The Hype Over National Signing Day Is Beyond Disturbing


Coveted football recruits will sign letters of intent tomorrow to play big-time college football. Many will be met with fanfare, along with plenty of pomp and circumstance. The culmination of likely the biggest decision of a 17 or 18-year old’s life will be a spectacle.

While the athletes have earned the spectacle, the reaction strikes me as disturbing. It’s now the name of the semi-professional college game; a kid can change a program. The recruiting process and coverage of it are a business, and the clientele is hungry for more.

The consumers - large bases of lifelong fans and proud alumni - fuel the process. They want to know where the defensive back is leaning. They’re interested to know if that running back who runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash wants to stay close to home.

Information is everywhere. Some recruits take to Twitter and engage with fans. Others - like Mackensie Alexander - try to keep the process private. There’s something special about Alexander’s approach. He's keeping quiet and safe from the hungry masses. He realizes they are starving for his commitment.

Ask Chris Jones how serious the starvation is. The Houston, MS. defensive end has received death threats over his recent recruiting trips to Ole Miss after his verbal commitment to Mississippi State.

In an interview with ESPN as documented by CBS, Jones recounted the madness:

"It was a crazy weekend," Jones said. "I received death threats, insane messages, you name it. I mean, it has not been as stressful as people would think it has been. I have tried to handle it in the most comfortable way possible, so it has really been all right for me, and in the end, I am very blessed to have this opportunity to play for either in-state school."

While there’s certainly a tongue-in-cheek Mississippi joke to be told here, the joke is on no one. A young adult is making a decision and people are willing to threaten his life over it.

There aren't enough words to describe what’s wrong with this picture. Can we get past the point of being petulant children and let things play out as they will?

It's an example of the college recruiting game. If Jones goes to school and fails, drops out or transfers, his importance will dwindle to nothing. Another recruit or transfer will take his spot. We'll all go home happy if the team does well, never mind what happened to Jones. It tells us all we need to know about where big-time college athletes stand in the eyes of many fans.

The kids are athletes. Their personal choices and struggles might be well-documented and reviewed. Yet, at the end of the day, fans want the Chris Jones’ of the world to commit to their school. Then, they want him to stay out of trouble and perform well fairly quickly. Then, they want him to stay in school for the duration of his eligibility.

You see, few of these fans give a damn about Chris Jones. They give a damn about their program. They give a damn about the school where they first learned what it was like to feel a connection to a team. They give a damn about bragging rights over their neighbor who went to a rival school. Jones can provide that. If he doesn’t, what good is he?

It parallels the NFL Draft hype. When a player becomes what he is, it’s really a matter of patterned behavior we see play out. Aside from the end of a career and the very beginning, the quantity is mostly known.

Fans want to see new things. They want to see them grow into great things. Then, they want to see more new things and better things. Eventually, the names on the draft board are the same as the names in the recruiting lists.

They are just numbers and names with measurables. Yet, in the pro game, the rookies are earning paychecks. They're supposed to be grown men. College recruits are kids. It makes the similar meat market mentality completely sickening. Coaches and staffs are similar. They all eat from the same trough and the eating’s good when the names shoot up the Rivals rankings.


In my experience covering high school sports, I’ve come across a few players who have garnered some recruiting hype.

One coach explained the recruiting process to me a few months ago. His star player had interest from several top programs in his second season earning all-region and state honors. The player in question measured up most categories, especially in the classroom and community. Eventually, the top programs kept him waiting for an extra spot but the commitment wasn’t there.

“They put him on hold,” the coach said. “I’ve had to tell college staffs they weren’t welcome because of the way he was treated.

“He would get offers and then he’d have them pulled….This whole thing has continued to open my eyes to the truthfulness of big-time college football. It’s just a cutthroat business.”

Big-time college athletics have a knack for the disingenuous. The case for the anonymous player listed is no different than many others (He has since committed to a high mid-major university).

Whether from fans, recruiting services or coaches, the process ends up being the first step to the exploitation of the college athlete.

Yes, the meat market remains alive and well every season when the commits come rolling in. When the big dollars are used to build facilities that help sway the prized livestock, the green is well spent in the fan’s eyes.

Being around high school athletes has allowed me the luxury of seeing how naïve and excitable they can be. Watching a bench player turn into a role player then into a top player is a chain that gives me great pleasure. It’s one of the tremendous perks of my perk-filled job as a local sportswriter.

To see how those kids and their dreams line up with fans, recruiting services and coach expectations makes me lose a little hope for humanity. At the end of the day, the memory of being a 17-year-old fades to black as people place the pressure squarely on the athlete.

There is a correct word for the overexposure and high level of interest in those recruits. It's creepy. Creepy how much importance is put into a teenager’s decision. There have to be better things for adult human beings to do.

Surely there is something better than relying on a recruit to bring personal joy. Are we so bereft of ethical concern that we live for days like National Signing Day?

If so, can we turn back now?

Or will we just continue to get creepier as the process becomes more and more despicable?

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