The Instant Historian: On 17-Year-Old Boys Signing Documents


The NFL season is over. The NFL Draft nonsense has yet to begin. Freed from deflated footballs and radio silent running backs, the Instant Historian can discuss what truly matters: the whims of 17-year-old boys. College Football’s National Signing Day came and went this past week. Teenagers chose colleges. Grown ass adults had a great deal to say about how they chose them. Often on Twitter. Please, stop doing that.

Signing Day, like any sports happening, engenders debates. Well, not “debates” per se. More like rigid dichotomies, with folks on either side flinging their fecal matter at opposing straw men.

Everyone had their yearly kvetch about recruiting rankings, or about folks who complain about recruiting rankings. One side fetishizes them. The other views them as complete bunk. The truth, as always, is between the two poles. The coverage, as always, leaves little room for such nuance.

As Matt Hinton pointed out last year, recruiting rankings work very well on a macro-level. Teams that recruit better beat teams that don’t. Players labeled as “blue chip” tend to be more successful than those that are not. On aggregate, such rankings provide a reasonable guideline for expected performance.

Recruiting rankings don’t fare as well on micro-level scrutiny. Projecting 16 and 17-year-olds is hard. One school landing a specific five-star recruit guarantees nothing. The rankings saw Jameis Winston, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III coming. They did not see Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel or Sam Bradford coming. Russell Wilson was a two-star recruit. So was J.J. Watt.

Blind spots are prevalent. Players that develop their senior year get overlooked. Players that develop their sophomore years get overrated. Schools such as Kansas State and Wisconsin have a better handle on their backyard than national sites. Anyone who truly grasps the finer points of offensive line play is probably employed by a football program. An off-the-radar kid offered by a major program invariably picks up a mysterious extra star.

Recruiting rankings tell you one reason why Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State tend to be good every year. But, as fans of Florida, Michigan and Texas can attest, it’s a long way from recruiting rankings to UNDISPUTED.

Getting past the rankings, we proceed to the traditional gripes about bloated National Signing Day coverage.

However earnest the intent, the wall-to-wall TV coverage on the day is mostly drivel. Few announcements are surprises. But for the occasional moment of levity, little TV worthy happens for a solid 10 hours. Talking heads deliver platitudes. Hosts cut to on site reporters for generic reports an invested fan could have given. Interspersed are coaching interviews and press conferences. Spoiler: every coach is excited about every kid they brought in this year. The celebrated inanity is rare and it happens off camera.

Curmudgeons shit on Signing Day announcements themselves. Somehow, blame for said individuals rests with the kids, who are “entitled twerps.” Not the adults milking the moment. Surely, the teenagers demanded school assemblies and rang up ESPN producers.

There should be legitimate debate about the ethics and ramifications of turning 16-year-old kids into public figures to exploit for profit. But, cottage recruiting industries are not in the business of questioning their own being.

Where demand exists on a spreadsheet, the media in 2015 and beyond will meet it. Let’s give thanks apparel companies have not turned Signing Day into a neon spandex meat parade, yet.

On Petrino… Bobby Petrino did a shitty thing. He pulled an immediate scholarship offer from a running back just before signing day, because Todd Grantham needed an extra defensive back. He’s “not a man of his word.” True, but place this in context.

Auburn pulled an offer from a longtime commitment. Will Muschamp had better defenders to hunt. Dan Mullen pulled an offer from a QB commit two weeks before he was set to graduate and enroll early. Mississippi State was in the market for better ones. West Virginia appeared to pull an offer from a legacy commit days before Signing Day. UCLA tried to hide that their defensive coordinator was leaving until after letters of intent were faxed. Ohio State did the same with their running backs coach. That’s before we get to how Nick Saban and others make the scholarship numbers work.

Bobby Petrino may be a liar and a jerk. But, he’s merely the easiest target in a business rife with them.

On the LeBrons… LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have won 12-straight. Have you noticed this “miraculous” turnaround? No one does sweeping narrative swings quite like NBA coverage. What?! You’re telling the Instant Historian it took a couple months for three talented players and a novice NBA coach to develop fluidity and approach their potential?

It’s only February and NBA coverage has not begun bubbling yet. In May, such narrative swings will be happening game to game. The Instant Historian still feels good about nabbing the Cavs to win the title when the getting was good at 14-1.

[Photos via USAT]