Reign in the Hype on College Recruiting Day

National signing day, thanks to the proliferation of the Internet and specialized cable sports networks, has pushed the media hype machine down to the high school level. It’s college football’s version of the NFL Draft. The timing works nicely for college football, a month after the BCS championship game, allowing the season recaps and annual BCS vs. playoff system controversy to die out, and a few months before spring practice leading into the big spring game that many big schools host. Yes, even college football receives 365 days of coverage in todays saturated media world.

Not to spoil what amounts to a great moment, a young athlete receiving his first national spotlight, a family celebrating sending their child off to college – for free better yet – but the intricate analysis of recruiting classes has crossed the line to the territory of absurd. Web sites rank players, rank schools, rank schools offensive and defensive classes, rank their junior college recruits, next someone may rank the lighting at the press conference. What do all these rankings mean? 99% of the time, they mean nothing.

Sports fans love rankings. Makes great fodder for debate, puts things in black and white, winners and losers, good, better, best. However, don’t buy into the hype. Recruiting rankings are the most imprecise, least likely to measure actual performance, in a list of increasingly useless rating systems. The NBA and NFL supposedly have arguably the best scouts around, pour a ton of money into scouting, have people who dedicate their lives to succeeding in the draft, yet the results still wind up a crap shoot. Ryan Leaf, Mike Mamula, Charles Rodgers, to randomly name a few recent sure fire NFL stars. If professional teams often make mistakes, after evaluating players compete under a similar spotlight against fairly equal competition at the college level, how can colleges expect to be accurate? High school players, dispersed nationally, typically play against teams in their own area, where star players often stand out as a man among boys. How will these kids react against someone their own size, or when they are no longer the best on the field? Nobody knows.

That leads to another point, these are kids, still young, still developing. Forget skill projections, try to project who will have a growth spurt, or who can carry an extra 40 pounds to go from safety to linebacker. Impossible. Remember, most players wind up at a different position in college. The landscape is littered with former standout high school running backs and quarterbacks playing all over the field, on both offense and defense. How will they handle the position change, can they even play the position the college wants them to?

Toss in the intangibles that 40-yard times and arm strength don’t account for. Learning a coach’s system, playing smart, dedication, work ethic. Suddenly these projections are harder than the rankings appear. After four years at a national college powerhouse, Tom Brady still lingered until the 7th round, Joe Montana into the 3rd.

Before I take away all the fun, recruiters often get it right, discover the stars, build powerhouse college programs, win nation championships. Pete Carroll always has good recruiting classes, his teams always win. Conversely, Notre Dame has had a Top 5 football recruiting class the past few seasons, right up there as high as #2 according to some publications this season. What did it buy them? One of the worst seasons in Irish history.

The book is not closed on this seasons recruiting winners and losers yet. Terrelle Pryor,  arguably the biggest fish in the pond, remains unsigned. Heed warning Michigan, Oregon, and Ohio State fans, Pryor will not guarantee success. Felipe Lopez graced the cover of Sports Illustrated before he step foot on the court for St. John’s, with fans not wondering if, but how many Final Fours he would lead them to. Four years later, the Red Storm finally made it back to the NCAA tournament before a first round exit ended an accomplished, yet immensely disappointing college career. Fall into the rankings frenzy, just don’t forget the warning label – that’s right I’m talking to you Alabama and Miami.

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