By its nature, college football recruiting is a shady business. In college basketball, a verbal commitment raises a white flag and teams usually back off. In college football, a verbal commitment just lets other teams know who to recruit against.
While it happens in every conference, the tactics seems particularly cutthroat in the SEC.
Everyone knows the drill—nothing is official until you get the papers. Despite the occasional protest, all parties are willing participants.
Last year, SEC coaches voted against an early signing period by a count of 9-3. This year, the conference commissioners joined the coaches in voting against the proposition.
Today ends the SEC’s second season—recruiting season. Coaches risk their reputation and job security on convincing 17 and 18-year-old kids to attend their school.
Recruiting season isn’t just trying on the coaches. Fans suffer through months of anxiety, mood swings, and general paranoia, all feeding the fear of losing their school’s prized recruit to a rival.
Rumors of dirty recruiting, improper tactics and outright lies permeate the message boards. All schools claim to be the victims; none acknowledge that sometimes they are the aggressor.
State of Affairs
DeAngelo Benton was a Parade All-American WR in 2006 who signed with LSU out of high school. An academic non-qualifier, LSU has worked with Benton to get him eligible for the past two years. LSU sent Benton to Hargrave Military Academy, a Virginia prep school that aimed on improving his grades.
In return, Benton has maintained his commitment to LSU since day one. He signed with the 2007 and 2008 classes. He went on record to reaffirm his commitment again last night, putting to bed any fears that Benton had eyes for another.
Today, Bayou Bengal fans awoke to the news that Benton had signed with Auburn.
Rumors circulated that the scholarship was pulled Tuesday night, supposedly to ease the fears of top WR recruit Reuben Randle.
A three-year courtship ended based on the fears of an 18-year-old kid.
Later in the day, LSU fans learned another verbal commitment, Kenny Bell, signed with Alabama.
Five-Star recruit Janzen Jackson remained commited to LSU for a little over 11 months. He delayed his signing by a day in order to tell the world he was attending Tennessee.
But LSU gives as good as it gets. Verbal commitments to other schools did not deter LSU's recruiting advances. LSU actively pursued Trent Richardson, an Alabama commitment. The Tigers also went after Darrington Sentimore, another Alabama verbal.
Such is the state of affairs in the SEC.
The big boys operate by a simple code—recruit until signing day. Even if some schools would prefer not to, they can’t run the risk of getting burned by rivals with less demanding consciouses.
Therefore the current situation begs the question: How good is a promise worth in the SEC?
The question goes beyond commitments from high school kids; it goes to the very core of the SEC’s marketing slogan, “75 years of Character.”
Take Lance Thompson for example. Formerly the linebackers coach at Alabama, Thompson took a $125,000 pay raise and headed north to join Lane Kiffin and the Vols.
The problem is that weeks earlier, Thompson had told one of the Tide’s top recruits, A.J. McCarron, “You better not go to Tennessee of all places.”
Lance Thompson failed to heed his own warning.
Speaking about the incident, McCarron stated, “Not Tennessee, and then he ends up at Tennessee. And he knows the history from his time here as a player, how Alabama hates Tennessee. But Money talks, I guess."
Interesting take from an 18-year-old.
Tennessee Athletic Director Mike Hamilton took the high road and mandated that Tennessee would honor all of Phil Fulmer’s scholarship offers. Of course, this came with the tangent that Kiffin was telling the same kids that they wouldn’t fit in the Vols' new system and encouraged them to look elsewhere.
The SEC is a competitive league that demands victories. With the importation of aggressive new coaches, the old style is done. On the other hand, you cannot expect players to keep their commitments when coaches don’t.
Alabama came under fire for over-recruiting last year. Alabama's bad press didn't deter Ole Miss, who signed 37 players this year. Arkansas joined suit in signing 30.
These high numbers usually mean that a prior recruit will lose a scholarship in order to accomodate the new class.
Sometimes it happens naturally due to academic problems or injuries. Sometimes it does not.
There are still flashes of character in the SEC
The whisperings around Tigerland are that former LSU co-defensive coordinator Dale Peveto turned down a 200 percent pay increase from Nick Saban and the Tide. Instead, Peveto choose to stand by his word and fulfill his contract to become the head coach at Northwestern State.
The same can be said of Georgia assistant Rodney Garner, who turned down a $150,000 pay raise from the Vols in order to stay with Mark Richt.
But the main point is that we cannot expect more out of 17-year-olds than we do of our coaches.
When coaches spend time downgrading rival schools instead of selling their own, players take notice. When coaches change allegiances in a heartbeat, kids pick up on the business aspect of the game.
In today’s competitive SEC environment, promises do not seem to go as far as they used to.