A growing problem in college football recruiting and how it can, but won’t, be fixed.
I am eighteen years old. So there is no way that my thinking is old-fashioned, or that I’m caught in the past, or that I just don’t understand kids these days. I am a kid these days. So that puts me at a loss to explain why I am so put off by the fairly recent trend of verbally committed football players still visiting other schools. In my experience, when you agree to be in a relationship, say with someone of the opposite sex, it probably wouldn’t be well received by your significant other if you announced that you were very solid on your commitment, but that you still wanted to fly out and spend a few weekends with some other girls. You know, just to see what they have to offer.
Yes, that isn’t a perfect comparison for a number of reasons, the fact that institutions of higher learning are not people, and certainly aren’t anybody’s girlfriend, chief among them. But still, that doesn’t change the truth: if you are visiting other schools, inviting competing coaches to your house, and talking up other programs, how solidly committed can you really be?
As much as I love our dear school, I have to point out that Washington has recently been involved in a number of these situations. Even right now, Myles Jack, a UCLA commit from Bellevue High School, is a few more glasses of metaphorical wine away from cheating on the Bruins. He recently told UDUBNation that he would be at “pretty much all the home games.” The Husky home games! He’s also been a regular at Washington’s practices.
I understand that we’re the home team that he probably grew up watching, and he certainly isn’t breaking any rules, but I simply do not understand why he would commit to UCLA, a school in the same conference as UW, when he clearly still has an attachment to, or at least a serious interest in, our program. If I were a UCLA fan, I would assume he will probably flip by signing day. When a fan has to look at a list of commitments to his team and pick out the ones that are likely to bail, something is wrong. Jordan Payton anyone?
I fully understand that college football is a cutthroat business as much as it is a collegiate sport. Coaches constantly abandon their teams to go take the bigger paycheck or the more prestigious position, so why should the high school students be held to a higher standard of loyalty? It’s a solid argument. Just think of Todd Graham, the Arizona State coach that left Temple, Tulsa, and then Pitt in a span of seven years. But the thing is, I’m not asking players not to look at all the options and advocate for themselves. They should. I’m just asking that they wait until they are actually sure about their choice before committing. And if they find themselves regretting the choice and wanting to switch schools, for the love of all that is holy, please decommit before you get heavily involved in recruitment by other programs.
As much as Shaq Thompson was criticized for his decision to commit to Cal, decommit, and then switch to Washington, when all was said and done, I think he handled his recruitment fairly well. He made his decision, and it would have been nice for Cal if he just stayed, but then Washington hired away the coach that had recruited him, Tosh Lupoi, so he announced that he was opening up his recruitment. The situation had changed and left him unsure, so he let every know he had a new decision to make. He didn’t say “I’m still unwavering in my commitment to the Golden Bears,” sneak on a flight to Seattle, and then switch to the Huskies on Signing Day. He was honest throughout the process, decided his heart was with the Huskies, and made his choice. From a teenager that was clearly struggling with making the biggest decision of his young life, that’s as much as anyone could have asked.
So that’s all I’m requesting. Recruits, even though you aren’t reading this and you really don’t have a reason to care, please stop committing to schools when you are clearly far from committed. It does you a disservice, and it helps to contribute to a recruiting landscape where a committed player is still a free agent to be poached, and where fans don’t trust a recruit until the second he has physically signed his letter of intent. It’s making everyone cynical about something that should be wonderful, the dreams of hundreds of talented, hardworking athletes coming true, and I think it’s clear that there’s already enough cynicism in sports.
I would ask the coaches instead, but they are paid in the millions and have too much at stake to ever make the morally correct decision and risk losing a competitive edge. As long as the other programs are stealing their recruits, they will attempt to steal a few to make up the difference. And as a fan, I find myself looking at players like Myles Jack and hoping Sark manages to flip him. The power rests with the recruits, and however unlikely any change is, they are the only ones that can reverse this trend.