Tommy Hicks, sports columnist for the Mobile Press-Register doesn’t like college recruiting, and he believes NSD is the worst day in sports. He points to the signing day drama of Darius Philon, the Vigor High School defensive lineman who, because in part due to the SEC’s new signing class size restriction, was reportedly told by Alabama that there wasn’t going to be room for him in the 2012 class and that he’d have to delay enrollment until January if he wanted to attend Alabama.
He also rests on the same meme so many other critics of college football recruiting do—that there’s too much emphasis being placed on the decisions of 17- and 18-year olds; that the media is partly to blame for the hoopla; the game-playing by recruits and coaches and so forth and so on.
I don’t know where all of you stand, but I disagree with Hicks. Recruiting is hard work for the coaches and usually fun for the prospects. While Philon (and Georgia TB Justin Taylor) didn’t get to sign with Alabama as hoped, most recruits enjoy the process.
A high school classmate of mine had a son who was a highly regarded four-star offensive lineman prospect not too many years ago. He remained uncommitted throughout the process, took all five of his official visits and took numerous unofficial visits to schools all over the southeast. He had a blast.
Remember the scenes from The Blind Side, where high profile coaches such as Nick Saban and Tommy Tuberville paraded through the Oher’s home, practically begging Michael Oher to come play football for them? My friend’s family described it as just like that. When else is a high school senior going to have some of the most famous and powerful men in college football at their beck and call?
It’s fun to have millionaires working their asses off and eating out of your hand. It’s fun to make those guys earn their keep, and it’s fun to have your moment of glory in the spotlight on the first Wednesday in February.
The narrative being pushed by Alabama’s rivals and some media types is that Philon and Taylor are somehow victims of a recruiting process gone horribly awry. While it’s true that these two didn’t exactly have their moments of glory, if they are victims of anything then blame the Law of Unintended Consequences.
In June, the Southeastern Conference presidents voted unanimously to limit each member school to signing 25 new enrollees for the upcoming 2012-13 academic year. No more “sign and place” in JUCO and no more “sign and greyshirt.” Without that rule, both young men would have had the opportunity to go to Alabama. With that rule they still had the option, but the school was unable to accept their National Letter of Intent.
The intent of the rule was to curb public criticism over the practice of oversigning, where colleges accept more NLI’s than they have spots available. The new rule is a moderately complicated “soft cap” that some alleged experts still don’t quite understand, but if you need to know one thing about it, know this—it’s not a rule that’s going to hurt the schools or the coaches. It’s only going to hurt the recruits, and it was put in place under the misguided notion that the student-athlete’s best interests were going to be better protected.
Were the best interests of Taylor and Philon served by that rule?
The rule worked, but it worked about as effectively and as cleanly as using a machete to amputate a hand that only needed a splint, a few stitches and some time to heal.
Under the new rule, which is expected to be adopted by the NCAA later this year, coaches are forced to make difficult decisions. There is no longer room to work young men like Philon and Taylor into a signing class. If you’re the 27th best prospect interested in a school, your feelings are going to get hurt. In 2011, the school found a way to at least give you an opportunity to be a part of the team.
My friend’s son was such a player. He ended up grey shirting and enrolled in classes at an SEC school the following January. He made the team the following season and went on to a successful college career and eventually made an NFL team.
Hicks confesses that his dislike for recruiting stems from perhaps an overly idealistic point of view and says that there aren’t many good suggestions to restore sanity to the recruitment process. I honestly don’t see much insanity at all. I see coaches working day and night, earning their keep and pursuing the best players for their team. I see high school seniors having a blast and enjoying all of the attention.
But I also see the effects of reactionary decision-making and I see the Law of Unintended Consequences playing a cruel trick on two young men. A poorly constructed and hastily passed rule ended up harming two kids that it was supposed to be helping.
National Signing Day isn’t the worst day in sports, but the day the SEC’s new rule goes into effect nationwide just might be.