NCAA football recruiting used to be about the team. It used to be about an individual school's program and how well they went about finding and signing the best the high school football game had to offer.
The schools were the stars and the prospects were just a bunch of names on a prep school's roster sheet. They had little to no meaning to the college game until they showcased their talents on the field of play.
Sure there were guys who knew how to analyze talent—and they did it well. But, for the most part, their talents were only valuable to those who were looking for an edge over their opponents and were willing to pay to get it.
Nowadays, the everyday college fan finds himself paying premium money just to keep up with every little item on a prospect they, prior to that point, probably had never heard of. The avid college football fan likely knows as much as any analyst about how good a prospect is likely to be.
In 1956, the University of Florida was the only school in the state of Florida to utilize a full-time recruiter on its staff.
Fast-forward to 2010 and not only is recruiting a full-time endeavor on just about every Division I football staff, but it's something that is thought to be the very definition of success and/or futility for any given program.
A top-10 recruiting class is thought to be the key to remaining competitive in today's college football landscape.
So, the best thing a coach can hope to do is land the best of the best. He wants to be the envy of every other Division I program in America. He wants to be able to look at his Signing Day haul and say: "Darn, I'm good."
It's for this very reason that an 18-year-old kid can hold a team, its fanbase, and its coaches in the balance.
Seantrel Henderson, the nations' No. 1 recruit, has all eyes on him as people wait and wonder what school he will choose. He's the apple of just about every school in the country's eye. The cherry-on-top for whatever school is lucky enough to land him. The schools that are lucky enough to be in his top-three will reap the benefits of his decision—one way or the other.
If he chooses to go to school "X," then the media, publicity, and leftover spotlight given to schools "Y" and "Z" could be enough to bring other big-time recruits their way—particularly if the school is not on the same level, exposure wise, as school "X."
However, if Minnesota were to land him over Ohio State, it would be a coup for the Gophers but would leave some wondering about Jim Tressel's longevity at Ohio State. It's definitely a double-edged sword. It can be great for some, but disastrous for others.
The same holds true of the prospect himself. The greater his flamboyance, the larger his legend, the more scrutinized he will become once he hits the field.
Just look at the fate of former University of Miami linebacker Willie Williams. His path to destruction started with something very innocent—a blog. He was given the unfortunate opportunity to share with the college football world exactly the kinds of perks a blue-chip recruit is awarded.
He relayed experiences of expensive lobster dinners and campus co-eds. The items seemed funny at the time. However, after he signed on the dotted line, he was found to be less a comedian than a comedy of errors.
He bounced around to five different schools before landing in the NAIA—a far cry from the powerhouse of the then Larry Coker-led Miami Hurricanes. Needless to say, he never lived up to what his premature coronation promised.
As a matter of fact, the only thing he ever was able to accomplish in Division I football happened as a result of his recruiting tales of extravagance. The NCAA enacted new laws to keep such things from ever happening again.
Another such example is Ryan Perriloux. The Bayou-Boy-Wonder with the all-world talent and game-changing athletic ability. The day that he de-committed from the Texas Longhorns, it seemed that the UT faithful saw their dreams of a national championship float away.
However, all Perriloux ended up doing at LSU was squander his opportunities. He was eventually kicked off the team and left many wondering what might have been if he had just been able to handle the expectations that the next level had to offer.
You see, the recruiting services can get it right where the ratings are concerned. A blue-chip kid is a blue-chip kid—talent wise. That said, his ranking means nothing if his maturity level isn't there to match his talent.
For every Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy, there is a Mitch Mustain and a Brent Schaeffer. Not every player will live up to the hype and it's unfair to anoint them as the next great one without letting them prove their merits on the field first.
In 2005, the top rated player in the nation, according to Scouts recruiting service, was Mitch Mustain. He was considered the "can't lose" player of the year and was the jewel of the University of Arkansas' recruiting class.
Know who was 12 spots behind him? Sam Bradford.
Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that these are teenage boys, not men. The elevation of the high school game via televised broadcasts, prep magazines, and national rankings has made it possible to start scrutinizing kids at 14 and 15 years old.
Can you imagine being barely out of middle-school and someone is already asking for your allegiances? Your autograph?
Better still, you are 18 years old and involved in the social networking scene afforded us all by the presence of such sites as Facebook and MySpace, and your friend numbers go from a couple hundred to a couple thousand within a week of your name hitting a college team's message board.
It's an unusual position to put an adolescent in when he's barely able to understand the rules, much less the risks.
Most of us will never know the glitz and glamour that a blue-chip recruit feels when all eyes are on him. We won't be able to understand what it feels like to stand in front of a crowd of a thousand or more people—knowing that they are hanging on your every word.
We won't have a magazine cover touting us as the "next" anything.
So, these young men are entitled to soak it all in and take full advantage of this, likely, once-in-a-lifetime situation.
That said, when does it become too much? Where does the hype train stop? Who should be held accountable for the Willie Williams' and Ryan Perriloux's of the world? Someone has to be, right?
If not, then maybe the question isn't one of responsibility on the prospects' part but, rather, accountability on the part of the recruiting system.
Where does the buck actually stop?