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Signing Day 2006

I have a long tradition of lying to inquiring minds. On Election Day in 2004, I exited my polling station to find myself face-to-face with an attractive young lady claiming to do exit polling for CNN. I agreed to her request that I fill out her questionnaire, and then proceeded to answer every question exactly opposite of how I felt or had voted. Later that afternoon I was watching that august news channel as they breathlessly reported that southern rural areas were unexpectedly tending towards John Kerry. This turn of events, the giddy anchorperson informed, me, would make it virtually impossible for George Bush to attain re-election. I like to think I contributed to that impromptu party celebrating Kerry’s obvious win that was reported to have been held that afternoon at CNN HQ.

The same holds true for those annoying public opinion surveyors who often call asking my opinion on upcoming elections or anything else. I invariably tell them the exact opposite of how I feel or plan on voting. Along with my feeling that it is none of their business, I feel that anything that screws with the emerging tendency of news organizations to not simply relate the news but to tell us how we should be feeling is a good thing. Plus, it’s great fun.

I would do the same were I a highly-sought after football recruit. Most of the good ones are inundated during the recruiting process not only with calls from coaches, but those from snoops from the recruiting Web sites wondering to which school they might be leaning. These sites are playing with fire and the more disinformation handed them the better.

It would seem my idea is catching on. More and more each year it seems there are prospects who decide to play games with the recruiting services and telling them something other than how they are leaning. Maybe in a couple of years all of them will do it.

The recruiting Web sites are a major NCAA scandal waiting to happen. Aside from the problems inherent in providing a playground for any school’s loon faction of its fan base to become even loonier, much like handing an arsonist gasoline, matches and pointing him to an abandoned building, there is the matter of the phone calls to prospects. There is a very gray area when the sites involved are run by alumna of the school they cover, which is most of them. An alumnus of a school calling a recruit, even under the guise of journalistic interest, opens up a can of worms that is going to eventually cause most all of them a lot of trouble. The NCAA is going to crack down on these sites one of these days, and come down hard.

I am not anywhere near what one would call a recruiting junkie, that odd collection of mouth-breathers and life-challenged that seem to be more interested in the number of stars affixed to their school’s recruiting roster than wins or losses, or even the games. I have never once posted to a recruiting message board professing a ‘gut feeling’ about where a high school wunderkind I have never laid eyes on might be heading, nor has it ever once crossed my mind to do so. Most of the recruiting hoopla is lost on me.

Nevertheless, another Signing Day has come and gone. Recruitnuts of each and every school are ecstatic to the point of rapture about how good those same shady recruiting services claim is their school’s class or reduced to the stiff upper lip response of ‘it isn’t THAT bad.’

Some loons are pounding keyboards like those proverbial monkeys typing out an encyclopedia braying to all of the world, or at least the tiny sliver of it that actually cares about college football recruiting, that their coaches are the absolute best ever to stalk a sideline. Many of the exact same loons will be screaming for the heads of the exact same coaches this autumn when the bums don’t win each and every game.

Others are grief-stricken to the point of suicide at the numbers of high-profile teenagers electing to matriculate at some place other than their beloved alma mater. A world where the recruiting roster of Hometown U is not loaded with five-star power is one that is just not worth living in. The message board angst can be amusing. The solution would seem simple enough: if one doesn’t want to be great disappointed during recruiting, as are the fans of most every school save for a handful are at least some years, quit paying so much attention to recruiting. That never seems to pop into the heads of the recruitnuts.

Like the difference between so-called opinion polls and the genuine article, the only thing that counts in recruiting is the LOI received by a school. In an increasing number of cases, where the fax delivers said letter of intent is an academic citadel other than the one the recruiting services claimed Mr. Wonderful was leaning. Much of this stems from the tendency of teen-aged boys to change their minds, obviously considered the greatest of character flaws by the recruitnuts but regarded as normal teenage behavior by most everybody else. There are hints, however, that an increasing number of the top prospects have taken to screwing with the recruiting services. Good for them. Hopefully, their numbers will increase over the years. The less reliable are the recruiting services and sites, perhaps the less importance will be attached to them, perhaps lessening the chance, or at least postponing for a while, the day of NCAA reckoning.

