The "Sport" of Recruiting

Believe this or not, but college recruiting for student athletes began back in the 1890s. The rise of college sport clubs and activities on campus begged the need for regulation even then. Recruiting served as a magnet to draw the best athletes into colleges throughout the country. Top players became known in university circles, and sports enthusiasts throughout the country took notice.



Because of the rugged and unorganized play in the early sport of football, many players became seriously injured, and some even died, due to mass formations and gang tackling that was part of regular play. Many institutions of higher learning chose to discontinue the sport. But President Theodore Roosevelt had another idea.


Enter the NCAA

The president invited college leaders to the White House on two separate occasions to discuss what could be done to improve the health and welfare of the student athlete. In 1905, the Chancellor of New York University held a meeting with 13 other institutions and the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was formed.

In 1910, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) took the place of the IAAUS, and still serves as a regulatory watchdog for the college-bound student athlete.

The NCAA has its critics. Many believe it has too much control over the mass market known as college sports. Since its early inception, this organization has grown considerably. Its hand reaches into almost every aspect of college athletics, and its power has the ability to make or break a collegiate athletic program.

This organization not only controls recruiting practices, but also dictates regulations about student eligibility, scholarship distribution, and more. The NCAA updates and/or changes the rules often, creating confusion and even anger among fans that follow college recruiting on a regular basis. These fans are otherwise known as ‘recruitniks."


A Star is Born

In the past, specialized recruiting magazines and radio airplay served as the limited means of information for the diehard recruitnik. The professionals would report updates as often as print and air would allow. In order to best inform the colleges and public about the talented new athletes, a star ranking system (1-5; 5 being the highest) was created. It includes all the statistics necessary to evaluate each player. To this day, the star rankings serve as a benchmark for many colleges when determining eligibility of the student athlete.

Now we are living in an age of electronic communication. Recruiniks can easily get updated information about those they follow on a regular basis over the internet. Entire websites are dedicated to all things recruiting. College fan sites, including GamecockAnthem, have message boards devoted only to recruiting related news and updates.

Because of the buzz generated instantly, a brand new sport with its own season has been born. It is known as Recruiting Season and it can also become a blood sport on occasion.


In the Trenches

I interviewed a few of the guys who regularly post questions and contribute information in the GamecockAnthem Recruiting Forum.

The poster known as CaptainSC is one of the moderators in that forum. He has been interested in the recruiting process since he was a high school student. Captain is especially interested in following and reporting on the progress of Gamecocks recruiting.

"Most colleges no longer depend on their head coaches for recruiting. They hire coaches who specialize only in recruiting. Here at Carolina, we are very fortunate that (head coach) Steve Spurrier is fully engaged in the process, and does an exceptional job."

"In the past, it was enough for the fan to know the basics about their recruits. Now, in the forums, fans want to know specific stats and talents. Things like what a kid's shuttle run is, at the very moment. The information available today in such a short period of time is absolutely amazing."


Too Much Information?

I asked Captain about how recruiting has changed over the years.

"Some of today's recruits act like prima donnas due to all of the exposure and attention given to them. They are put on this pedestal. Thank goodness that is not the case with the majority. The internet is like a double edged sword. On the one hand, it acts as information central for recruiting news. On the other, recruits might get an inflated view of themselves if they read too much."

He had this to say about the NCAA and updating regulations.

"I think that some things need to be changed in order to keep up with technology. For example, during this period of recruiting, coaches are only able to make one phone call to the recruit, and that is fine. However, there is nothing in the rules that says anything about text messaging. It is widely known that some coaches have been texting recruits at an unbelievable pace. That is something that needs to be addressed and ultimately changed."

Will Evans posts regularly in the GamecockAnthem recruiting board. He also follows news on Rivals.com, ScoutsInc and OrderOftheSpur.com. He had this to say about why he personally enjoys following the recruiting trail.

"Recruiting isn't something you sit down and just wait to happen like a ball game. It's not scheduled. A player could commit at any time of the day. When you get on your computer and see that a player you really wanted has committed, it's exciting. You start to think about the possibilities and how the kid is going to help. It's very fun following."


Star Power

He adds this about star rankings.

"I tend to enjoy the star ratings. But trust me, the stars don't tell the whole story. The most famous low-star recruit had to be (former USC player) Ko Simpson. The two-time All American Safety who is now in the NFL was only a two-star recruit."

The poster known as CharlotteGamecockatusc is a moderator in the GamecockAnthem recruiting forum. I asked him where recruiting fits into his sports fix.

"Recruiting has become so important in the last several years that it has caused coaches to lose their jobs, and boosters/agents to go to jail over it. It is important to all fans who are deeply involved in sports, because the young players we bring in and coach determines how much success we have in the future."

BeachedCock is another rabid recruitnik in GamecockAnthem. He had this to add:

"After the game is over, it (recruiting) is the most important item because a program continues to sell itself every day. I am much more keen to the crowd involvement at games because of the student athletes that are visiting that day."


Winning Ways

Jay Frye and John McKissick are two of South Carolina's most outstanding and respected high school coaches. They took the time to speak to me about the state of recruiting today.

