You play a role in this. Yes, you.
No, you will not be asked to remove the dust off the nearest fax machine and send in your national letter of intent. Well, unless you’re a recruit reading this. If that’s the case, congratulations and good luck.
More than likely, however, you’re a college football bystander—likely an advocate of a particular school—gearing up for next Wednesday’s national signing day.
You’ve planned your sick day accordingly, choosing to go with food poisoning this time around as the reason for your office absence. That’s an excellent choice, friend. No one ever questions food poisoning.
With your calendar officially open, you’re ready for 12 consecutive hours of whatever the occasion might bring. There will be surprises, drama and plenty of face time for the nation’s next batch of supreme talent. This much we know.
You know the routine, although just to be sure, here are a few last-minute items to add to the bottom of that national signing day checklist. Right under “fake food poisoning,” of course.
First and Foremost, Embrace the Madness
Jump headfirst into the pool and don’t bother checking if there’s water. This should be your national signing day attitude. Leaning on foundations such as “sanity” or “normalcy” will do you no good here.
That train left the station long ago.
There is nothing normal about this day, and that’s perfectly fine. We’re watching gifted high school athletes—who we really know little about—put on hats to enormous applause for a solid 12 hours. Don’t bother justifying why you watch or why this is perfectly normal behavior. It's not, but that doesn't make it any less outstanding.
And the hats are just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll almost certainly see something you haven’t seen before: last-minute fax issues, live animals, small children being used as props, disapproving parents hoping to sway their child at the last instant and hopefully more live animals.
For the outsider—the ones who don’t speak football—they’ll look at this entire day as one unnecessary charade. They might even look down on you for watching it, while hopefully wishing you a quick recovery from food poisoning.
The reality of this day, however, is it’s supposed to be fun. We’ve signed up for this. This could all be done rather quietly through fax machines and without cameras, but where’s the fun in that?
Embrace this day for exactly what it is—a circus of sorts—and don’t hate it for what it’s not: normal.
And that’s exactly why you watch.
Assume This is the Day Your Program Turns it All Around (No, Really)
Along the same theme of excitement, don’t let anyone rain on your program parade. Not on this day.
National signing day is all about optimism. There are no games to lose, no injuries, no coaches to leave unexpectedly in the middle of the night. This is all about potential, and it should be treated accordingly.
We have absolutely no idea—regardless of ridiculous measurables and game tape—what these players will amount to over the next three or four years. For the time being, however, assume that every player who commits to your school will win you a national championship at some point.
Maybe it’s the athletic tight end no one’s talking about or the undersized running back with tremendous speed. It could be the quarterback who somehow flew miraculously under the radar. Think Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel, both of which flew miraculously under the radar.
Most of this optimism won’t be realized, of course, and chances are that overlooked quarterback was overlooked for a reason. But there are very few days you can (and should) shoot for the moon and not feel an ounce of remorse about doing so.
National signing day is that day, and don’t let your buddy—the one with pessimism flowing through his veins and looking down on you for watching in the first place—tell you otherwise.
This is the day it all changes. Definitely. Probably. Maybe. Just go with it.
It’s Not About All Those Stars; It’s About Need
Our obsession with the 5-star athlete is well-documented. And be honest, it’s the 5-star label that entices us more than anything else. We’re fixated by it, and oftentimes it changes the perception of a player or a team around this time of year.
This is natural and unfair, yet it probably won’t change anytime soon. The better way to assess how your team fared on national signing day, however—aside from being absurdly excited over every move (see: above)—is to focus in on what you know.
It’s simple, really. What were your weaknesses last season, and were those weaknesses addressed?
That has a very NFL-ish feel to it, but it's exactly what recruiting is for. Was the offensive line basically a swinging gate? Was the secondary difficult to spot? Did every wide receiver on your team graduate or leave early? These are the issues that matter, not simply citing stars and clapping like a seal.
Diving deep into your class—well beyond the surface level 40 times and max bench—is where this day starts to carry some substance. Team-specific needs are far more important than a quality grade from major recruiting outlets, although the narrative often drifts to the labels.
It’s one thing to appreciate a class strictly on star power. It’s another to assess what holes were potentially filled. That’s what actually matters; the rest makes for quality television.
Don’t Panic if Your New Coach Doesn’t Set the World on Fire
I might as well speak directly into the Texas, Washington and Vanderbilt cameras, although this isn’t exclusive to them. Given recent developments, however, they may find the following information a bit more comforting than others in coming days.
Not every coach is Urban Meyer or Gus Malzahn. This cannot be stressed enough. Let’s safely assume that every coach won't just hop off the plane in a new city, on a new campus, usually with a remade coaching staff and put together a top-10 recruiting class in a matter of weeks. This is not the norm, nor should it be expected.
Each coach thrown into a new situation following the season—sometimes later along in the process than others—has an impossible task of navigating the new recruiting landscape in six weeks or less. If the returns aren’t immediate and satisfying, fanbases will often assume this is a sign of things to come.
Would you love to see a new coach haul in supreme talent right out the gate? Of course. Should you assume this coach will fail long-term if he doesn’t? Of course not.
Give it time, and allow at least two months before you begin to search for that next, next head coach. Or just panic and set your nearest team-centric message board on fire. Maybe that will make you feel better.
And Finally, Until The End of Time, Don’t Contact Recruits
This entire phenomenon—which unfortunately seems to be gaining steam—could be summed up in one simple sentence.
Don’t be an idiot.
If a recruit decides not to commit to your school, please don’t immediately jump onto Twitter and fire off obscenities to an 17- or 18-year-old. I doubt the thought has even crossed your mind—and that’s wonderful—but it’s not the case for everyone, unfortunately.
For as much as I love social media, national signing day tends to bring out the ugly. The instant access is wonderful for so many reasons and terrible for many more. In the case of recruiting, social media has provided a mixed bag of results.
The information now accessible throughout the year has drastically increased the interest in the process and the quality of scouting. The fact that recruits are putting themselves out there on these devices, however, makes for some troubling situations come decision time.
There will be injuries wished on players, curses tossed around with ease and things said that shouldn't even be thought. It’s a minority doing it (thankfully), but that doesn’t make it any less troubling to read.
Get into the day, embrace the silliness and show passion and excitement with your team. But be wary of the line in the sand that should never be crossed. This is that line. And quite frankly, exercising common sense will be more than enough.