Column: The insanity of National Signing Day

National Signing Day. It’s like an early Christmas for college football fans across the country. An influx of new talent brings with it hope for a brighter tomorrow. Coaches and fans alike are excited and with good reason.

In one day, they’ve learned the future of their football team for years to come. That’s something unique to the sport. At the end of the day, we’ll have about 30 new, self-appointed future champions, but that’s OK because on National Signing Day, everyone is a winner.

Except for the recruits.

Yes, the first Wednesday in February should be a day to celebrate the talents and achievements of high school seniors who have earned the privilege of playing college football. But somewhere amidst all the excitement, the day took on a whole new distorted meaning.

Instead of a celebration of the recruits and their big decision, National Signing Day has become a sprawling buffet of attention and greed. A highly-touted recruit is presented on a silver platter for insatiable coaches, starved fans and ravenous media entities to stuff their faces.

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s absolutely true.

Rivals, ESPN and other major media entities spend years hyping up top recruits and scrutinizing their every move. Scouts and reporters watch every game, practice and highlight reel at their disposal, hoping for a glimpse of something extraordinary. Months of rumors and speculation follow as analysts and experts guess where these young men might end up.

But this is all just a giant appetizer for the main event on National Signing Day. As a teenager is about to make the biggest decision of his life, cameras flash to an old high school gymnasium while reporters file into their seats. Fans sit, glued to a couch, with eyes fixed on their TVs, awaiting the start of the press conference. The young man takes his seat in front of a microphone surrounded by family and friends while the crowd anxiously holds its breath.

And then he pulls a hat out of a brown paper sack, the crowd goes crazy and it’s all over. Except it isn’t.

College coaches put years of work into every recruiting class, making sure they get the most talent, no matter the cost. Recruiters at top programs like Alabama and Louisiana State have been known to offer scholarships to seventh and eighth graders just to get a head start on the competition. Coaches will send texts, mail letters and make phone calls to recruits on a daily basis over a period of time that can last up to five or six years.

In short, the recruiting process is exhausting and recruiters invest way too much time to not land their top targets. All of the sudden, recruits who were already facing a very difficult decision have coaches pulling them in all different directions leading up to the big day.

ESPN’s coverage of this year’s National Signing Day proved that it’s getting out of hand. Three high school seniors made their official announcements on ESPNU last Wednesday, but there was a catch: None of their announcements were official.

Byron Cowart, CeCe Jefferson and Roquan Smith all appeared on national television to announce their decisions without actually having made a decision. None of the three had actually determined where they wanted to go to school, but the outside pressure from family, friends, coaches, media and fans forced them to give an answer.

Cowart, the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit, announced he would play college ball at Auburn. Six hours passed before his letter of intent arrived in the Auburn football office and Cowart was scolded on national television for the delay.

Jefferson made his announcement at his Florida home and elected to stay in-state and play for the Gators. Jefferson’s letter of intent didn’t make its way to Gainesville until the next morning because he hadn’t yet ruled out the Auburn Tigers.

But the most unfortunate announcement of the day came from Roquan Smith. Smith donned a pair of blue and gold gloves when he said he would attend UCLA, however a week later, Smith still hasn’t signed. After Smith learned of the departure of the Bruins’ defensive coordinator, he decided to reopen his recruitment.

Not only has Smith been the subject of national and local media scrutiny, but the very coaches that helped in his recruitment chided him for his indecision.

Make no mistake: National Signing Day is important for all involved. But it’s clear we’ve forgotten what’s most important. A young man’s future carries a little more significance than a hat. Even if it is a really cool hat.

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