Jay Frye has been coaching football for a total of 21 years. For the last seventeen of those years, he has been affiliated with Richland Northeast High School in Columbia. He is now serving in his eighth season as head coach. He hails from a Carolina legacy that includes his grandfather, the legendary Sarge Frye.

Three team members from his 2005 roster now play for Division I colleges, including the University of Kentucky, University of Michigan, and University of South Carolina. None of these young men have been red-shirted, and look to promising futures on the horizon.


Student Aid

I asked Coach to talk about aiding the student athlete in selecting a college.

"Contrary to popular belief, high school coaches do not exert as much influence as people think. When asked, we look at what college might be the best fit for each individual student, but all other factors must be considered first, academics being number one. We try and open up the student's eyes to other possibilities out there that we think might fit. Let's face it. Not all players are NFL caliber, and we want these young men to have every opportunity. But in the end, it is the student's decision, along with his family."

When asked about the importance of college athletic facilities, he noted:

"Facilities are very important to many recruits. It can sometimes serve as a deal breaker when a kid has narrowed down his choices."


State of Pace

When asked about the relationship he has with in-state college coaches, Frye had this to say.

"Personally, I have a very good relationship with the in-state colleges, including the University of South Carolina. With the tremendous programs growing all over the country, the in-state colleges have worked hard keeping in step. Of course, the first thing considered must be what is best fit for each individual student, and the in-state programs rank right up there when students are making their choices."

"I have very strong bonds with many in-state coaches that have taken years to develop. In fact, I am still in touch with former USC assistant coach, Rick Stockstill, (now head coach at Middle Tennessee University). One of my former students is a walk-on for his team this year."


Outside Influences

Frye responds to the question of recruits' early commitments.

"This is a tough one. Mainly because it is out of the coach's hands. I believe the NCAA should look at tighter regulations regarding early commits. I tell my players to think long and hard before committing to any school and to keep their word once they have made their choice known. But again, these are still high-schoolers and the pressure put on them by those recruiting them can be absolutely mind-boggling at times, and there is little that can be done about it."

He has this to say about the internet and recruiting:

"The internet has really turned recruiting into a sport season of its own. Friends of mine call me all the time wanting my opinion on this player or that player and their star rankings. It's wild! I do not believe that the internet fan message boards have much of a positive or negative influence on recruits. These kids are savvy. They know the rules. They understand this new frontier better than anybody. It offers them more exposure, and with that exposure comes a price. It's all part of the new world of recruiting and they understand that."


Back to Basics

John McKissick is the winningest coach in American football history. He has exceeded 500 wins in his illustrious career. Coach McKissick is in his 54th year of coaching at Summerville High School, South Carolina.

The coach regards his role as being more than just a figurehead on the high school gridiron. First and foremost, he is a teacher and mentor to the students who have passed through the Summerville HS corridors on their way to play on the football field that bears his name.

"I consider these young men as a vital part of my life. I have seen quite a lot in 54 years of coaching. The one thing that does not change is the relationship formed between the students and the coaches."

When asked about the influence exerted by high school coaches when students are selecting colleges to attend, he is quick to respond:

"In 54 years, I have never suggested where a student should go to school. That is a decision that is left to each individual player and their family. Some kids choose academics over sports; others might look for the sports school first. I try to be as supportive as I can when they are making this critical decision."


Recruiting Woes

In response to recruiting practices over the years and how they have changed, McKissick had this to say.

"The NCAA has certainly imposed greater restrictions upon the student athlete and the colleges that recruit them. Some colleges do a better job than others. In my experience, the University of South Carolina has done an outstanding job in regards to recruitment practices. The USC recruiters play by the rules, and I never had to worry about any problems when dealing with them."

"Some of the NCAA rules are excessive, in my opinion. I do not agree that recruiters should only be allowed to watch one game per student per year. I think that the football highlight tapes do not tell the whole story of the player, and recruiters would do better in seeing the player throughout the year responding to both good and bad situations on the field. But then again, rules are rules and must be adhered to."

He adds:

"One thing that really bothers me in the recruiting process is when certain recruiters try and win over the confidence of my players and their families, telling them what is best for them, only to be in their college's best interest. In all honesty, I view some of them (recruiters) as nothing more than trophy hunters. In that situation, if we coaches are called upon for advice, it has the potential of putting us in a position that could create a conflict of interest. It is something we simply cannot become involved with, unfortunately."


State of the State Recruiting

When asked about his relationship with in-state college coaches, McKissick says:

"We are blessed with great colleges, interscholastic programs and recruiters here in South Carolina. I cannot think of one college in this state that does not work hard in attracting good student athletes that would be a fit for their school."

"Last year, Steve Spurrier spoke at our annual Sports Banquet. In the past, (former USC coach) Lou Holtz did the same. It is great exposure for the university and to our student athletes embarking on that ever-important journey of selecting their colleges. When the in-state colleges show an interest in our kids, everybody benefits."


Endgame

Recruiting Season officially ends in February on National Signing Day. That means recruitniks still have the holidays, January college games, and Super Bowl to get through.

Prozac, anyone?

Go Gamecocks!

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