Recruiting is a squishy subject that would likely pee on you if you tried to pick it up. It is, in fact, so squishy that basketball has nearly given up all pretenses of "acceptable" and gone straight to "this is dirty, and we're ok with it." College football isn't far behind. When I was younger, I didn't even know what recruiting was. Players came and played for Michigan, we were always competitive, and then they left. There were no "signing day specials" on ESPN, and if a high school game was televised nationally it was because it was the 100th meeting of two towns who have suffered rust-belt economy and they play for this old railroad spike, or something like that. It was never because "recruit A is playing recruit B."
There's a reason for the increase in national attention to recruiting. We live in a time where information is up-to-the-second current. It's the primary reason newspapers are dying. If I want to know the score of the game, I can probably re-watch it in its entirety on the internet, I can definitely check the score minutes after its completion, and I can do it all on my blackberry mobile device. One thing I don't do is wait for tomorrow's edition of the Globe. So now we've got all the information, 24 hour news cycle, blah blah blah. The problem is that College Football - the actual sport where kids from various schools play each other - occupies four months of our lives. Four months of beautiful, indulgent carnival time. Then comes the 8 month barren wasteland of the off season. And we've got all this time to fill.
Combine the vast increase in news availability with fan's desire to fill that wasteland with whatever they can find, and boom, you've got increased interest in recruiting. You can then play chicken-and-egg with the MSM's increased coverage of recruiting, and it's a vicious cycle. If you're a college football fan with access to the internet or cable, you probably follow recruiting to varying degrees whether you want to or not; a marked change from even 10 years ago. With the advent of social networking sites, increased marketing from recruits themselves, coaches on twitter, etc., the access that average fans have to the recruiting process is at an all time high and it shows no signs of slowing. Scout and Rivals both exist on this premise, and they must be profitable; they are now imprints (so to speak) of Fox Sports and Yahoo Sports respectively.
We're all getting a little bit of recruiting with our daily intake of college sports. If you're reading this blog (hey, thanks) you're probably getting a lot more than an average Michigan fan. But how much is too much? Because when I read things like this, a WLA post from our friend ShockFX, and others like it, it's clear that people think a line exists. This is a recent mgoblog thread about recruiting and "the line." Therein, Ninjafootball states:
For me it's a real life vs internet thing. By that I mean I try not to do things on the net that I wouldn't be comfortable doing in real life. Any off color joke I make here or on Uniscorn I'd be comfortable having associated with me in real life, and anytime I call someone out I expect the same. To that end, I wouldn't be comfortable approaching athletes I don't know personally in real life. Braylon frequents the place where I work now, and Chris Perry and multiple Bengals frequented a place I worked in Cinci. I just find it rude to intrude on their daily lives, celebrity or not.
This becomes even weirder when you start thinking about the fact recruits are 16-17-18 years old. Obsessing over Scout, Rivals, or reading every article here on MGo is one thing. Posting on their Facebook wall is just a tad on the creepy side- especially the older you get.
Poster six-zero responds:
I think the tricky thing about "The Line" is that it's all relative to the person that is or is not crossing it. NO ONE necessarily thinks they're crossing the line when they think they're doing it for a good reason.
So a line clearly exists, but it's at best a moving target. Some people obviously think it's not crossing any line to post on a recruit's facebook page. A recent post on Anthony Lalota's page says "Good luck tomorrow - from Tony in Columbus - Go Blue." Does this seemingly innocent wall-post cross this mythical line? What if that wall post had said "Yer gonna suck for 4 years, go blow - ha. buckeyes4lyfe"?
For me, it goes back to what Ninja said above. Would I tell Anthony Lalota "good luck tomorrow" to his face? Yeah, I probably would. Would I tell a 17 year old recruit that just chose Ohio State over Michigan to go screw? Probably not.
Look - you're not a pedo, a phrase our WLA brethren are fond of, for following recruiting because everybody who is an avid college football fan follows it to varying degrees. And there is no definitive "line" that must not be crossed. This is the part of the post where an over-arching point goes, and I'm afraid there might not be one. Let's try to set one up:
1) Recruiting is a national pastime that followers of college football, particularly those who read blogs in the first place, follow to varying degrees. Nobody is safe.
2) In existence, there is a line. This line marks the boundary between "appropriate" and "inappropriate" when it comes to the level of attention paid to recruiting by fans. It's why mgoblog has a page devoted to recruiting philosophy.
Ok - I think I found it. The overarching point is this: recruiting is squishy and would probably pee on you if you tried to pick it up. Some folks are prone to picking it up. Varsity Blue, Mgo, Rivals, Scout, and others will invariably pick it up, try to deal with it squirming in their hands, and then go run and show it to other people/scare girls away with it (dropping the metaphor for a second, that last part holds true in real life, actually). While this isn't my cup of tea, I do read the posts, and I do "follow" it on a second hand basis. Just because I'm not the one doing the myspace/facebook stalking doesn't mean that I'm not perpetuating it. It gets to be a bit hypocritical of me to start vilifying those who do engage in "facebook stalking" of recruits while getting excited about reading "recruit X's facebook page says 'go blue'" in a Varsity Blue post. I am personally not crossing a line, but if the line exists at "facebook stalking" I'm benefiting from somebody else having crossed it. This makes me better...how? Transitive property applied to my point:
You = College Football Fan
College Football Fan = Follower of Recruiting
You = Follower of Recruiting
Calling people out for facebook stalking and "sweating the moves of 17 year old boys" is just stupidity, because you benefit from somebody doing it. Just because you're not the one doesn't make you any more innocent. At the same time, however, calling people out for being rude and inappropriate to recruits and potential recruits on the supposedly anonymous internet (a whole other take on what is "appropriate") is perfectly acceptable. As long as you take recruiting for what it is, and avoid personal attacks on young men making a big decision, I think you're within your rights just as much as anybody from Mgo, Scout, or Rivals is. How much is too much? Just follow a rule that you should be following for nearly every other aspect of life: Don't be a jerk, and don't cross a line that makes you uncomfortable. Beyond that, it's wide open.