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The Cult of College Football Recruiting: Roy Roundtree and Purdue

Roy Roundtree, the first victim of the "snake oil salesman". (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Roy Roundtree, the first victim of the "snake oil salesman". (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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For my fourteenth birthday I received NCAA Football '99 for Playstation.  I had played football games on Sega Genesis years before (Deion Sanders Primetime '95 for the most part), but I wasn't prepared for what I was getting in to with NCAA '99.  I had a couple friends over a few days after my birthday (I was born on Christmas Eve, so birthday parties were always tricky to arrange), and we spent an entire night playing the game and eating a mixture of sugar and kool-aid packets that was essentially cocaine for middle schoolers.  We began our dynasty as any three young Wolverine fans would, we picked UM and started our quest to conquer the college football world.  The funny thing is we didn't play any of the regular season games.  We would set the schedules in the preseason so that the non-conference games would be easy victories (Boom, SEC'd) and then simulate all the games until we got to a bowl game.  Once we played the bowl game we would move to the real objective of all that scheduling, simulating, and sugar:  recruiting.

Being only 14 at the time I had a very simple view of how college football worked.  I watched the games and cheered for Michigan, but I was hardly a student of the game.  I wouldn't really begin to understand football on a more complex level until I began playing football---badly I might add---the next fall.  Something as complex as recruiting was at once foreign and extremely fascinating to a 14 year old perfectionist.  Sure, I wanted to win the games, but at the time that seemed like only a means to a larger end.  I wanted to assemble the perfect recruiting class.  Could I get all blue chip players?  Could I find a fool proof way to get any prospect that I wanted?  I was hooked on the chase.

We simulated through five years of a dynasty that night before we all passed out in deep sugar induced comas.  We also got fired from Michigan after that fifth year.  Simulating all those games was our ticket to the hot seat, and I am still convinced that an upset by Rutgers doomed us.  My friends went home the next day but my coaching career moved on to North Carolina for a decade, then Kentucky for another 15+ years before I moved on to a different game months later.  But through the end of that dynasty I had learned from my first coaching stint.  Playing the games was important, and I dedicated myself to winning them.  But it was all still a means to an end.

I was a recruiter.  I've been hooked ever since.

Over the next decade I graduated to PS2, and have owned almost every version of NCAA Football that has been released.  All of them included dynasties that were focused not on the games themselves, but the building of a program.  I prided myself on roster management, player development, and savvy recruiting.  God I'm a nerd.

I suppose it was only natural that I took such a deep interest in the real thing.  A few years ago my biggest brush with recruiting was reading up on the incoming class on in August.  As I gradually discovered tools for following recruiting (first Varsity Blue, then mgoblog, and finally Rivals and Scout) my obsession deepened.  I started looking for information in any place I could find it.  Which way was this recruit leaning?  Was this recruit going to decommit?  Did Michigan really have a chance with so and so?

As with everything in life there is a limit to how much a sane person can invest themselves in college football recruiting.  I knew I had passed that point when last February I followed a Cover It Live for two hours at my desk during work, awaiting the announcement of Demar Dorsey's college choice.

My name is Zach, and I am addicted to the college decisions of 18 year old athletes.

After that point I tried to cool off and take a step back.  I knew that either way his decision wasn't the end of the world (His denial by admissions was.  ZING).  I am calmer and more rational about recruiting these days.  I read TomVH's weekly updates on mgoblog and shoot over to Rivals every couple weeks to look over the class (even though I know nothing has changed).  I know some hot shot recruit will cause me to agonize for a couple days preceeding national signing day in February, but for now I am happy to just let things develop on their own.

When DeAnthony Arnett decided on Wednesday I opened up the live video feed for a minute only to close it shortly thereafter.  I knew I would find out sooner or later---and I did thanks to twitter.  Last night I saw that Dallas Crawford was scheduled to announce soon, but I didn't think much of it.  It was a nice surprise to wake up to a "Hello" post over at mgoblog, but I didn't let it keep me up at night.  Step one:  admit you have a problem.  Step two: do something about it.


