Blame the NCAA, its coaches and administrators for turning the recruiting process into a national scandal, for turning teenagers into chopped sirloin, for creating street agents and influence peddlers, for cheapening the game while stuffing $1 billion into its own pockets.
Does it make sense to offer college scholarships to eighth graders because they can dribble a basketball or throw a football 60 yards in the air? Does the college of electrical engineering recruit 13-year-olds who can manipulate a slide rule like Hamelin plays Chopin?
It's all about greed and ego and money, not about the kids. They are innocent pawns who get caught up in a recruiting game that the NCAA allows the coaches to play. They invented the early commitment. Now it gets earlier and earlier. And if a recruit doesn't measure up to expectations, he is dropped like a penny stock.
Why can't kids be kids and enjoy their high school careers and not be confronted by college recruiters until after their senior seasons? Why do they have to address the process as freshmen and sophomores, before they are old enough to drive cars and date girls?
Because that's the way the coaches want it. They make the rules. And the NCAA goes along, wagging its tail behind them.
Where does it say the college coaches are supposed to run the lives of the high school kids? Maybe the kids ought to organize their own union and establish their own rules. After all, without the high school players, the college programs are out of business, right? Who needs whom more?
So how about revamping the recruiting process?
Let the colleges send letters and promotional videos and allow them to attend games during the season. Let the kids and their parents and high school coaches send tapes and highlight film and respond to questionnaires and make unofficial campus visits.
All of that is being done now.
But here are some noteworthy changes designed to benefit the kids: No personal contact, no text messaging, no e-mails, no telephone calls, no winking in the hallways, no early signing period, no early commitments, no eye-to-eye recruiting until after the athlete's senior season. Then let the process begin.
Change the signing date if you think the athletes and coaches need more time to make wise decisions. For football, move the date from February to March or April. For basketball, move the date from April to May or June. How much time does everybody need to make up their minds?
The current system has run amuck. It doesn't make sense, ethically or morally or financially, for a college to recruit an athlete for three, four or even five years. The NCAA's insistence upon using the phrase "student-athlete" to characterize kids who take advantage of one or two years of eligibility, then leap to the NBA or NFL, is a sham. Would they dare to reveal the contents of their transcripts, their course of study? Not a chance.
The NCAA has lost all credibility in this matter and won't regain its good name until the phrase "student-athlete" begins to mean something and the recruiting process gains some degree of sanity.