Sunday, January 30, 2011

Signing Day Means The Worst Week of the Year in College Football

Recruiting in college athletics to me is one of those necessary evils. At it's core, it's vital as the first step in making any program successful. That being said, what recruiting has evolved into is something that trivializes each sport and brings out the worst in many: coaches, players, boosters, and especially fans. This week is college football's signing day, and thus it's the worst week of the year in football.

A lot of people think I'm against recruiting, or that recruiting doesn't matter. That's blatantly untrue. It's important, and it's a significant day for coaching staffs, players, and their families. What doesn't matter is everything that is going to be written and discussed about these recruits.  Why?

Because, quite frankly, the people who are doing all of the commentary and analysis don't know what the hell they are talking about. Oh sure, they have their "measurables" and "star rankings"...but at it's core, it's simply a semi-educated guess by people who's only claim to success in this is the ability to get fans to pay to follow it.

In recent days, I've had the opportunity to reread Bruce Feldman's book "Meat Market", a look at Ed Orgeron and his 'Ole Miss staff as they evaluate and recruit players for their 2007 class. Orgeron reminds me a lot of Bill Callahan in that both men thought the key to success was to focus on recruiting more than the other aspects of the program. Both met similar fates: Callahan was fired in 2007, Orgeron in 2008. Since then, both schools have seen increased success as better coaches came in and took the foundations that both men built, and enjoyed success.

What I found interesting in Feldman's book was how Orgeron viewed the recruiting services. Generally, he scoffed at these services in private as deep down, the people doing the analysis don't have the expertise to do the job and they also don't take into account a lot of the other factors that affect how a player might do in college. Things like character, aptitude, desire, and heart. Coaches on the recruiting trail look for it, the services don't know how to analyze they don't.

What you end up with a seriously flawed system that generates a lot of noise without having much of any relevancy when it comes down to it. Look at Bill Callahan's touted 2005 class.  In hindsight, if it weren't for Ndamukong Suh, it likely would be much closer to Nebraska's worst recruiting class ever than it's best. But that's not what we were told in 2005. Next national champions. What Nebraska had been missing for years. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Fans were sold a bill of goods, and it wasn't until Callahan and his staff were exposed in October 2007, fans believed it all.

Remember Harrison Beck, who was supposed to be the prototype pro-style quarterback? Couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, and failed at both Nebraska and North Carolina State before finding some success in Division II. Remember Marlon Lucky? He was supposed to be the "next Adrian Peterson"? Lucky turned out to be a decent third-down back who's most productive year was 2007 when he served as Sam Keller's bailout target in lieu of going through his progressions. Decent, yes...but not the game changer he had been hyped up to be.

That hype wasn't anything Lucky said or did, but rather fans and the so-called recruiting experts who made him out to be  more than he ever was. That pressure mounted on Lucky, who ended up in the hospital when he struggled to meet the unrealistic expectations that some placed on him.

So this week, those so-called experts will be all over the radio, television, print, and electronic media offering their assessment of where this upcoming group of Huskers rates. And frankly, I won't be paying them one second of attention. As always, I'm turning off the blog for signing week since there's absolutely nothing worth commenting on as the noise of the recruitniks drones on.

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