That piteous wailing you heard emanating from the Woody Hayes Athletic Center last Friday was the collective cry made by the Ohio State coaching staff upon hearing that prized recruit Jordan Hicks had selected the University of Texas over Ohio State.
Blue chip, five-star, top prospect: These are the labels that make college football recruiting junkies salivate. They are the labels attached to Hicks and many other star high-school football athletes like him.
An infusion of enough such players can salvage a flagging program. They can help a team “reload.” They can guarantee superiority in the conference for years to come.
A dearth of such players can also be the death knell of a once-promising college coaching career. Recruiting struggles and the talent gap they create can get a coach fired in short order, regardless of his mastery of X’s and O’s.
There are magazines with names like Prepstar, Lindy’s and Athlon whose sole existence revolves around the niche college football recruiting audience. There are countless recruiting Web sites dedicated to poring over all of the minutia involved in evaluating these 17- and 18-year-old high school students. Here at OSU, we have Bucknuts to keep us apprised of some fresh-faced youngster’s 40-yard dash time.
For everyone involved in the worship of college football, from the coaching staffs to the adoring fans to the pundits who speak ad nauseam about this or that recruit, National Signing Day is as big as it gets. It’s the Super Bowl of the off-season.
But why is this?
With a margin of error that can turn a “can’t miss” linebacker prospect, once slated to be the next Lawrence Taylor, into the next Mike D’Andrea, why are we so fixated on these young men who are barely old enough to drive?
There are two schools of thought.
First, the three-ring circus atmosphere swirling around these kids’ press conferences is a testament to the soaring popularity of football. Regardless of the fact that Major League Baseball has staked a claim as America’s pastime, true sports fans know that in this country, football is king.
The second line of reasoning is a little more sinister.
These kids are another indication of the stark contrast our society has drawn between substance and celebrity. Where else would you find high school students who have yet to accomplish anything of real value being showered with televised attention, outside of MTV’s “Teen Mom?”
If some Doogie Howser-type is getting ready to make his decision between Ivy League schools, the local press doesn’t show up to see whether or not he places the Yale or Harvard cap on his head.
And why? Odds are his contributions to society will be far more profound then simply ear-holing the quarterback during a blind-side rush on third and long.
These athletes are raised up to a level in which their salaries and status surpass those of the people who make up the backbone of society — our doctors, teachers and civil servants.
It’s the same phenomenon that allows four semi-literate meatheads from Jersey to take the world by storm.
And lest you think that you are immune to such idol-worship, ask yourself this: Do you remember where you were on the day that Terrelle Pryor chose OSU over Michigan? I do.
That particular coup for coach Tressel over new Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez seemed just as sweet as if we had actually defeated the Wolverines on the field.
Waxing philosophic about the cultural dangers involved with idolizing a 17-year-old kid who scores touchdowns over the nerdy genius who may just find the cure for cancer (or at least male-pattern baldness) is not new. It just becomes a little more salient when National Signing Day occurs so closely to the horrific events that are transpiring in Haiti even as you read this.
It serves to remind us of what we seem to be sorely lacking today as a society: perspective.