Marshall: Football Recruiting Interest Grows

With national signing day coming up on Wednesday, Phillip Marshall writes about the increasing interest in football recruiting.

It must be an intoxicating experience.

There are 18-year-olds fighting a war in Iraq. There are 18-year-olds who have already shown what it takes to be future leaders of our country, 18-year-olds who have accomplished great things academically.

But, at least in the South, no 18-year-olds are as well-known as those who are being pursued by major universities who want them to play football. Internet sites such as this one, talk radio shows, television and newspapers like my own have combined to make them celebrities by any definition of the word.

I can only imagine what it must be like. Coaches visit your house and charm you and your parents. Reporters from all the media mentioned above clamor for a minute of your time. Thousands wait anxiously to hear how your latest campus visit went and can be nearly brought to tears if you don't decide to play where they want you to play.

It's a phenomenon that seems to have no end in sight.

As a sports reporter in this state for 36 years, I'm really not sure when things began to change. There's always been interest in recruiting, but it didn't used to be like it is these days.

When I became sports editor of The Montgomery Advertiser in 1980, I quickly became acquainted with a gentleman by the name of Bill White. His younger brother, Bob, worked part-time on my staff. Bill compiled a list of potential recruits every year and passed it on to reporters and other people he knew. It was from that list that we and many others in the media worked during recruiting season.

Soon, there were a handful of recruiting magazines that came out once a year. Then came 1-900 numbers where people could get recruiting information.

It was in the 1980s that sports talk radio began to make a significant impact. And the Internet, of course, changed everything in the news business, mostly for the good if you are a consumer.

As time passed, there were more and more news sources looking for more and more ways to get a leg up on the competition. On sites devoted to college sports, football recruiting was a natural target.

It took a much longer time for national news outlets to become interested. They are sure interested now. Wednesday, national signing day, the cable network ESPNU will televise six consecutive hours of high school players announcing where they intend to sign. That has resulted in many players refusing to announce their intentions until signing day, causing already harried coaches even more headaches.

Some players want no part of it. Quarterback Neil Caudle of Birmingham and defensive tackle Bart Eddins of Montgomery came from Auburn families and knew what they wanted. They ended the process early, passing up the opportunities to fly around the country and be wooed by college coaches.

Liston Eddins, father of Bart and Bret, the immensely popular Auburn defensive end who finished his career in 2004, says he is worried about the impact of the massive attention.

"I feel sorry for the kids who haven't committed," said Liston Eddins, an All-Southeastern Conference defensive end who finished his Auburn career in 1975. "All the attention and everything, I really think it can warp their value systems. When they go to all these different schools, they are hearing about themselves and reading about themselves and how good they are. I think it's a blessing that my boys did it early."

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville worries about its impact in other areas.

"You want all the players to get all the attention they want to get, but they also have to get their academics," Tuberville said. "We worry about that as much as anything else, but there's nothing we can do about it."

No, there's not. Love it or hate it, it's the system we have.

The next three days will be something of a celebration of the game that means so much to so many and of the young men who play it.

And that's not all bad.

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