National signing day is upon us, so cue the usual hand wringing.
Wednesday is college football’s national signing day, when prospects can finally ink their names on national letters of intent — binding documents that lock in the offers of athletic scholarships that colleges have made to them. But until players sign on the dotted line and, typically, fax their letters in (signing days are practically keeping the fax machine industry in business), agreements made beforehand are only as solid as the word of the parties who made them. A coach can pull a scholarship if he lands a better player. A player can renege on his commitment if he decides to sign elsewhere.
In fact, virtually everyone involved in the process feels it is flawed, and getting worse.
“What’s happening with the word ‘commitment’?” asked Chuck Kyle, the longtime football coach at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. “What are we teaching these young people?”
I love the implicit level playing field assumption there. It’s like there’s no difference between 17-year olds who can’t even enter into a legally binding contract on their own and multi-million dollar athletic departments with business experience, representation and coaches who’ve made use of agents standard practice.
And that’s before you get to the straight math.
There remains a fundamental asymmetry between coaches and prospects that Josh Helmholdt, a recruiting analyst at Rivals.com, summed up: “College coaches recruit 20 to 30 kids each class. A kid gets one school.”
Helmholdt added that he was more sympathetic to the prospects who decommit than to coaches who renege on offers. “Most come into this completely green, totally naïve and just trying to keep their heads above water,” he said of the recruits. “They’ve been doing everything they’ve been told to do. They find out in December or January they’ve lost their scholarship — that’s on a totally different magnitude than a college coach having a four-star flip on him.”
The relative lack of leverage for prospects was a prime reason Darlington, among others, supported a signing window during the summer, something the oversight committee advised against. Many coaches oppose the earlier signing window, according to several participants in the process.
No shit, Sherlock.
You want kids to learn the meaning of commitment? Let ’em consult with advisors who can explain that and make offers binding on schools and recruits when they’re accepted.