Each year, many collegiate decisions are made, or at the very least revealed, on National Signing Day, much to the chagrin of the fan bases of teams that are left at the altar. Hats are dramatically switched, "commitments" are broken and the whole affair becomes a big spectacle set on a national stage. But for all the lights and cameras and hoopla, there's one very, very important thing to remember:
These are just kids deciding where they want to go to college. Let 'em be.
Most of us who attended collegiate institutions did not have our decisions immediately made about where we were going to spend the next four -- or nine or however many -- years. Most of us also didn't have thousands of people hanging on each comment we made about how the food or the weather was on a particular visit.
"Is he leaning Texas? Is he leaning another way? He told his cousin he had a good time in Norman, didn't he? Does that mean anything? Nobody could possibly have a good time in Norman. I bet some dirty alumnis got to him. Yeah."
People. Seriously. Irrespective of how enjoyable a trip to south-central Oklahoma might seem to any message board poster in particular (or their ability to properly pluralize 'alumnus'), a player saying they had a good time on a visit doesn't have to mean anything. Players are going to say a lot of things.
There are thousands of factors that go into the decision on a college and they change by the day. Most high school seniors don't know who Bobby Layne was or who James Street is or even that Texas' new running backs coach was a Longhorn quarterback who led his team to a dramatic comeback victory in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. Dude, in 2001 they were 10.
The point is, never let your attitude and mood be affected by the whims of an 17- or 18-year-old high school student.
This is not to say that these players are entirely off the hook and can say whatever they wish to media and fans, but just observe the process with the largest grain of salt you can muster, realizing that 99 percent of recruiting is plain hogwash. If a particular athlete wishes to put on a show, let 'em. It's meaningless in the end.
True, I'm not a big fan of the whole hat thing (except for that one, a couple years ago, when Birmingham, AL offensive guard Andre Smith had caps from three schools in front of him and then pulled out a Bear Bryant houndstooth hat. That was great. Bonus points for creativity), but in the end the show doesn't really mean anything, just the signature.
Nor does the supposed "commitment" system we have in college football. The word "commitment" is, itself, a misnomer. When one thinks of commitment, one thinks of an obligation or a vow, some sort of guarantee. The truth is that a "Texas commit" is no more than someone who, as of right now, plans on attending the University of Texas (as an aside, "commit" isn't even a real noun. It's entirely an invention of recruiting services).
The reason for this resides more with the coaches than with the players. Due to scholarship limitations and the ever-increasing demands of college football, coaches at the power institutions tell prospects that if a verbal commitment is not given, the school is going to move on and fill that spot with someone else. Quite often what this results in is a player giving a "fallback" commitment, where he commit to a school to secure the spot and then waits to see if a better offer comes along.
Frankly, this is how players should approach the situation. If coaches are going to tell players that they must commit or they're moving on, which is not a flawed strategy in today's landscape, a number of decommitments (also not a real word) are bound to occur.
However, this is not always the case. Usually the commitment is not a fallback, but simply the recruiting process being forcibly jumped forward. The player thinks that it's the school he wants, but, unless he's an elite-level prospect, he doesn't have the luxury of waiting to make the decision. If the player eventually decides that he wishes to go elsewhere, that is his decision and he is not a "traitor", no matter how grandiose a fashion his school switch is done in.
Ryan Perrilloux is not a traitor . Martellus Bennett is not a traitor. There are some other titles that are more appropriate, but traitor is not one for either. Criticism for the way in which a switch occurs can be leveled fairly, but criticism for the switch itself should not be.
I'm reminded of a number a years ago, when a player decommitted from his initial school of choice fairly late in the process. On the record, the player gave the expected list of reasons, but off the record, he was chasing after a girl.
I was discussing this turn of events with a friend and when I told him that the player's decision was based on a girl, my friend responded: "He's an idiot!"
"No," I said. "He's 17."
So, as Signing Day approaches, follow the drama and appreciate it for the great theater it provides, but do not let it control you. Do not allow the whims of a high school student define you and certainly do not stress over the decisions of a 17-year-old, lest he be your own. The drama will pass soon enough and, for most people, it will be forgotten.
Signing Day is coming. There will be an answer, let it be.