (or the seedy, slimy path that leads us to NSD) and I understand their reservations. Unfortunately for them, the popularity of college football recruiting isn't going anywhere. At least not for the foreseeable future. What was once something only die hard College Football fans followed has become an industry unto itself. With two nationally televised All-American games, four national recruiting websites that employ hundreds of people each and an untold number of magazines devoted exclusively to recruiting.
While recruiting is certainly an inexact science (Colin Kaepernick and his whopping total of one Division I scholarship offer come to mind), it's not as wild a guessing game as some would have you believe. Are there plenty of players who end up never coming close to fulfilling their potential each year? Absolutely. Just as there are many kids who far exceed their recruiting rankings and surpass many of their much more highly touted classmates on their school's depth charts.
Why's this? Because analysts are trying to project the next 3-5 years of an 18 year olds life. I couldn't have predicted my own collegiate career with any accuracy when I was 18 (For the record, I attended 3 different colleges in my first three years). Moreover, NFL teams with better background information, more game tape and sophisticated scouting departments regularly screw up their drafts. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that College Football recruiting is filled with "misses". Quite the opposite. With all that said, the recruiting rankings can be (and usually are) a great guide for which programs are moving in the right (or wrong) direction. Ole Miss is a great example this year. Somehow, Ole Miss is ranked in the top 15 recruiting classes in the nation this year, with a legitimate shot to land the nation's #1 overall player, #1 Offensive Lineman and #1 Wide Receiver. And Hugh Freeze would like you to shut the hell up about it, thank you very much.
Of course, the best example of recruiting rankings being a good guide for program success is current back to back BCS Champion, Alabama. Despite having a roster loaded to the gills with 4 and 5 star recruits, Nick Saban and his staff continually pull in recruiting classes in the top 2 or 3 in the country. No small feat considering that every other school is using the Tide's depth of talent to recruit against them. However, yet again, this year the Tide have pulled in either the #1 or #2 class in the country heading into today. How does Saban manage to convince kids to come to Tuscaloosa despite a roster filled with high school All-Americans? There are plenty of reasons: The program's continued success, the amount of Alabama players being drafted into the NFL, the deep pockets of Alabama's boosters (allegedly) and numerous others. Another key reason is that Saban has a proven track record of playing talented freshman when they're better than the upperclassmen at their position (Examples: Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, DJ Fluker, Amari Cooper and on and on). The best players want a chance to play, prove themselves and move onto to the NFL. Saban has proven to high school recruits that they can do just that under his watch Oh, and it also doesn't hurt that Alabama spends a shit ton of money on recruiting. Being able to bring a recruit into a place like this isn't bad either.
Now, if you look at the recruiting rankings I linked to above, you'll notice that many schools have commits from over 20+ kids. Which begs the question: If most of these guys are already committed then why is National Signing Day a big deal? Because these are 18 year old kids being wooed like NFL stars and, well, kids change their minds. Lots. Lots and lots. Just last year, a 5 star recruit named Dante Fowler, Jr. who had been committed to FSU for over a year decided on the night before National Signing Day that Florida was a better place for him. He surprised everyone and faxed his letter of intent to Gainesville the next morning. Fowler ended up being a major contributor as a freshman at Florida and will assuredly start as a true sophomore. And this sort of thing isn't an isolated case. It happens every year, all over the country and will happen multiple times tomorrow.
Did I take off work? No. Most of Florida's class is taken care of (barring any last second defections). Will I spend more time checking things on Twitter than I do working today? Most likely.
Also, one thing to keep in mind when you hear people bemoaning the circus created by the announcements of these kids today. Sometimes, a kid does something really original to announce his commitment.
And sometimes that same kid will get arrested for felony possession of a firearm and be thrown off the team in less than a year. Keep today in perspective, folks. (Also, don't tweet at recruits...dummy)