The Recruiting Game

Phillip Marshall takes a hard look at football recruiting with national signing day just around the corner.

`Thank goodness Wednesday will soon be here.

After Wednesday, the first day colleges can sign prospective football players, we will no longer be subjected to some of the absurdities of recruiting season. At least for a while, there will be no more press conferences called by 18-year-old kids.

We won't be subjected to ridiculous claims of world-class times in the 40-yard dash and superhuman feats of athletic prowess. Until next recruiting season, there won't be any more of the phenomenon of recent years called de-committing. All that means, of course, is that the player was never committed in the first place.

We'll be spared so-called recruiting analysts' opinions of which players they have never seen will play as freshmen and which players they have never seen will have to wait. Players can go back to being high school students and stop being "prospects."

Recruiting has become so much a part of the college football landscape that there are those who want to finish in the Top 10 in recruiting as much as they want to finish in the Top 10 in the AP poll. The difference, of course, is that the finish in the AP poll is determined by what happens on the field. Recruiting rankings are so subjective and so notoriously inaccurate as to be rendered all but worthless.

That high school players are dubbed stars before they ever play a down of college football impacts the players themselves most of all. It's a lot of fun to be told over and over again how good you are, to have the attention handed out by those recruiting analysts and others.

That will all change next summer, when most of Wednesday's signees will arrive to begin their college careers. Some of those players will never cope. Coaches suddenly won't seem so charming. Earning playing time suddenly won't be such a sure thing.

Some of Wednesday's stars will be next season's freshman sensations. Most will watch from the sideline, waiting their turns. Many will find that the recruiting talk was just that. They will find they either aren't good enough or aren't willing play the high price of doing what it takes to play.

DENIAL IN T-TOWN

The events that have unfolded in recent days at the University of Alabama are truly sad. Barring an unlikely victory on appeal, the sanctions handed down by the NCAA will cripple Alabama's football program.

Alabama officials expressed shock and dismay at the severity of the sanctions and vowed to appeal. They talked about "inappropriate penalties" and how they cooperated and all the good stuff. What they didn't talk about was the fact that this is their third major infraction case in just over six years, an NCAA first. They didn't talk about some of the more severe charges in NCAA history.

Alabama got in trouble over Antonio Langham in 1995 because coaches and athletic officials seemed to believe the NCAA would never come their way. They were wrong. Some of that same unfortunate arrogance still seems to be on display.

If Alabama officials feel the school has been wronged, they by all means should appeal. But any Alabama fan who believes the appeal will result in substantial relief is almost surely wrong.

HOOPS TALK

In the end, it was another loss. But something extra came with this loss, the eighth in nine SEC games for Auburn's basketball team. This loss had a dose of hope.

The Tigers fell to 9-11 overall and 1-8 in the SEC, but they took Arkansas to the final second before falling 62-60 in Fayetteville. For the first time in several games, they looked like a team playing together.

Freshman point guard Lewis Monroe has made a very big difference. If he can become a consistent shooter, he should be an outstanding player in the SEC before he is done. Freshman forward Brandon Robinson and Marco Killingsworth appear to be on their way to big things.

Auburn doesn't play again until Saturday, meaning head coach Cliff Ellis will have time to cook up something ugly for the Georgia Bulldogs. With those three freshmen in the starting lineup, this Auburn team isn't going to suddenly become great. Just to have a chance for an NIT bid, the Tigers would need to go 4-3 down the SEC stretch and win two in the SEC Tournament.

That's not likely to happen, but this team is getting better. The Tigers could still have a say about who wins the SEC championship. They could still get some tasty victories. All is not lost, but the Tigers need to win. They are running out of opportunities.


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