With signing day less than 24 hours away, years of recruiting efforts are coming to a head for coaches around the country. It's the final week ahead of signing day that's the most hectic -- with players making decisions that could have a significant impact on programs throughout the country. Has the process as a whole gone too far? Has the amount of readily available information changed the recruiting process for the worse? Most of all, what has it done to us as fans?
As I watch recruiting services and fans whirl into a frenzy ahead of signing day, I'm left to wonder about the spectacle that recruiting has become. The fact is recruiting has become a big business, both for college football programs and the subscription-based services formed solely to follow the recruiting aspect of programs across the country. The immense amount of information available gives us a look into the world of recruiting, but also shines a light on a process that may be better off in the dark.
Information Flows Freely With The Rise Of Recruiting Services
With the click of a mouse and a few keystrokes, one can find more information about college football recruits than ever before. Scouting services -- Rivals, Scout, ESPN -- are thriving based on the demand for more from college football fans. Where 10 years ago the recruitment process happened behind closed doors, now it's all done in front of the watchful eyes of the masses, with every move a highly-touted recruit makes scrutinized and analyzed.
Recruits are not only fielding calls and text messages from coaches now, they're also answering to the numerous scouting services out there. Each works tirelessly to gauge which direction these high school kids are leaning, looking to break commitments to its subscription base ahead of the rest. It's all part of the business model.
But the increase in readily-available information has almost become too much. Fans are able to follow a recruit every step of the way, knowing exactly when they step on campus, which schools they're considering and what direction they're leaning as the big day approaches. There's a high-demand for the information, sure, but it feels so wrong to hang on a recruit's every word.
Commitment Ceremonies Become A Spectacle
The "hat dance," as it's called, is more prevalent than ever as recruits announce their college decision to the world with increasingly over-the-top pomp and circumstance. No longer is a commitment solidified with a phone call to the lucky coach; it's all done under the watchful eye of the public. Throughout signing day, recruits will take to the national airwaves, plopped down at a table with hats of the schools they're deciding between. They'll fake one way, go the other, or even come up with a new or unique way to announce their decision.
Before a highly-touted recruit even steps on campus nowadays, they become a star -- a national name that captures headlines throughout the recruiting process. The commitment announcement is the culmination of it all, with the recruit himself holding the attention of the nation for a brief moment as fans and coaches alike wait with baited breath.
The real winner in these grandiose commitment ceremonies are not the schools that land the recruit, but the recruit himself. Whether they flame-out or become a star at the next level, they've already captured their 15 minutes of fame, all at the age of 18.
Changes Of Heart Bring Out The Ugly
I've seen this at play quite a bit in recent weeks, but it still never ceases to amaze me. A long-time verbal commit to one school reverses course, spurning his original choice as the recruitment process comes to a close. 18-year-old kids changing their mind doesn't surprise me -- they're fickle; we all were at that age -- it's the reaction of the masses that gets to me.
There's nothing messier than when a recruit goes back on his word and has a change of heart. The typical reactions range from "we didn't want him anyway" to questioning the recruit's character. Fans fly off the handle, criticizing opposing coaches, their team's staff and even the recruit himself.
But why? We're talking about a football player that's never set foot on a college field. Yet fans develop an emotional attachment to these recruits -- whether rational or not. The hopes and dreams of their program hinges on the decisions of an 18-year-old kid.
Recruiting is a bizarre journey for fans, players and coaches. The recruits themselves are taken on a wild-ride: wined, dined and promised the world by every school under the sun. With an unprecedented amount of access, fans are now along for the ride, riding a rollercoaster that reaches its climactic moment on Wednesday.
Coaches, on the other hand, are left at the mercy of an 18-year-old, a terrifying prospect for anyone that remembers back to when they were that age. A coaches job -- their livelihood -- depends on evaluating how these recruits will project, then being the best at swaying convincing a recruit to join them for the next four-plus years. No matter how big the recruit, the prospect of leaving home -- joining a new family, if you will -- is daunting, no matter how convincing a coach may be.
Take it easy on the kids as the recruitment process comes to a close. These kids -- yes they're still children -- are dealing with the spotlight and attention that comes with being a highly-touted recruit. It's a confusing time, compounded by the prospect of making the biggest decision they've made in their lives.