National signing day for high school football players has turned teenagers into rock stars, college coaches into used car salesmen and television networks into shills for the NCAA.
If you watched the carnival atmosphere that was Wednesday's nine-hour show on ESPNU and CBS College Sports Network, you know what I mean. The coverage was longer than the Super Bowl preview. You'd think Barack Obama was conducting a press conference, announcing his decision to play quarterback at Illinois or Notre Dame.
Is there anything more annoying or unsettling than watching a 17-year-old kid play a "hat dance" in front of a live TV camera with his family, friends, coaches and posse surrounding him? Will he choose hat A or hat B or hat C? Couldn't he have just faxed in his letter-of-intent and avoid stressing out so many alumni?
One kid had his high school coach select the right hat. It made you wonder if he could read the logos on each hat. Another kid told the TV network he was ready to commit during the program, then decided to wait. Another kid said his decision would depend on what somebody else did.
It gets better. One kid signed with a several bottles of Champagne on the table. Another announced: "I'm going to the University of Madison, Wisconsin." But the topper was the kid who actually flipped a coin to pick Rutgers over West Virginia. Now there's a kid with a genuine commitment to college football.
Hey, I'm not making this stuff up. It was right there, on live television. Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live could use this material.
Recruiting has become a national obsession, football's second season, as longtime analyst Tom Lemming has so ably described. At some schools, it is more important than the corn harvest or the hunting season. At other schools, it is more important than the football season itself. And the recruiting season never ends.
It is about courtship, salesmanship, pressure and relief. Parents and kids who aren't educated in the recruiting process are fair game for the professionals who are. To be fair, I was entertained by some of the observations made by veteran coaches Tommy Tuberville and Philip Fulmer. Lemming always is insightful and knowledgeable. And the ESPNU crew wore their game faces.
But how many times do we have to watch the same highlight film? How many times do we have to hear a coach or analyst talk about an athlete's "great feet," like he is auditioning for the Rockettes? And how many times do you have to listen to somebody talk about "family, family, family" like football is something out of Ozzie and Harriet or the Cosby Show rather than the Kardashians or Housewives of Orange County.
And, please, no more segments with St. Thomas Aquinas of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the nation's top-ranked team. Sure, they sent 11 players to Division I schools. And we met every one of them. And the training staff and cheerleaders, too. But enough is enough. This is the textbook definition of overkill.
In the course of nine hours of scrolling names and giving coaches some free air time to tout their programs and giving some kids a chance to demonstrate how badly and sloppily they dress, I wish the networks had taken some time to address some other issues about the recruiting process that might be less entertaining but certainly more educational.
For example, did anybody read that article in the Wednesday issue of the New York Times detailing how a so-called personal trainer/agent/manager to highly rated high school running back Bryce Brown of Wichita, Kan., sells updates of Brown's recruitment for $9.99 a month or $59 a year and also charges $200 a month for training sessions and $450 per player for a recruiting consulting service?
De-committing has become a national disgrace. Does the NCAA favor an early signing period for football, as it has for basketball?
How are kids evaluated? How does Tom Lemming do his thing? How do Rivals, Scout and ESPN do what they do? Why is one prospect rated in the top 10 in one survey and not even included in the top 100 in another?
Will somebody explain why the Southeastern Conference (SEC) has such a big edge over other conferences? Why do they play by different rules? How can they sign so many more players than anyone else? What are their academic standards? How about comparing LSU to Illinois, Alabama to Michigan, Florida to Wisconsin?
Does it make sense for a kid who fails to qualify for admission to one school to be able to enroll at another school? And when was the last time you heard about a blue-chip football player going academically ineligible at any college?
Just wondering. I'd sure like to watch that show.