Fear and Loathing of NSD

Today was National Signing Day.

In the South, NSD is the equivalent of a holiday such as Labor Day. In fact, some football fans think that Super Bowl Sunday should be followed by three consecutive days off, exceeding my favorite holiday season of Thanksgiving: Monday as a recovery day from the hype and glitter of the game/halftime/commercials, Tuesday as a catch-up day on what college football has been up to since the National Championship game, and Wednesday for more hype and glitter of a much different kind.

I’m not one of those football fans.

Tommy Tomlinson at Sports on Earth and John Brandon at Grantland give me permission to remain detached.

***

I practice my profession for a company that is in a business, like many others, which is a relationship business. I’m scientifically and technically oriented, and work basically as a technical expert assigned with ensuring technical quality of solutions delivered to clients as well as leading large teams of scientists to do the same.

We are an important facet of the business, those of us that actually deliver solutions to clients.

Then there are those that are engaged in what is called “client development.” This is the world of power lunches, proposals, statements of qualifications, etc. Bringing work in the door to feed the staff as they say.

Not that there is anything wrong with this — it is in many ways the lifeblood of a business like that of my company.

But, it’s not me.

Vonn Bell wears the wrong hat.

Vonn Bell wears the wrong hat.

So, when Tommy Tomlinson writes “If a college football game is a stirring documentary, college football recruiting is a reality show on Bravo,” I can relate. I love college football games, and documentaries. I fear and loathe college football recruiting, and reality shows.

“Every recruiting season is full of backstabbing, overblown egos, underhanded tactics and fake drama that somehow, under the lights, morphs into real drama. It’s a dirty business.” This is true for marketplace competition, whether that involves science and engineering, or, as Tomlinson’s description refers to, college football.

Those lights and drama are what NSD has come to be — the zenith of college football insanity.

There are the funny parts of it all. Like when “five-star linebacker Reuben Foster gets a large Auburn tattoo to celebrate his commitment to the Tigers… then decommits and subsequently commits to rival Alabama on Monday.” If a Crimson Tide nut can poison ancient oak trees on the plains of southeastern Alabama, imagine what somebody on one side might do to poor Reuben for that tat and somebody on the otherside might do to him for defecting!

But there is the unfortunate dark side. Like when “big Ole Miss recruit, DE Chris Jones, gets death threats after daring to visit both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.”

All of this eventually leads to the lights and drama of “a 17-year-old sitting at a table with a row of hats in front of him, like some strange three-card-monte dealer, before he picks up a hat and makes some fans happy and others sad.”

I would have replaced the word ‘sad’ with ‘furious’ or even ‘vengeful’. Like on Wednesday, when 5-star recruit Vonn Bell was, as reported by some national media, a sure catch by Tennessee. The other two hats on Bell’s table were those of Bama and Ohio State. Bell chose Urban Meyer, sending the Vol Nation into self-loathing, and Bell-loathing.

Ugly.

***

John Brandon is an admitted “recruitnik.”

If you don’t know him, you might recognize him (or yourself for that matter) through his self-description. “I spend the spare moments of my life praying that high school football players enjoy their visits to my alma mater, that my head coach can out-charm the other head coaches, that our cafeteria chefs out-cook the chefs of other schools, that our weight room is more elaborate, that our “hostesses” are prettier. I want stars in the commit column, baby. My football team has needs and I want those needs met.”

That’s pretty much 90 percent of hard-core college football fans.

Brandon expertly puts the NSD hysteria in its proper perspective. He writes that hidden in all of the insanity of days like Wednesday are all the recruits who commit early and stay in state, and the recruits who turn down their home-state team “in favor of a highly esteemed academic institution.” And, especially hidden are those who chose to sign early and enroll early.

That leaves the leftoversof the humane process to the bright lights of NSD — the “unblessed” as described by Brandon. This comprises the “up-for-grabs players, those flirts who fuel the message boards until National Signing Day and sometimes beyond. This leaves the flippers — softened in their commitments by late suitors. This leaves the engaged (verbally committed) who still go on dates (official visits). This leaves the prospects bewildered because the coach who recruited them left for another job or got fired. This leaves the young men caught between their gut feelings and the wishes of their families. This leaves the blue-chippers with iffy grades who can’t commit to their programs of choice until fresh ACT scores appear. All leading to the donning of ball caps or yanking on of gloves or pulling onstage of puppies.”

It all brings out the worst in us.

Writes Brandon, “[a] player who flips his commitment to your team is a level-headed young adult who finally came to understand the prestige of your school’s history, the potential for championships, the superior academics. His decision makes perfect sense. A player who flips away from your team is disloyal, misguided by bad influences, unfortunate, generally of low character. To be honest, you feel sorry for him. Players who choose a rival school where the depth chart is not favorable to them have been coaxed with floozies and new sneakers. Players who sign up to wait their turn at your school are team guys who see the big picture.”

Today, Twitter and Facebook were full of these sentiments. All of them. Except that they were expressed in much less flattering ways.

***

Does any of it matter? This thirst for 4- and 5-star recruits? (Tennessee’s recruiting class ended up with 21 signees comprising no 5-stars and only five 4-stars, good/bad enough to be ranked 20th in the nation by Rivals.com, just behind Vanderbilt at #19).

Once in uniform come September, players don’t wear stars on their jerseys. That’s found only on internet websites. What matters is real talent expressed in game-performance.

Mark Ingram, Jr., Alabama’s only Heisman Trophy winner, was only a 3-star recruit coming out of high school. But, as Brandon points out, the bulk of Saban’s 2012 starters that pummeled their way to the national championship were 4- and 5-star recruits.

So, Tennessee’s 20th-best recruiting class in the nation is only the 9th best in the SEC. That’s the facts as far as stars on paper are concerned.

But there is always hope that our 3-star brigade can bring glory one day. As former Vol RB Arian Foster tweeted today:

There’s some kid out there that’s watching all these kids sign to “big time” colleges. He’ll sign to a D3, and be in the HOF some day.

Keep hope alive. See you in August.

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2 responses to “Fear and Loathing of NSD”

  1. Larry The Deuce says :

    I had that whole feeling of being letdown when Bell chose a state university in Ohio.. But I wonder what these people are thinking when they spew venom. Do they have kids of their own? How would they want the world treating their kid? So many of us need to gain some perspective in their lives. I follow recruiting, but man, some of these people need to do something useful in their lives.

    • rockytop78 says :

      Yes, I think that that best (and classiest) thing to do for the Vonn Bells of the world — i.e., those kids who don’t sign on with UT — is to wish them the best, and hope that they take a great opportunity and do great things with it; after all, how many of them actually make it to the Big Show?

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