Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

January 29, 2014

Dating scene with colleges, recruits can have harsh results

On Feb. 5, the madness known as college football recruiting will cease - for next year's freshmen anyway. The best players will be handed a National Letter of Intent, sign it, and in some cases end a courtship that has lasted for more than four years.

It’s a great moment for those with desired athletic skills. They are envied by major universities who offer free educations just for a pledge to play football on Saturdays. But signing day can also be terrible for those kids who aren't equipped to handle the adulation, let alone make one of the biggest decisions of their lives.

College football recruiting has been compared to dating. Some matches seem perfect and work out. Others get off to a good start until one partner gets a wandering eye.

Before National Signing Day, student athletes may commit to a university. Their declarations sound permanent, even though we have learned they don't carry the force of law or even the stamp of one’s integrity. Social media is inundated with stories of “flippers and switchers,” ones who commit to one school, then jump to another.

One website that follows college football, Saturday Down South, reports there have been 60 de-commitments among prospects involving Southeastern Conference teams this fall - with more to follow. It’s no different for other conferences in other parts of the country.

Tom Lemming, a nationwide recruiting analyst, said the practice of de-commiting has become epidemic. There's no single explanation as to why.

Can you blame the high school phenom who just can’t get enough all-expense-paid trips to college campuses? Or do you blame recruiters whose teams' success - and their own livelihoods - depend on getting the right players?The answer is both.

Highly touted players are easily swayed by coaches with winning personalities and strong sales pitches. Absent the guidance of a parent or high school coach, a young player can quickly succumb to the pressure to commit.

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