National Signing Day Puts Undue Pressure on Young Players

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

 

The college football recruiting process is broken. National Signing Day is out of hand. Add in the hypocrisy of transfer restrictions on players but not coaches, massive paychecks for coaches but no multiyear scholarships for athletes, and rules that allow schools to cash in on their stars while denying students the same benefits and it becomes a system that is, quite frankly, a hot mess.

But let’s start with the beginning, before college football players even reach college.

They’re high school standouts, meticulously researched by scouts, assigned a certain (very public) number of stars, and zealously (or overzealously, lookin’ at you, Duke) courted by programs of varying statures and levels of success.

They’re invited to camps and showcase games and campus visits. They form bonds with their all-star game teammates and their potential college teammates and coaches. They might have the added burden of choosing — or at least considering — certain schools to carry on a family legacy. If they’re lucky, they’ll have sound guidance from parents or guardians about their actual education and about the preparation for the future they might receive at each school under consideration.

In addition to the normal pre-frosh concerns like location, class size, campus life, and social and professional opportunities, prospective college athletes must also consider how much playing time they’ll get, how early they’ll see the field, what position they’ll play, whether the team can get to a bowl or win a championship, and whether they’ll be well-prepared for the next level.

And if their 17 and 18 year old heads aren’t swimming enough with offers and admiration and even hate tweets from “fans,” the top players in the nation — the ones with the greatest number of options and the most at stake — are then expected to announce their decision to the world by donning a team’s hat in front of a national television audience.

The entire ordeal makes playing football in front of 100,000+ fans seem like the PeeWee leagues. Is it any wonder that some of these kids change their minds later?

But just as college athletes have more factors to consider when choosing a university than other students, they have more hoops to jump through if they do change their minds.

Once a recruits signs his official Letter of Intent, it’s a done deal, which becomes a problem when a player finally admits, to himself, his parents, and his potential coach, that the hat he picked up on Signing Day doesn’t quite fit.

Florida State signee Matthew Thomas is seeking a release from his LOI because he didn’t want to disappoint his mother, but he doesn’t actually want to go to FSU. Thomas was a hot commodity leading up to Signing Day, with USC and Georgia among the leaders for the five-star linebacker. Not only did he cave to his mother’s wishes, he also caved to the pressure to hold a media event instead of talking it out with Mama Bear and waiting to make the right decision on his own time.

FSU refuses to release him, which means Thomas would be treated like any other transfer and would have to sit out a year of eligibility at his next school.

Eddie Vanderdoes is also rumored to be rethinking his commitment to Notre Dame. Early reports suggested an academic issue, but others have hinted it’s just a “change of heart.” After decommitting from USC in December, Vanderdoes also had UCLA on his short list. Some even thought he’d make a last minute switch to the Bruins on Signing Day, after the Irish preemptively added his name to their list of signees hours before he made his public decision.

Thomas and Vanderdoes both signed their scholarship letters. They knew what they were getting into and they’ll probably be held accountable, but they shouldn’t have been pressured to make such an important life decision on a certain day, at a certain time, in front of a rabid Internet full of fans and detractors.

They’re still just kids, and their decision carries enough weight as it is; they shouldn’t also feel like the hopes and dreams of an entire fanbase rest upon their college choice.

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