National Signing Day: College Football Recruits Should Be Seen, Not Heard

Tom OatesCorrespondent IJanuary 30, 2011

Terrelle Pryor garnered media attention as he signed his letter of intent to attend Ohio State University. (March 2008)
Terrelle Pryor garnered media attention as he signed his letter of intent to attend Ohio State University. (March 2008)Charles LeClaire/Getty Images

National signing day, the last day recruits can sign a letter of intent for their school of choice, is college football’s Christmas and Groundhog Day hybrid. It's a day for players and fans to celebrate.

The gift of new talent is held aloft as a promising forecast of a team’s sunny success. High school players realize a dream of a scholarship and certain universities deems them worthy to play college football.

This does not mean, however, that an 18-year old kid can conduct an attention-grabbing spectacle.

On February 2nd, ESPNU will dedicate 10 hours of live coverage to hop across the nation, providing a national forum for at least seven high school players to announce their intentions to a nationwide audience.

Ten hours and seven kids. Plenty of time for each player to soak in his 15 minutes of fame.

Shouldn't we worried about the changing mentality of our athletes?

Before all blame is heaped on ESPN, realize this fueling trend has plenty of resources:

  • Shoe companies and sponsors, who shower kids with gifts and gear while participating in "all-star games".
  • AAU and "travel teams" treating game schedules like concert tours.
  • Universities profiting from jersey sales, ticket packages and coaches shows.
  • The NCAA and conferences earning lucrative television deals.
  • Networks who routinely broadcast high school games, promoting individual talent rather than the teams they play for.
  • Even our own devotion, dollars and increasing desire for sports.

All feed the willing—and still maturing—egos of 18 year-olds.

Don’t place the blame onto the kids.  Most teenagers feel that they can handle adulthood. At times, they’ll tell you how you should handle it too.

But now, they get a microphone and a national audience?

This has no real benefit outside of network ratings and sponsorship deals.

It is simply handing too much control and attention to a group of 17 and 18 year-old boys. Most at this age may actually believe the hype, but not many can handle it.

Q: Now, how is this programming different from coverage of the NFL, NBA and NHL drafts, another ceremony designed to praise a young man’s potential over productivity?

The difference: leagues and teams make the announcements. The kids don’t.

Interesting, as I’m writing this, my background noise is an ESPN story updating Maurice Clarett, whose life descended from a record-setting freshman year at Ohio State to arrests and jail time. We now have a thoughtful, wiser 27-year old more concerned with raising his daughter than his profile.

A striking statement from Clarett’s interview: as a Buckeye, he signed autographs “The Greatest of All Time.” He also said, at the time, he believed it. 

Clarett is an example of how attention and glory heaped upon a very young man can hinder—if not damage—their growth.

Imagine the ego trip if Clarett conducted his own media circus in February of 2002 at the library of Warren G. Harding High School (akin to LeBron James’ "Decision"), to announce he’d be "taking his talents to Columbus."

Kids don’t deserve—nor can handle—the brightest spotlights on themselves.

Can we discuss whose stepping on the field at BigStateU? Of course.

Can we air highlights to showcase the talent? That’s fine.

But should we get the satellite trucks, power the live camera feeds & hang on the words of a child during his personally-directed made-for-TV event?

That’s giving a great deal of control to a youngster who, no matter how talented, is a not-ready-for-primetime-player.