There is an absurdity to National Signing Day in the way it is presented and covered. For many, this annual segue from high school to college football is an exciting and glorious thing. For me and perhaps others, it is closer to National Sighing Day — an exercise of excess that makes us shake our head and wonder how it got to this point.
The perfect National Signing Day story, for me, happened around this time in 2008, in a high school gymnasium in Fernley, Nev. There, a burly prep offensive lineman named Kevin Hart revealed to a large crowd and to local TV cameras his college football choice by dramatically choosing a Cal cap to wear instead of an Oregon cap.
The one minor flaw was that Hart had not been recruited by Cal, Oregon or any other school, but had decided his 15 minutes of fame outweighed the resulting shame.
My next-favorite signing day story happened Wednesday, right here, as highly recruited South Plantation running back Alex Collins prepared to sign his National Letter of Intent with Arkansas at his school as fans and media looked on. The glitch here? His mother, preferring he go to Miami, not only refused to sign the letter but also ran off with it!
Collins on Thursday got his father to sign his letter to Arkansas while Mom considered legal action by engaging the law firm founded by O.J. Simpson counsel Johnnie L. Cochran. (If the letter of intent does not fit, you must acquit!)
Over stiff competition did I choose these two tales.
I could very easily have gone with the former Tennessee recruit, Derric Evans, who lost his scholarship after he signed his letter while sipping wine in a hot tub.
Might also have mentioned how Miami Carol City’s Willie Williams revealed all sorts of lavish treatment in a 2004 recruiting diary for The Miami Herald, which led to a violation of his probation, which in turn led to the revelation he’d been arrested 10 times.
Originality points also are due 2009 recruit Bryce Brown, whose adviser, an ex-con, charged $9.99 a month for Internet updates on Brown’s status and college leanings.
The common thread in all of this invites a few questions, such as:
Why are TV cameras on in the first place when 17- and 18-year-old students decide where they’ll play college ball? Why did ESPNU nationally televise 18 signing day ceremonies Wednesday?
Why is there a cottage industry of recruiting websites feeding the mania that forced capital letters on National Signing Day and made it a metastasizing phenomenon of too, too much? (And when will these websites realize that speculating on where top 11-year-old athletes might star in high school is an as-yet untapped market?)
Why is The Miami Herald (we’re not alone) devoting all or most of seven pages to signing day coverage?
And finally, this question:
What are we, nuts!?
I guess the general answer to the excess is that “the interest is there.” But is it, really? I rather think we’re just Pavlov’s dogs. ESPN is ringing the bell and therefore we convince ourselves that somebody named Robert Nkemdiche choosing Ole Miss is national news of the highest import.
Sure, college fans should be interested in who their school signs.
I can see Miami Hurricanes fans being excited UM landed Oakland Park Northeast receiver Stacy Coley, or being disappointed because Miami lost Booker T. Washington linebacker Matthew Thomas to Florida State.
Projecting the futures of 17- and 18-year-olds is more guesswork than science, though. Blue-chip, five-star recruits will flame out and unheralded two-star recruits will shine, and nobody will truly know how anyone’s recruiting class was for two or three years.
Yet the website experts are assigning instant grades and rankings, feeding the beast by quantifying the excess.
One popular recruiting website, 247Sports, ranked Miami’s 2013 class 17th in the nation. Another popular recruiting site, Rivals.com, looking at the very same list of players, ranked UM’s class 44th.
What does that tell you?
What it should tell you is nobody really knows anything.
The margin of error is great in the NFL Draft but far greater here because these are young guys of an age not fully developed physically, mentally or emotionally. Yet suddenly, a teenager whose biggest decision has been “Burger King or McDonald’s?” finds himself choosing his college on national TV.
It is worse than silly.
It sends wrong messages.
It reinforces that the phrase “student-athlete” is quaintly noble but probably has the order backward.
High schools stage campus ceremonies to honor their outgoing football stars while their academic scholars slip off to college in the quiet shadows. Colleges welcome their football recruits with great fanfare, everything but a parade, while incoming students who are not athletes arrive unannounced.
And yet we wonder why saying “student-athlete,” as least as it pertains to major college football, always sounds like we are being sarcastic.
National Signing Day also is the beginning of the entitlement that so many athletes come to feel.
Teenagers are wooed and pursued for months by swooning colleges and coaches, a ghastly, demeaning courting that culminates with the player and his decision being foisted up onto a national pedestal.
Not unlike a Kardashian, these kids have done very little to be famous except look good on film, but suddenly they are celebrities (or made to think they are), only the paparazzi are ESPN cameras. So Florida Gators signee Daniel McMillian wears sunglasses during his indoor ceremony and UM’s Coley wears a cap that reads: SWAG.
They are instant stars. Not because they actually are. But because fawning websites and overeager fans and Your Friend the Media say they are.
It will never happen but wouldn’t it be great if the whole thing was scaled back to some sort of sanity?
Wouldn’t it be great if there were no school campus assemblies to remind these kids they’re football players first and no TV cameras on hand to erase any doubt?
That poor kid from Fernley, Nev., who faked his own signing ceremony — I can’t say that was all his fault.
He was just doing what he’d seen done on TV.