"Don’t hate the player, hate the game."
This tired, overworked expression fits when it comes to recruiting. It applies when we examine how coaches will freely recruit players who have already committed, and it more than fits when we examine the players and their role in making national signing day the spectacle it has become.
Long gone are the days where a signed piece of paper—aka the National Letter of Intent—was the story.
This process of choosing a college and making it official with a signature is still the end game, but it’s how we get there that generates buzz. Some like the scene, others would much rather do without the hoopla, fireworks and (hopefully) live animals.
I cannot stress this enough: Live animals, which can be mascot-related or simply just random live animals, should be required.
Regardless of where you stand on recruits making the most of their moment, know this: The players, who are indeed taking their decision-making to another level, are doing so because they have a forum and stage that encourages it.
We are all to blame, if you’re indeed unhappy with this trend, for what it has become.
In 2013, each high school senior isn’t just selecting where he’ll be attending college for the next three to four years. He’s doing do so by skydiving out of an airplane with an entire marching band, zeroing in on one of three targets below.
Each gargantuan platform is surrounded by fire and accompanied with a logo of one of the three schools he is considering. Once he touches down with an entire nation of recruiting zombies watching on live television, then it’ll be official.
Unless…the player touches down, smiles and quickly jetpacks over to another target as one final “gotcha,” which seems very possible. Then perhaps it will truly be official.
Or…the player has a sudden, unplanned change of heart after the stunt while positioning his letter of intent in the fax machine, which he only learned existed seven minutes before someone showed him how to turn it on. Once that signature is in, then it will be officially official.
Don’t even ask about transfers.
These surprises and televised memorable moments have helped morph national signing day—along with the long, unpredictable road that leads up to it—from a cult-like 24-hour stretch for the junkies to a national holiday (or “sick day”) for adults around the country. And while the example stunt has not been attempted (yet), the ridiculous nature of this day is being pushed further as interest grows.
After all, we watched former Georgia running back Isaiah Crowell lift a small bulldog puppy up in the sky to announce he would take his talents to Athens. Crowell has since taken his talents elsewhere, but the moment will remain etched upon our memories forever.
More recently, we saw Landon Collins commit to Alabama on live television, which actually came shortly before national signing day, while his mother sat beside him bewildered with an LSU tone and frown. This wasn’t scripted like many others, that’s for certain, and the result was a family disagreement caught on camera.
Even more recently, 3-star Florida linebacker Keith Kelsey picked Louisville as his school of choice in the fall. Before he did, however, he gave Kentucky fans plenty of ammunition for future booing.
Recruits are given a stage, television time and a forum to be unpredictable. Each recruit's decision is a culmination of thousands of letters and hours spent mulling over the future. It's an incredibly stressful period for an 18-year-old being pulled in every which direction.
Some choose to spend this moment taking advantage of the cameras and the coverage. Others, like 2013 5-star defensive end Carl Lawson, will instead call the school and send in their LOI without making much of a sound. It all depends on the player and the situation.
Companies like ESPN are spending millions of dollars on their national signing day television coverage, hoping for fewer Carl Lawsons and more drama, more indecisive moments, more props, more hats, more cheers, more boos and, hopefully, more live animals.
After all, where’s the excitement in one of the nation’s premier talents simply faxing in his decision without the cameras in front? Well, perhaps the Fax Girls will be there to spice up an uneventful commitment.
It’s a combination of things that have added to the circus, and the recruits have certainly played a role. The coverage (raises hand) has been just as, if not more, influential, and the environment has really molded a new era.
Is this good or bad?
This depends in large part on who you are. For some, a hat ceremony is already too much. For others, they would pay good money to watch coaches of opposing teams battle in a ring for a player’s commitment while the recruit watches in anticipation.
While I do enjoy a good show and see no harm in a little fun, it does worry me a bit to see where it’s headed. It’s a lot to ask of an 18-year-old on the biggest day of his life, and you have to wonder what’s next. Not just for the players, or recruiting’s biggest day, but recruiting in general.
Regardless of our differing stances, this peculiar side to a booming business is not set to subside. Cameras will become more frequent, commitments will become more extravagant and national signing day is likely only scratching the surface of what it will become.
Sure, they’re they ones with the hats, but we’re the ones just dying to talk about it, driving them to take it further. In some cases, we'll do the work for them.
While the players will receive both praise and criticism for their actions on their biggest stage, we’ve all played a part in bringing it to another level. For better or worse, or better yet, whichever includes more live animals.
*Star ratings courtesy ESPN