As a blogger who has written about the rise and appeal of college football recruiting in the past, I wanted to respond to Dave Hickman's column "Drooling over recruiting makes no sense" in today's Charleston Gazette. The central thesis, being that, Hickman
will not live, die and be consumed (or even mildly interested, for that matter) in what any wet-behind-the-ears, sometimes spoiled and almost always overly hyped high school underclassman thinks or says about where he wants to eventually play his game at the next level.
Some of the below points rehash what I wrote about the rise of signing day in February. Specifically, I'm not trying to rip his head off here, but Hickman overgeneralizes in response to an inaccurate, exaggerated stereotype more than you'll see in a typical "provocative" piece like this.
Granted, a certain subset of fans do follow the recruiting process to an absurd degree. I think anyone who's pouring over a player's myspace or facebook page is the exception, not the rule. The internet has a way of amplifying hype, and catering to specialized interest subgroups. I don't care about Battlestar Galactica or Naruto, but their fans can obsess to their heart's content in their own little corner of the net.
I said recently that when I buy the latest copy of the Madden video game, sometimes I skip right over the game itself and head straight for its franchise mode. That's the mindset of people who follow college football recruiting, or the NFL draft, or robots, or any other forward-looking niche interest. They're just as interested, if not more, in speculating about unknown qualities. Is it silly? Sure. Is it hurting anyone? Usually not.
There's a distinction between following recruiting goings on, and obsessing over them. I'm not living or dying with the antics of shirtless teenage boys. I do have a good memory and decent organizational skills, and that allows me to follow the subject to a decent extent despite, honestly, not exerting all that much effort on my part. I read recruiting stories the same as I would read an article about the competition for the third string longsnapper job, or detailed profile on the equipment manager, or anything else tangently related to my favorite college football team.
In fact, I'd argue that, as overhyped as the process can be at times, some aspects of recruiting are more interesting and relevant than the day to day locker room minutae. Is Tom Savage (or, any other high profile recruit) more compelling to fans, and more important to RU's success on the gridiron over the next decade than many players already on the Scarlet Knight roster? Of course he is. Even if you don't buy into the more overblown hysteria, this point is obvious. The less-heralded members of each class are still the players who will make up the bulk of a roster over the next three to five years. That's why so many coaches are treating recruiting as bloodsport.
But that's not the really silly part. If you want to believe that some guy you ran across online actually knows what's going on, well, chances are you're also the type who, when you get that e-mail saying your bank account codes have been compromised and you need to send us your account number and pass code, well, you send it. Go right ahead.
Taking into account the many, many faults of the recruiting process (which I've taken care to mention here on occasion when the opportunity presents itself), one ignores it at their own peril. Hype and stars don't perfectly correlate with success, and are undoubtedly slanted in many ways, but it's not all just white noise. The rankings do matter to some extent. As does coaching, player development, injuries, luck, and countless other factors. I think most of the people who do follow recruiting know these implicit caveats. Casual observers may not be, and hence take some of the hyperbole too literally.
Oh, and by the way, that doesn't even take into account whether or not these kids can play anyway, which is an entirely different reason to avoid recruiting like the plague. Project out for a moment and consider what percentage of the thousands of players being discussed now will make any significant impact on whatever college they choose. Just a guess, but I'd imagine 25 percent will never play for one reason or another, 50 percent will remain largely anonymous in college, 20 percent will actually become starters and solid contributors and the other five percent will actually turn out to be what you hope - stars.
Well, actually, people have looked at this, so there's no need to speculate here. Snarkiness is overblown on the blogosphere, but it's warranted when someone can't bother to type a string of words into Google and check their assertions before they make it to print.
Things have changed a lot, and there will always be an element of generational resistance for good or bad. I've tried to make the case that it all isn't too strange if you sequentially follow exactly what happened. The hype can be a bit of a double-edged sword at times, but that's no reason to stigmatize a broad swath of content out of hand.