The letters of intent were faxed Wednesday, February 1. Those pandering to the recruitnuts now turn their attention to ‘analyzing’ recruiting. This seems a science as exact as analysis of the psyches of Middle Eastern terrorist bombers, but much bandwidth is chewed up in the attempt. The ones I will attach the most credibility to will be the ones that correctly identify the large numbers of top recruits who never pan out for various reasons, such as arrests, academic problems, homesickness, or the inability to get along with the coach who seemed such a great guy during recruiting. I don’t seem to recall many sites claiming four years ago that you-know-who was going to be nothing but trouble.

There are some broad strokes to be gleaned from looking at the results of this recruiting season. One is that for the first time in quite a while Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech failed to entice large numbers of in-state talent to Blacksburg . The official line from Frank is that it was just one of those things, but it is hard not to wonder if the spate of negative publicity generated by you-know-who contributed to the player exodus from the state. It is also not hard to wonder whether the existing levels of talent at Tech also contributed. Increasingly, high school hotshots want to play RIGHT NOW, and the chances of that happening at Tech, especially at the ‘glamour’ skilled positions that the recruiting services tend to focus on, were remote.

The Tech staff cast its recruiting net to places like Ohio , New Jersey and Georgia , focusing on linemen both offensive and defensive. They got what look to be some good ones. Most of these will disappear into Merryman for a period of Gentryfication, then in 3-4 years people will, as has been the case for quite a while at Tech, be marveling at the ability by the Hokies to dominate both lines of scrimmage. That never seems to be mentioned when the recruiting ‘experts’ are assigning grades to players who have yet to play a down of college football. I suspect this nuts and bolts class put together by Frank and his staff will look pretty good in four or five years, the only time a class can be truly evaluated.

All of those Hokies displaying such angst at what they consider the low quality of Tech’s class should take a look at Hooville, where, on paper, things look to be a lot worse. algroh didn’t seem to fare so well in augmenting that collection of superior recruited talent he manages to keep so well hidden. The coaches at Hargrave will have to do more of their own recruiting this year, unable to count on algroh supplying as many players as usual. It would seem that algroh is extending his policy of writing off the state of Virginia to include most everywhere else, too. The Great NFL Legend has always recruited best among those who don’t know him very well; it would seem the reputation of algroh is being spread far and wide.

No coach will claim his class stinks. They always find something good to say about their recruiting haul, even if it is composed of a collection of stiffs that virtually guarantee the coach will be fired just as soon as they receive appreciable playing time. algroh himself talked about ‘filling needs.’ Whether or not he has filled that vital one of acquiring players who can stay within four touchdowns of Tech remains to be seen, although Hoo recruitnuts don’t seem optimistic. The grass is always browner somewhere else.

Other amusing comments were made by ACC coaches whose classes were not regarded as up to snuff. At NC State, Chuck Amato pointed out that the top prospects in North Carolina usually head out of state and this year was no exception. Certainly there are many who would like to consider the People’s Republic of Chapel Hill as part of some other state. Top in-state NC prospects did not go to Duke. Ted Roof got no local products, instead mining the recruiting hotbed of Sweden . Ted claimed that he had recruited a bunch of guys that all were in possession of ‘fine character.’ You just know that was from a guy that went 1-10 last year. When asked about his class, Wake’s Jim Grobe responded, ‘Boy Skip sure has problems, doesn’t he?’

And so another Signing Day has come and gone. The recruitnuts are already rapt at the stories emanating from the recruiting sites telling them that such-and-such high school killer wide receiver is ‘leaning’ towards Texas, which he will claim right up until the second he faxes his LOI to Penn State or USC. Good for him. The rest of us get back to focusing on more interesting things, such as the beleaguered Tech basketball team having put together a winning streak. Good for them, too.

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