This is a interesting part of the year for die-hard college sports fans. National Signing Day is coming up on February 4, when thousands of young men will be making their college choices official, not just at the NCAA Division I level, but down through all levels of college football. It’s also a time when you’ll see a lot of early commitments flip, as Orange fans are hoping happens with guys like Nate Howard and Jake Pickard. But no matter what happens as signing day approaches, the process tends to tell us less about our programs, and our new student-athletes we’ll be rooting for, than it does about ourselves.
College recruiting has become a big business, not just for the schools doing the recruiting but for people all around the internet. How many people make a living off of analyzing, scouting, and writing about recruits? Rumors will always be swirling, and as long as there’s fan demand, recruiting experts will have jobs at places like ESPN, Scout, Rivals, and 247, to name just a few. Hell, even a cursory glance around this very website should let you know that we’re fans of following the recruiting process as well.
It’s a process that should be fun for everyone involved. It’s fun for the recruiting experts to get scoops and interact with the young high school athletes, and it’s generally fun (with a dash of overwhelming) for the student-athletes themselves. And it should be fun for the fans, but unfortunately many have a tendency to take the process way too seriously, and far too personally. Too often you hear about a prospect committing to one school, and getting attacked on social media by fans of a school he supposedly “shunned.” Don’t even get me started on the fallout of a prospect switching his commitment from one school to another.
No school is immune to a recruit flipping his commitment, either. I already mentioned SU is hoping to flip guys like Howard and Pickard, and coaches from rival schools are still working on other Syracuse commitments like Keivonnis Davis, who is being heavily pursued by several schools including NC State and former Orange coach George McDonald (edit: since publishing this, Keivonnis has reportedly flipped his commitment to Oregon State). Marquise Blair, a safety with a rapidly growing reputation, is still being pursued by Pittsburgh.
Sometimes you win these small battles, as when Syracuse defensive tackle commit Steven Clark turned down the opportunity to visit the University of Florida, which came in late in the recruiting process and wanted to put Clark on its offensive line. Thanks to his strong relationship to the Syracuse coaches and desire to play defense, Clark happily accepted the scholarship offer from the Gators but pretty quickly tweeted that it wouldn’t change his mind:
Still fully committed to #Cuse— Steven Clark (@SLClark7250) January 21, 2015
Naturally, Syracuse fans were thrilled to see this tweet, and reacted enthusiastically to the news. But what would have happened had he flipped and chosen the Gators? And, keep in mind with all of Syracuse’s current commits, signing day is still a couple weeks off. There’s plenty of time for these kids to change their minds. How you as a fan respond to what a recruit decides to do with his future shines a pretty bright light on the kind of person you really are.
Look, I don’t want to sit here pointing fingers and judging bad behavior of some fans. It’s worse with some fanbases than others, and every fan has been a little bitter from time to time over losing a recruit. Hell, I wrote about being upset about Georgia Tech stealing Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury from the Orange not so long ago. Don’t even get me started on the recruitment of Julius Hodge, who elected to attend NC State over Syracuse and whose choice was softened when his open scholarship went instead to a future All-American named Hakim Warrick, who would have been a Providence Friar otherwise.
But I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to remember a few things…
- These are high school kids. They are 17 and 18 year old kids making the biggest decision of their young lives, and doing what they think is best for their future. I always knew I wanted to attend Syracuse, but I applied to James Madison as well. Can you imagine if a bunch of James Madison supporters started sending me angry letters because I chose to attend Syracuse University instead?
- Not only is this the biggest decision of their lives so far, but it’s also the biggest, proudest moment. These kids have put in countless hours in the gym, on the field, and in the weight room to earn the right to play college athletics. In my day job, I work with college athletes every day. Even though I work at a much lower level than Syracuse, these kids take their athletic careers very seriously, and every year around this time I see pictures of local high school kids in the sports section announcing where they’ll be playing in college. It doesn’t matter if they’re going to a community college or the University of Texas, every one of these kids is thrilled to get a chance to keep playing a sport they love, particularly if they’re fortunate enough to have earned a free education at the same time.
- It can’t be stressed enough that at some point, putting so much energy and thought into whether a 17 year old kid decides to attend your favorite school or a rival gets a little bit creepy. Being a fan entails living vicariously through gifted athletes, and I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. When I was a senior at SU for the 2002-03 hoops season, I happily lived vicariously through my fellow Irishman, Gerry McNamara, despite the fact that he was three years my junior. But there’s a difference between vicariously feeling like part of the team, and absolutely living and dying with it. When you start taking the college choices of 17 year old kids so personally that you have to react violently, spewing profanity on Twitter, it might be time to reassess the decisions that brought you to this point in your life.
Being a fan is a fun diversion from every day life, much like watching a movie. In the case of sports, it gives you a sense of community, and makes you feel like a part of something. I used to react poorly to Syracuse losses, and at times I still do, depending on how poorly the team performed. But I’ve gotten better about it, and I’ve stopped taking it personally when a high school kid decides to go to Louisville instead of committing to the Orange, for example. That’s because I’ve started reminding myself that these are kids. They are doing something they love. Whether Syracuse beats Duke in basketball isn’t going to help me pay my bills, and it isn’t going to influence whether my son gets over a cold any faster. It’s a game, played by students, who are thinking about what’s best for their futures.
And it’s the same for recruiting. So if you’re reading this – and I kind of assume you are, unless you just like staring at web pages because you’re a little…different – just remember that if our pal Robert Washington doesn’t select Syracuse next year, or if Keivonnis Davis decides to follow McDonald to the Wolfpack, it’s okay to be disappointed. Just don’t take it personally, and above all else, leave the kid alone. It’s his life, it’s his decision, and it’s his future – not yours.
I’ve got a kid and he’ll be four this year. I want him to eventually play point guard at Syracuse, because of course I do. But if he’s ever good enough to play college ball, I’m going to be terrified of reading what people are saying about him on message boards and social media, because when you’re a fan, sometimes you forget that you’re talking about real people, with real families.
Let’s all promise to behave for these next couple weeks, no matter what happens with the recruits we’re hoping to land, shall we? Acting with a little bit of class and perspective doesn’t cost a dime, and it doesn’t make you any less of a fan.