I have never followed recruiting too closely. I understand how important it is in college athletics, but I’d rather let others worry about the performance of high school athletes. I start paying attention once they suit up for their college teams.
The press conferences and tables with hats trouble me, and I’d like to think that if I were a star high school football player I wouldn’t make such a spectacle of my announcement. But maybe I would. It’s hard to blame the kids; after all, it’s the media that has made recruiting such a big deal.
Wednesday was National Signing Day, the first day high school football players can sign a letter of intent to attend a particular college. Across the country, top recruits were in high school gymnasiums announcing their decisions, doing interviews with national television networks, basking in the spotlight. Kevin Jones, the No. 1 recruit in 2001, recently told ESPN the Magazine: “On the day of my press conference, I still hadn’t decided between Virginia Tech and PSU. As I sat down in front of everybody, I had both jerseys with me. I pulled the Penn State jersey out of a bag and said, ‘I will…not be attending Penn State.’ Then I ripped off my sweater and had a Mike Vick jersey on underneath. The entire room was flabbergasted.” Undoubtedly there were players who pulled similar stunts on Wednesday.
The consensus No. 1 player this year, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney from South Carolina, did not send in his letter of intent on Signing Day. Clowney does not know where he wants to attend college, which is perfectly understandable. It’s a critically important decision, and while lesser recruits might have to worry about a school running out of open scholarships if they don’t sign on the first day, that is certainly not the case with Clowney. He will be welcomed by the school of his choice whenever he decides.
Clowney announced he would be delaying his announcement until February 14th, his birthday. In a Signing Day interview on ESPNU, he was asked what else he needed to find out before he makes his decision. “Nothing really, just sitting back until the 14th, waiting,” Clowney said, which could imply that he has already made his decision. But here were the next two questions and his responses:
Do you know in your head what you’re going to do?
When are you going to know?
“Probably like two days before. I’ve got to talk to my parents about it.”
The last day to sign a letter of intent is April 1st. So why the self-imposed deadline? Clowney has had months to think about his decision and he’s still unsure, so what makes him think he’ll know in a couple of weeks? I hope this isn’t true, but perhaps he is delaying his announcement to keep the spotlight on himself for a little longer. Instead of sharing headlines with the rest of the recruits, he can have his own day in the sun.
In 2008, there was the deeply troubling story of the player from Nevada who held a press conference at his high school to announce he was attending Cal. The only problem was that Cal had not recruited him. Neither had any of the other schools he was supposedly considering. The kid had faked the entire thing. That same year, the nation’s top recruit, Terrelle Pryor, held a press conference on Signing Day simply to say he had not made a decision.
The “look at me” attitude and inflated egos are disturbing. I have no problem bashing LeBron James for such behavior, but I’m hesitant to do the same with high school kids. Instead I wonder where the adults are. I question the media that airs the press conferences. Accepting a scholarship offer is a huge deal and a day that should be celebrated by the athletes, but the way in which it is done needs to change.