Confessions of a Signing Day Cynic

For someone who loves college football, Letter of Intent Day leaves Troy lukewarm. Does that make him a bad college football fan?

Look, we’ve been meeting like this for 13 years now. Many of you have known me for longer than that. You know full well how I feel about college football. You know how special those Saturdays in the fall are to me. You know that there is no place I’d rather be than a Stanford football gameday. I love college football.

Recruiting? Meh.

For many college fans, today is Christmas Day. Heck, in the South, it practically is a federal holiday. But my approach to today is less “deck the halls” and more “bah humbug.”

I actually think it’s the most overrated day of the sports year. So you’ll have to excuse me for not getting involved in the recruiting manifestos that often pop up on the message boards, and fret about the state of the program when a coveted athlete doesn’t commit to Stanford fast enough, or—egads!—decides to sign somewhere else.

I may be closer to “bah humbug” when it comes to Letter of Intent day, but at least I’m not in “get off my lawn” mode. These kids who are holding press conferences and sitting at tables with four hats in front of them while television cameras beam everything back to Bristol? Fine with me. I know some people who hate that stuff, but I don’t have any serious problem with it. It’s a big day for these kids. They worked hard for it. Let them have their day in the sun.

Are these announcements self-centered, overwrought, and more complicated than they should be? Probably. Than again, so are teenagers.

Today is an important day. I fully realize that. I am totally cognizant of the fact that recruiting is the lifeblood of a program. It’s a day that changes the lives of countless young men across the country, many of whom get the chance to go to college (which I am never against).

But I have a difficult time waking up at the crack of dawn, firing up Twitter, and seeing the first names to come through the fax machine (does anybody even have a fax machine anymore?). That’s mostly because recruiting is such a tremendous crapshoot. So many things can happen between the moment a kid signs his name on the dotted line and the day his eligibility is exhausted.

That is, if he even makes it to that day. Injuries (football is a rough game, you know). Academics. Adjusting to life on the field. Adjusting to life off the field. Many a five-star high school athlete has succumbed to at least one of those obstacles, and didn’t come anywhere near close to living up to they hype they brought with them to campus.

The difference between an 18-year old kid and a 21-year old young man is tremendous: physically, mentally, everything (that’s true whether you are a student-athlete or not, by the way). That’s also probably the biggest reason why I don’t necessarily go ga-ga over National Signing Day.

Also, the talent pools vary so widely from one area of high school football to the next, it can be difficult to truly tell which kids are truly cut out to make it on the collegiate level. Just because a player was All-World at his level and in his state doesn’t mean he’s automatically cut out to be the Big Man on Campus.

It’s arguably the biggest crapshoot in sports. That’s why I’m far more interested in what happens to a kid once he gets on campus, and in the finished product. Besides, the last time I checked, big bowl games and championships aren’t won in February. Texas darn near wins Letter of Intent Day every year…and have you seen them play lately?

The trick is to find the athletes who are going to peak at age 21, rather than the ones who are already peaking at age 18. Many times, that’s where coaching comes in. Let’s face it, great recruiters don’t necessarily make great coaches. Show me one coach who can get the most out of the players he has, no matter how many stars are attached to those players. Then, show me another coach who can reel in recruiting classes that make Tom Luginbill blush, but who also makes me curse on game days. Which one do you think I’m choosing?

I’ll admit that it is nice to hear a little college football talk in early February (even though the season just ended 23 days ago). I’m looking forward to dropping in on David Shaw’s press conference on Wednesday afternoon to hear his thoughts. And the young men who are becoming a part of the Stanford football family have made a decision that I hope none of them regret. I look forward to seeing them play, and I trust that they will become great representatives of this university.

All those things being said, I’m not going to make the day more than it is: an oasis of college football conversation in a desert of an offseason. Then, I’m going to go back to wondering why the hell the Seattle Seahawks didn’t give Marshawn Lynch the rock at the end of the Super Bowl.

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