If To Catch A Predator and Wall Street had a debaucherous rendezvous with a stripper and the baby grew up to be a talented high school football player, then you’d have the premise and explanation for National Signing Day. The first Wednesday of February belongs to college football as hundreds of teen-aged athletic marvels with enormous egos are chased after middle-aged men with secrets their wives and girlfriends should ask them about. Today, talented high school players will hold press conferences with logos of different teams on caps and then show the one that gave them, I mean led them to a promised land of playing time. And business cards and websites showing the title “recruiting expert” will make money off each decision. And no one questions their stalking methods regarding young boys, for at least a day.
Being the father of one, I can vouch for the ridiculousness of teenagers. They’re fickle, hormonal, emotional, unfocused, and selfish. It’s okay, because they’re not grown-ups. But in college football no one ever matures. As Taylor Swift says, like ever. So mostly men in their thirties, forties and fifties obsess over the decisions of boys who’ve been sheltered and coddled most of their existence because of their athletic gifts. The question is why?
My alma mater is the reigning heavyweight champ of college footballing; the University of Alabama. They’ve won three of the last four national titles. Their head coach, Nick Saban, is a terminator sent from the future to eliminate all competition and happiness. Alabama has had the best recruiting classes of the past five years. Their revenues, just for the football program, are estimated to exceed $75 million dollars for 2012. Their expenses were a touch over $30 million. That means they will be at least $40 million in the red for 2013. This is in part due to their stockpiling of teenage football talent from around the country. Little boys are big business to creepy old men.
The preposterous nature of all of this is symbolized by the cliche’ of the recruit’s press conference. It usually occurs in his high school gymnasium, God forbid it be in the library, with his family, coaches, girlfriend, posse, and at least two shady people called “family friends and advisers (translation – agents)” while two to five sports teams hats are placed on a table. Like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, the player will toss hats aside, revealing one that he’ll put on his head and mom will cry, and the family “friends” will rub their hands and twirl their moustaches like a stock 1920s silent film baddie.
This year’s National Signing Day started with a pop-gun type bang as defensive end Robert Nkemdiche put on a show at his school to announce he was listening to mom and his big brother and headed to “the University of Ole Miss”. That school doesn’t exist. It’s called the University of Mississippi, where Robert brother already plays linebacker. Ole Miss is the football team’s nickname as well as Rebels. Nkemdiche is the nation’s top player this year and Mississippi out dueled Clemson and Alabama for his services. No word yet on what his major will be, but I hope he reads some William Faulkner and gets inspired for something awesome after his knees give out.
All of this made me slightly nostalgic. Twenty-five-years ago, the University of Alabama received a commitment from a 5’8″ 165lb back-up running back with a lot of heart who would double major in communications and beer. Four-years later they’d win a national title. Now, that plucky fellow is writing for Sprocket Ink. Well, at least Alabama got their national title out of their lucky charm.
I just hope these youngsters signing full-ride football scholarships also get good educations, build futures for themselves that may or may not include writing on the Internet, and their girlfriends are real.