This is my least favorite time of the year regarding college football, and it’s not because there are no games being played right now – well, not on the playing fields any way. I understand that the game can’t be played without players, and the reality is that the game should be played for deserving, qualified, talented, young men who want to continue playing football beyond their high school years. However, the current recruiting process that comes to a climax this week is where all the bad stuff with college football starts, and it is a broken process which also has no end in sight. Ok, so listen to me gripe here first, but I do offer a unique solution in the end
Grown-ups put 18 year-olds on pedestals, coddling them, feeding on their mostly already inflated, misguided egos, and enticing them with overly-creative and underhanded ways to convince young, gullible teenagers to come to their schools just to play football. They sell the attributes of their respective universities often nowadays focusing on facilities the players will be able to “lounge” in. Should this be a priority? This should be at minimum a minor benefit as recruiters should primarily emphasize the value of the degrees these student-athletes should want to go to college for. Of course, the people these adults are selling their pitches to are high school kids who don’t understand this sale is for many others not entirely looking out for their best interests despite what is said or who says it. Most of it is for the benefit of the job and career security of adults coaching a game these youngsters will play for a few more years, for some into their mid-20s at best.
Also what we hear and read about is that a major part of the sell is demeans other schools whether facts be somewhat twisted or brazenly false. I’ve been a purchasing professional for 35 years in an industry that becomes more condense through mergers and acquisitions, and it’s rare that the sales emphasis is on the negatives of the competition. Hell, without competition, there’s no reason for any of us involved to have a career buying or selling. Of course, an 18-year old kid and even possibly his parents aren’t going to take this into consideration, but coaches should. They put their spin on everything with no other intent other than to steer some growing boy with significant athletic talent in their direction. There are no scruples in this game. Once they got him, they can lie to him later. And there’s not just the talk. There’s the offers beyond the scholarship money, the chance to play, and the education that’s supposed to give an 18-year old a great start in life. He could be part of the small percentage every year that gets drafted into the pros for a short period of time, or more likely be part of that vast majority who have to figure out what they will need to learn for a lifetime to put food on the table the rest of their lives while enhancing their brains and other talents for the good of others. I just watched the movie “Blind Side” on television the other night – the “true” story of how current Carolina Panther offensive lineman Michael Oher, about to play in the Super Bowl, successfully became a top draft choice in the NFL.
It’s really two stories. One is the story of how his adoptive family gives him a chance for a better life than what he initially had. He gets a better education and finds his latent talent to earn him a college football scholarship. The good aspects of the story is the love and attention from his adopted family to focus on school work and not just football to get him there though he struggled with the latter. The bad part is seeing the toothy grins from coaches like Nick Saban (then at LSU), Lou Holtz (then at South Carolina) , Houston Nutt (then at Arkansas), Tommy Tuberville (then at Auburn) Phil Fulmer (Tennessee), and Ed Orgeron of Ole Miss who eventually attained Oher’s services in 2005, meeting and observing Michael Oher. Saban promises the little brother “S.J.” to be able run out on the field in front of the LSU team in Death Valley before a game( the film ends with a frozen shot of the little guy leaping as he leads his stepbrother’s Rebel team on to the field at Ole Miss). Cute. In the past though, I’ve heard of siblings or even girlfriends being offered scholarships to schools to gain leverage to get a player to matriculate with them. Really? Instead of some truly deserving student? In the film, Oher’s stepmom, Leigh Anne, mentions that a certain Head Coach not named is out of consideration because her son was entertained at “a titty bar” during a recruiting trip. We’ve heard of things going way beyond that in the past like when Lane Kiffin was recruiting during his only season at Tennessee who went on self-imposed probation for his use of female students to recruit before he ran off to USC. Now Ole Miss, prior to Hugh Freeze becoming HC, is back under investigation for violations of NCAA recruiting policies. Funny, that’s when Orgeron was recruiting Oher. No doubt this player’s incentive was genuine to play at Oxford because as in the movie, the actor states, “That’s where my family went.” Probably the case for him, but what else was going on with others as it only shows him being questioned by an NCAA investigator. What about other recruits? Also, think about who Michael Oher will be blocking for next weekend. There were always rumors about Cam Newton’s Dad being overly involved in a proactive search during his son’s recruiting process before he played at Auburn for his only season in which he won the Heisman Trophy.
Today, there’s an article on ESPN.com about how Michigan’s assistant coach Chris Partridge defends the school’s actions in offering high school players scholarships and then pulling them when they get “better” players ready to commit after the school ‘s scholarship limit is reached. The former Paramus Catholic (NJ) High School HC who’s recruited five top notch recruits out of Jersey to Ann Arbor who is now the Linebacker Coach for Jim Harbaugh’s staff, explained kids decommit from their verbal commitments before the national signing day. So why shouldn’t the schools have that same option? There’s a reason there’s a weak point here. This process as I stated earlier should be for the benefit of the players. Should a school turn a kid away who committed to them early because the school has maxed out on their “quota”, and all of the sudden found that a more desirable recruit fell in their lap the last minute because they were eventually convinced much later in the process? This is wrong. There has to be some kind of rule in placed for this.
It’s a broken, corrupt system, and it stinks. In our free market system with legal limitations in some aspects or absence thereof in others since eventual letters of intent are how these commitments eventually become final, I don’t know if there is anything that can be done to restructure the entire process. The corruption is policed by those involved in the system. Violators just move on to the next school or into the safe haven of pro football depending on the extent of the violations. The self-policing “institutions of higher-learning” should have the resources to figure this out if they want to.
Even after the committal is made by both sides to where a player will matriculate, mistakes are admitted. Scholarship players get booted conveniently for one reason or another if they’re not contributing right away. Kids transfer because the competition for playing time finds them on the sidelines instead. Coaches will continue to recruit the next class of players to replace players on hand whether seniors or not, and they make the same promises to the next class as they did to the ones who they just landed. In addition, some programs offer classes like the one exposed at North Carolina to make sure that those underachieving academically can still get an “A” easily in order to assure playing three years of football once the staff identifies its “keepers”.
I’m still wondering why no school just doesn’t easily terminate these end-around plays with a solution I think needs to be tested. Just make revenue generating sports like football and basketball legitimate majors for the kids who want to apply to their school for these majors. Hell, the careers are so specialized in an industry so lucrative, and the players spend the majority of their time at school dedicated to just playing a sport, why not? It might cure some of the shenanigans that go on once the player who wants to major selects the school he wants to play for. Let the players apply and then let the schools select the 25 most qualified kids who want to come to play at their school and limit the number of offers to those. Let the players sweat it out to be accepted like every other student applying for acceptance at a school with their desired major. If they don’t get in, they wait to hear from the others they have interest in.
Until something is done to make this system more for the benefit of the kids and not the adults, however, this is the worst time of the year to me for college football. May all the players end up where they truly want to be, be part of the team for four years (ok, rules say you can leave after three), get an education that will prepare them for a lifetime, and make the most of it for the rest of their lives. I can only dream though, and I will continue to do so.