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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Banshee's Best: Signing Day Monstrosity

Wednesday, February 6, 2012 was National Signing Day for college football recruits.  To hear ESPN tell it, you'd think this was a national holiday.  In reality, it is merely the day that high school seniors can officially sign their letter of intent to play football at the college of their choice.  While the signees have the physical appearance of full grown men, but they are really just teenaged kids.  Teenaged kids who are making one of the first major choices of their life.  Teenaged kids who are forced to make that choice after intense scrutiny and pressure from social media and, in some cases, in front of thousands of viewers on ESPNU and local TV outlets.

I love college football about as much as anyone I know.  I pay attention to my favorite team in the offseason.  And, I do keep an eye on the recruiting process.  When there are no games being played, it is fun to think about the future of the program and learn the backstories of some of the players who will be on the field next year.  And, after the letters are officially signed, it can be fun to compare recruiting classes and debate which school got the upper hand on their rivals.  If that was the extent of the interest in national signing day, then I would have no complaints.  But in this era of social media and 24-hour sports networks dedicated exclusively to college sports, fans have unprecedented access to information and to the recruits themselves.

(AP/Bob Self)
Twitter, in particular, provides a forum for people to cross over from the realm of fandom and into fanaticism.  A glaring example of this involved one USC fan's Twitter attack on Notre Dame recruit Eddie Vanderdoes.  Vanderdoes was behaving like a teenager and narrating his life on Twitter.  In response, the USC fan was behaving like a crazy person and making personal attacks on a kid in a public forum.  This is a troubling exchange, but, unfortunately, it is not an isolated incident.

But the signing day craziness isn't confined to fans.  The scrutiny and attention surrounding a young star's commitment to a school can also put unnecessary pressure on already strained family dynamics.  This week's saga surrounding Alex Collins' commitment to Arkansas is just one example.  Collins, a highly rated running back from Plantation, Florida, planned to sign and send his letter of intent to Arkansas on Wednesday morning.  But his mother, Andrea McDonald, threw a monkey wrench in the works when she stole her son's paperwork and went on the lamb with it.  The apparent reason for the theft was that McDonald wanted her son to go to Miami instead of Arkansas.  Eventually, Collins got new paperwork from the Razorbacks and secured his father's signature to make it official.  But mom isn't ready to give up the spotlight just yet.  McDonald has hired Johnnie Cochran's law firm to assist in her quest to thwart her son's decision.  Thanks to the unwarranted attention of signing day, what should have remained a private family disagreement became a national story.  No teenaged boy needs that kind of tabloid attention on his relationship with his parents.

So, what is the solution?  Admittedly, it's almost impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.  Reining in the signing day monstrosity requires responsibility on the part of each individual fan.  Friends and fellow fans who cross the line on Twitter and Facebook can and should be held accountable by others in the social media.  As far as TV goes, if a significant number of sports fans find this exploitation of high school students distasteful and stay away from signing day broadcasts then the ratings should eventually reflect this sentiment.  If the ratings drop, the broadcasts will stop.  And kids can go back to being kids ... at least until that first college Saturday in the fall.

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