As fans we're predisposed to favor our school over everyone else's. Our school/team is the best. Everyone else sucks. Woo! Usually, this results in some harmless fun, jokes being played, spirited yelling, and sharing a beverage after a hard fought game with your rival. College football is a wonderful diversion, isn't it.?
For fans, it's great. We don't have to put in any time in the gym and get to feel like we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. We share in the highs and lows of the football season, the off season, and the build up to kick off. For many of us it's our drug of choice, far more addicting than guns, booze, drugs, and rock n' roll (tho all four roll into one would be hard to ignore). College football sustains us.
It also sustains the players, but in different ways. It pays for their education, their room and board, and even the sporty sweatsuits they roam around campus in. When you consider that an out of state Michigan education will put you back close to $300,000.00 after room, board, books, and life in general, that's not an insubstantial form of sustenance. College football isn't just a big deal for the fans, it's a BIGGER deal for the players. Careers, educations, and much more on the line.
Before they can even enter the discussion, however, these high school football players must pick a school. Or, as it may happen, be picked by a school. This isn't an easy process. Not only must they perform on the field of play, but they must perform adequately in classroom. Then they go from camp to camp, hoping to impress the college scouts and coaches. They go to "select" camps, which exist as a means not only to give these players measurables to provide their potential college suitors, but to suck even money money of parents and players hoping to land a scholarship.
Then the "services" start following some of them around. They call, asking for quotes, for insight, for anything that they can convey to the rabid fan bases that follow college football teams. There are postings are speed, height, weight, strength and dexterity. Somehow it's okay to talk about a 18 year old's hip flexibility without being considered a pervert. The lucky ones start getting offers from schools to play football, scholarship offers that will guarantee them an education in exchange for their time as a football player in college.
In a perfect world, that would be the end of it. But that's not how it is. The decision on where to go to college is a difficult one for most teenagers. But for a highly touted athlete it can be not only intimidating, but a nightmare. Where can I get playing time? Is the coach going to make it another year? Is the degree worth the paper it's printed on? Will I be able to see my family? Can I get as far away as possible? Are my grades good enough? Can I hack it academically? These are just a few of the questions each kid must ask themselves before they even think about selecting a school, let alone sending in a letter of intent.
Sadly, the trend over the last decade has been for the media and the fans to become even more involved in the football recruiting process than ever before. With the advent of Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, et al., people have more access not just to recruiting information, but to the athletes themselves. Suddenly an 18 year old kid with a 40 time below 4.5 seconds has 300 friend requests from complete strangers. Suddenly his every move is questioned. Suddenly people love or hate him because of the school he may or may not select. And suddenly, it's come to this:
Image Courtesy Dr. Saturday
The post above comes from former Mississippi St., turned Ole Miss recruit C.J. Johnson's facebook page. After months of inuendo and rumors and people going absolutely batshit on his Facebook page or on message boards, he finally said "The Hell With It!" and shut it all down. Let's be clear, it wasn't just one fan group or another, it was a number of different fanbases that led this poor kid to write "you have constantly comment on my page send me crazy inboxes and has made my recruiting experience a living nightmare."
A 18 year-old kid was basically being stalked by college football mad fans, and those fans made what should have been one of the happiest times of his life "a living nightmare." Michigan fans may recall the bad blood over the recruitment of Roy Roundtree or Michael Shaw. There were plenty of Michigan fans who lost their minds when 5 star corner Jai Eugene decommitted to LSU because he wanted to be close to his son.
Folks, this is nuts. College football is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It brings us joy and excitement and allows us all to act like 12 year-olds for a couple hours a week. But when we, and I do mean we as in all of us, start impacting the lives of the kids that will play the game before they've even set foot on campus something is really, really wrong. And I'm not trying to shoot the messengers here. Guys like MagnusThunder and Tom VanHaaren do it right, as do most of the reporters on Scout and Rivals. They stay out of the way and simply report what they learn. I'm talking about us. The fans. We're the ones that have learn to keep it together.
So, when national signing day comes and goes, let's remember they're still kids making a tough choice about their future. Ignore the rumors, ignore your gut reaction, ignore your biases. Realize that the only kids that matter to your school are the ones that sign on the line, not the ones that don't. Say nice things are the kids who sign and even nicer things about the ones that don't.
Let's do our best to make NSD a joyous occasion for every kid who signs, anywhere. College footbal is supposed to be fun. Let's make sure these players' first experience with it is too.