All's Fair in Love, War, and ...
by Jim Alderson, 2/11/02

Another recruiting season has come and gone. The prep stars of 2001-2 have made their college choices, and coaches whose year started with August two-a-days, continued through the long season, found the good ones spending December preparing for a bowl game, and finally culminated in the annual January orgy of the spectacle of hundreds of coaches demeaning themselves by begging young men half their ages or more to come play for them. Not having to subject myself to such humiliating activity makes me glad I am not a football coach.

The Internet has turned recruiting into a spectator sport, complete with perceived winners, whose partisans gloat at each signing every bit as much as they do when their heroes actually win a game, and losers ( although one would be hard put to find them amid all of the talk about ‘sleepers,’ ‘quality athletes’ and recruits ‘fitting in’ to a particular program). Much money is being made by the so-called recruiting ‘experts,’ who, for a fee of course, will demonstrate their knowledge of which college high school football players will attend is just as good as that of everybody else. Recruiting scores are documented and even national rankings issued. A trophy, perhaps fittingly called the ‘National Enquirer Trophy,’ should be awarded to the school judged by the recruiting lemmings, all of whom seem to say the same thing, to have corralled the top class in the land, which generally seem to be the same school and schools ( such as the program which year after year was judged to have Irish eyes smiling on its high quality of recruit, right up until the point its coach was fired for what was judged to be poor recruiting).

This doesn’t appear to be an exact science. A better method would be to compare the rankings assigned by the recruiting gurus with the actual ones achieved three, four and five years later when the contributions actually made by today’s recruits on the field can be determined, but, of course, there would be little fun to be had in that, or money to be made.

The Net has also provided a forum for extreme recruiting goofiness, as of the various message boards devoted to the practice, each and every one had their collection of clowns, who under the cloak of anonymity, naturally, confidently posted their they were chummy with a particular recruit’s father, mother, brother, sister, grandparent, cousin, uncle, aunt, coach, teacher, girlfriend, best friend, teammate, doctor, dentist, spiritual adviser, haberdasher, auto mechanic, barber, landlord, dealer, therapist, grocer, dry cleaner, chauffeur, financier, furrier, butcher, baker, candlestick maker or some other confidant and knew ‘for a fact’ that the player in question was a stone cold lock to attend Hometown U. This information was often imparted on message boards seconds before the press conference in which the recruit announced he was instead attending that school’s arch rival or heading to the other side of the North American continent to play college ball. The words ‘needing a life’ pop to mind.

Foolish comments pop up, such as the loose use of the word ‘traitor,’ bandied about when a recruit thought to be in the bag for a particular school changes his mind, as teenagers often do. That use of 'traitor' seems particularly idiotic as the nation prepares to engage in debate over the genuine article. Most disturbing were those posters so enraged by late adolescent changes of heart that they actually wished physical harm upon players for the capital crime of not attending the school favored by the poster. These are, after all, games involving young men who hopefully all have bright futures ahead of them.

To those most closely involved, the coaches, recruiting is not a game. Unfortunately, not every good player can go to every school, although Montavis Pitts gave it his best shot, and some coaches are left standing alone at the altar and fax machine on Signing Day, and are now attempting to wrest lower-level unsigned recruits from the clutches of CUSA and RUTS Belt Conference coaches. Since no coach will publicly admit to garnering a bad class -- and there have been no recorded comments such as “This year’s class stinks,” or “This is the group that will get me fired”  -- it is amusing to observe the spin administered by those who didn’t fare so hot in the recruiting wars.

No coach is going to head to the rubber chicken circuit and inform anxious alumni that they should not bother to renew their season tickets because the incoming recruits “will have us headed downhill in a hurry,” “I wouldn’t be making any bowl plans if I were you,” or “we will be lucky to beat our early-season dogs with this crowd of stiffs,” and comments of “boy, we’re in big trouble now” were only uttered in the privacy of staff meetings. It is necessary to put forward a happy public face when a coach comments on recruiting.

The best of this was a certain ACC coach, whose program just chalked up its second straight 0-11 and is currently mired in a 23- game losing streak proclaiming a class brought in after competition against mostly Ivy and I-AA teams, to be “better than what we had.” Given the quality of players necessary to lose 23 straight, it would be difficult for that not to be the case.

A rather unique explanation offered for a class deemed to not be up to snuff came from a Big East coach who blamed his lack of securing top prospects on the events of 9/11. Huh? I guess that beats pointing out that recruits bailed following a rather public bowl snub.

Recruiting is the coaches' livelihood, and politicians could learn a thing or two about empty promises from football coaches. Enough hot air was expended to raise the Hindenburg, and some coaches, as a result of their recruiting efforts, will find their programs suffering the same result. They will promise recruits most anything, ranging from guarantees of playing time that will barely last until the opening kickoff to wild speculation of future NFL riches to quiet pledges of more immediate tangible rewards that one day may have a tide of probation washing over their program. One does wonder amid all of this brown-nosing of recruits how much attention is paid to what a coach has actually accomplished with past players, but that seems to matter little in January.

The pitches can run to the absurd, none more so than at the school where desired players are put in a dark room to observe, on a large television screen, computer animations of themselves leading the team to the MNC, and more than one Woody was probably involved as the majestic sights were accompanied by an enthusiastic description of their heroics by the team’s radio guy. The inane ploy didn’t work, however, as the first Wednesday in February found that team’s most coveted recruits scrambling head over heels to cast their lot with other schools. So much for that.

Among the recruits of that school who elected not to have their names inscribed in bunting over the stadium was a very good one lost to their arch rival, who, despite the player having given a verbal commitment to the other place, wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. In the season’s oddest recruiting ploy, the coach called the prospect the night of Signing Day Eve and crooned a Dean Martin love song into the phone. These sweet nothings produced the desired effect, as first thing the next morning the object of his affections reneged on his previous 'commitment' and fired off a fax wedding himself to Golden Throat's program.

While most of the school’s fans are chuckling as their rivals are blue and see red, I would wonder about a football coach, a man of middle age, who sings love songs to teenage boys. But, I guess it demonstrates that all is fair in love, war and recruiting.

Jim Alderson, who first made his mark with his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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