Every year, on an often cold and otherwise bleak midweek midwinter day, college football fans across the nation surreptitiously open up sports pages on workplace computers, sneak a look at mobile devices, place a quick call to a friend, or hurry to the nearest spirits oriented establishment with a TV sure to contain the ESPN scroll on what’s become known simply as “Signing Day”. That’s right, millions of fans will have the happiness of their day, or otherwise, determined by the decision(s) of a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds whom they don’t know, have never met, and in most cases have never seen play football.
The cottage industry that has sprung up in the last decade or so around college football recruiting has turned it into a 365 day a year soap opera. There is more information available for fans to consume than ever before and the ubiquitous nature of video sharing sites like YouTube allows fans to see snippets of their fresh faced, peach fuzzed, teenaged heroes. This only intensifies and exacerbates the already overblown hype surrounding the event. Many fans, upon objective reflection, would call the interest and enthusiasm around Signing Day silly. And in many ways it certainly is. The most obvious reason is that there is more passion going into and coming out of Signing Day than any other sporting event this writer can think of where no actual athletic competition is taking place and the stars of the event are largely unknown. Think about it for second. Would the Super Bowl, the Final Four, or the World Cup have nearly as much hype if they were single day events (which is not technically the case in terms of Signing Day, February 5 is only the first day that recruits may sign letters of intent), the athletes were not actually competing on that day, and we as fans did not know the overwhelming majority of the players? Of course not.
Additionally, our obsessive national desire to predict, project, poll, and rank everything completely overwhelms Signing Day. Almost all media and commentary about the results is given to fans in terms of rankings, such as who recruited the best in the country or in the SEC, or the top running backs. This would make sense if each college program had similar needs as well as philosophy in terms of developing freshman players. To be blunt, if one were to ask you to rank the entrées at a given restaurant, you would undoubtedly want to sample all of the dishes before giving your rankings, wouldn’t you? (Especially if you knew your rankings would affect the perception of the restaurant as well as you as a critic) The point being made here is this: do you really think there’s anyone who has seen sufficient film or in person performance from every high school football player in the country? If not, how can he honestly rank them?
We also have the problem of the “usual suspects” on Signing Day. What, you might ask? Well, with minimal study into the current crop of high school football players who’ll be lionized on Signing Day, a casual college football fan could likely guess 90% of the schools who will be ranked highly. Why? Because its largely the same schools year in and year out. Oh, in a given year they might be ranked number two and the following year number nine, or number twenty in a “down” year, but we all know that Alabama, Texas, Notre Dame, USC, etc. will be ranked somewhere in the top 25 of those rankings which will be breathlessly released as Signing Day winds down. Actually, it’s gotten to the point now where the rankings are in place well before the day. The converse is true as well. Certain schools almost never appear in the top recruiting rankings, yet somehow manage to field highly competitive teams on a regular basis such as Boise State, Michigan State, Baylor, Wisconsin, and others. So, common sense should tell us that since Virginia Tech, for example, is almost never sitting in a lofty perch in the recruiting wars and yet has been one of the most successful programs in the country for the majority of coach Frank Beamer’s tenure, then the recruiting rankings themselves must not mean much, right? Well, not necessarily. There are many legitimate reasons for this, of course, the chief one being that wer’e just not going to let anything take all the fun out of Signing Day and the accompanying hoopla. So, what does this writer have to say about signing day after setting forth a desultory argument that all the anticipation is silly based on the manufactured hype surrounding the unknown? Just one thing: count me in.
When it’s all said and done, after all of the emotion (or beer) fueled arguments tinged with school, conference, or regional pride have died down; after all of the pseudo-intellectual analysis leading up to predictions, it almost always comes down to talent in college football. There are no imposed equalizers, such as the draft or salary-cap. Theoretically, a school can load up with an overabundance of talent at any and all positions. Certainly, Nick Saban is a great coach. But, if you think that he would have won three national championships the last four years and four overall if he had been coaching at Indiana all this time, you’re just kidding yourself. The ability to attract top-flight recruits is definitely within the talents of the coaching staff, but also has a lot to do with factors that predate and succeed the tenure of any coach. The one constant is the need for talent.
In the same way that the Super Bowl is America’s premier sporting event notwithstanding the over the top hype that surrounds the game, National Signing Day is the single most important day of the year, and in some cases of a coaching tenure, for the great majority of major college football programs. So, sit back and enjoy all the news-pleasant and otherwise- that you will consume. Just understand that if you really want to know how your favorite team is going to do in the upcoming season, you’ll need to turn down the volume level on the noise coming out of this Signing Day, then go back and review how your team did on Signing Day three years ago.
Vavel USA Speaking On Sports podcast will do a special Signing Day review show beginning 7:00 PM on Wednesday, February 5th. All the major recruiting news will be covered, and there will be segments focusing on the recruiting classes of the Georgia Bulldogs, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Texas Longhorns.