All of this brings me---in a roundabout way---to the point that I am trying to make.  As fans we want the best for our program.  We all have our theories on who the most important recruit is, or if that 2-star sleeper was really worth a scholarship (yes, he was).  We want greatness from our team and we realize that greatness takes time to build. These recruits aren't just prizes in the moment, they are tonic that makes us comfortable that our team will be as great as we want it to be four years from now.  It doesn't matter if things work out that way or not.  Hope for the future is the kind of thing that gets even the most pessimistic fan through years like 3-9 or 5-7.  If you don't have that hope you just end up beating your head against the wall because nobody will "fire that ignorant hick" that is running your precious program into the ground.

It is hard to seperate the emotion from it all.  We feel attached to these recruits.  Watch enough highlight film and read enough scouting reports and vested interest becomes an emotional roller coaster tied to these kids.  Some complain that so and so is a bust.  Others ask every five minutes "what about player x?" (He is a true freshman, that's what.  Give it time).  We develop expectations for most of these kids years before they ever set foot on the field turf of the Big House, then we deride them when they fail to meet the impossibly high standards we set for them.

I think most of us control ourselves fairly well.  If we slip up and make some comment about a kid being out of shape because he is "lazy", or question the development of some sophomore we were sure would have craked the starting lineup already, we realize it soon enough.  They are kids after all.

But then there are times when we don't let things go.  In my quest for information and different viewpoints for this weekend's game I stumbled across an article entitled simply "Roy Roundtree" on the Purdue blog Jumbo Heroes. The author says some regrettable things about wishing bad things on athletes who have made disparaging remarks about your team or betrayed you as a fan.  I understand this to an extent, even injuries for opposing players are tough to reconcile in your head.  While I would never wish injury on someone, there is also a small twinge of relief that maybe that player you worried about won't be a factor.  It is never a feeling anyone is proud of, but it does creep in ever so often.  When you invest yourself so thoroughly in something it is hard not to feel a little bitter towards some people who you feel have wronged you.  Hell, Cleveland has almost made a living off of this over the past five months.

What I cannot stand is directing ire at a high school kid for making a decision of where to go to college that you don't agree with. The author of the article in question calls Roundtree an "idiot" for saying in an interview that he committed to Purdue early in the process because he felt he "had no choice" (the quote originally comes from an piece) only to change his mind eight months later when Michigan offered.  Roundtree wanted to play in a major program close to his Ohio home, and for most of the recruiting period Purdue was the only school that fit that description.  Furthermore the author takes issue with Roundtree's comment that he was never really a big fan of Purdue to begin with (He called Purdue boring.  Not a great comment, but unsurprising from a twenty year old).  About the only good argument that is made regards the regrettable decision Roundtree made to announce his college choice was Michigan while wearing a Purdue tie.  I think this is a legitimate complaint, but I hardly think it is the first regrettable decision by an 18 year old.  Tasteless?  Yes.  Classless?  No, it just happened to be a decision that affected a lot of people and suffers from overexposure.

It is one thing to be disappointed that a young athlete chose another school at the last minute.  Purdue is not the first school to suffer a heart breaking decommit on national signing day.  It is another thing entirely to hold a grudge against that player almost three years later.  To wish that he fail spectacularly against your team because he is a narcissist (which he isn't) and because he continues to insult your school and fan base (which he doesn't).

The author, in a regrettable moment of irony perfectly sums up this blind obsession with the Roundtree saga: 

Purdue quit worrying about this guy a while ago, yet, he still talks about Purdue.

Maybe Purdue did forget about this guy a while ago.  Maybe once Joe Tiller got all that anger off his chest with clever comments about snake oil and wizard hats.  Maybe once they found some other receiver who fit the system just as well.  But for some the wounds obviously haven't healed just yet.

Go ahead and keep writing scathing articles about college kids, Jumbo Heroes.  Roy Roundtree is going to keep doing what he does at Michigan.  Catching passes, scoring touchdowns, and smiling the whole time knowing there is no where else he would rather be.