WORSHAM: On the Ball
Passion and compassion are necessary to recruiting process
When Al Gore invented the Internet, he couldn’t have imagined its eventual impact on college football.
Clearly, the advent and evolution of the World Wide Web has changed the way we watch the game. We have message boards and forums to vent our frustrations and sing our praises; we have streaming highlights to keep tabs on all the latest plays and players; we have all this and much, much more, literally, in the palm of our hand.
Gore - okay, well, the scientists and mathematicians of ARPANET, NPL, and the other government agencies who actually invented the Internet - probably could have pictured those features, or at least something similar to those features.
But what they couldn’t have pictured is how much the Internet would shape the world of college football recruiting.
Once largely ignored by college football fans, recruiting is now followed with equal passion and fervor as the games themselves, thanks in no small part to the Internet. Information on recruits, once scarce and remote and only really accessible by college football’s network of coaches, now abounds, with thousands of writers covering the recruiting beat, and thousands of readers following.
In and of itself, this is a positive trend. High school athletes who excel at their sport deserve commendation, and fans that follow their teams closely deserve access to information. Great events like the Bayou Bash are evidence enough that the emergent recruiting culture is, far more often than not, a wonderful thing.
What isn’t a wonderful thing, however, is when vocal minorities of overindulgent, overreactive individuals abuse the system and ruin it for everyone else.
Volumes could be - and probably will be - written about the abuse from the recruits’ side. There are obvious examples of players using their status as top prospects to immorally make gain financially and personally.
For the most part, however, those actions are individual and separated, and basically in the minority, as many more recruits handle their recruitment in an upright way.
The more troubling trend, however, is the demonization of the players who get away.
Those who follow recruiting are undoubtedly more passionate and more invested than the average college football fan. Passion and investment are good, but sometimes, when abused, they turn into aggression and malevolence.
Just take a stroll down any recruiting message board of any college football program, and you’ll see the names pop up of former commits who backed out, or in-state players who left for another program. And, occasionally, you’ll see a lot of personal vitriol directed (anonymously) at those players.
It’s almost always from a vocal minority, but that minority is usually profane, aggressive, and too frequently vocal to be ignored.
The time has long since passed for that majority of fans who follow recruiting closely and appropriately to weed out the nutjobs.
It’s up to those responsible, mature fans to start taking a stand against some of the hatred shown toward these kids. Because, remember, they literally are kids, and they are making the first real decision of their lives (besides which girl to ask to prom).
I remember my very, very light recruitment to play basketball in college, when I was courted by a handful of small schools. For the longest time, I wanted to get away from home, so I committed to a university several hours outside of Baton Rouge.
But at the twelfth hour, I panicked. All of a sudden, I didn’t want to leave home. Come to think of it, I had sort of grown to actually like being around my friends and family in Baton Rouge. And, this being the biggest decision - scratch that, the only real decision - I had made up to that point in my life, I was terrified. I knew I was making the biggest mistake of my life by going so far away.
So - like most 18-year-old kids do with a variety of decisions, big or small - I changed my mind. And, fortunately, all the people involved in my recruiting process - my parents, former coaches, and even the school I was de-committing from - had my best interest in mind. They were looking out for me first, and allowed me to make my decision.
Looking back, it turned out to be the right decision for me. I eventually landed at a school closer to home, and the chips fell in place. I finished my career on my own terms, earned a degree from LSU, set myself up for this amazing job, and met the woman of my dreams, to whom I am happily married.
None of that might have been possible if I hadn’t made the most difficult choice in my life: to back off of my commitment. And I was lucky, because no one outside of my small circle really cared about my recruitment. Had there been thousands of fans waiting on my decision, I’d have let down many of them, and I don’t know how I would have handled the retribution.
As fans and media, we need to keep in mind that, first and foremost, these are kids making the biggest decision of their lives. They deserve the opportunity to make mistakes during that process, to change their minds, even at the last minute.
Sure, there are some recruits - a very small few - who manipulate the system for fame and attention. Like the small minority of overreactive, over-emotional fans, they are few and far between, and only stand out because of their volume and prominence.
We shouldn’t let the minority rule, in either case. The fans and recruits who do it right must continue to do it right, only more loudly, following with equal parts passion and compassion.
Support a player in his decision, even if he ends up picking another school, and even if he does it at the last second against his longstanding word. And if he picks your school, support him just as proudly.
In either case, it’s the biggest decision he’s ever made, and if he’s lucky like me, it could be the best.
Regardless of that, he’s just a kid, and kids make mistakes. It’s up to the adults to support and guide - even if we disagree.