Branch: Commitments carry no weight in college football recruiting these days

Blake Branch

Following college football recruiting has gone from feeling like getting a sneak peek at who may sign with my favorite team to watching an episode of ‘Days of Our Lives.’
The simplicity of the recruiting landscape in the early 2000’s has given way to internet trolling, attention-seeking, lies and deception.

It is hard to discern what is real and what is fake these days on the recruiting trail, with the single most prominent trend in the ever-growing world of recruiting, the flip, behind the madness.
Flipping is when a recruit gives a verbal commitment to a school, but changes his mind and commits or signs elsewhere.

I shouldn’t even use that word, “commit,” given how the Merriam-Webster definition has literally zero impact on the way this word is used in recruiting circles.

A commitment in college football terms is more an indicator than a man’s word these days.

It’s kind of like saying, “Hey, if you want me, you’re going to have to try harder than ______.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of recruits out there who take their time, consult their
loved ones and high school coaches and consider all the variables before making a pledge and sticking to it. Most of these players are your early enrollees nowadays (players who graduate high school at midterm and enroll in college in the spring). One such example of a player who handled his recruiting process the right way came from our own backyard, Devin White.

White, a four-star running back coming out of North Webster in 2016, was coveted by Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida State and just about every other major program in the country. To his credit, White never committed to a school despite what had to be immense pressure from friends, family and coaches alike.

White took several official visits and saw parts of the country he probably never thought imaginable. Having heard all the pitches and seeing the campuses, White eventually made his first and only pledge to LSU in January and enrolled early.

With heightened technology, heightened awareness from the everyday sports fan has entered the recruiting realm, and that’s not always a good thing.

It is players in White’s position, the blue-chip prospects, who are under the most pressure from folks on message boards, Twitter and Facebook alike, as the recruiting game has sunk to new lows with complete strangers hounding 17-year-old kids for commitments on social media.

Still, the key role in the flipping problem, if you see it as one, is played by the recruits.

My generation, the Millennials, often gets a bad rap from our older peers, but one of the critiques against us is undeniably factual on a grand scale: We crave attention at a level never before seen.

These days, kids are committing to schools via jumping out of airplanes and five-minute mini-movies, as if getting your entire school out of class to watch you pick a place to play college football wasn’t cool enough.

A kid will commit to a school in October, sometimes only to have his name in the news right then and again in January when he flips. However, at the risk of sounding like a jerk, I’ll admit recruiting is fickle. Sometimes a flip isn’t really a flip, but rather a plan B, as schools have every right to rescind a scholarship offer in favor of another recruit.

Kids drop schools and schools drop kids. Heck, schools even drop the coaches who recruit these kids this time of year, just like how some coaches who recruit a kid to one campus will leave for another. These alone are enough reasons to take your time and see the process through until the end before making a college choice.

I’m not writing this to tell you the recruiting process is a glaring black eye on college football, there are plenty of worse things happening in programs around the country (eyes on you, Baylor and Oklahoma), but rather to point out the method behind the madness recruiting has become.

It is a vicious cycle, and you can see it in the eyes of some recruits in February exactly how it feels to shed that weight.

Personally, I do not believe there is any path back to pure and simple recruiting tactics for either players, coaches or followers alike.

Prospective student-athletes have embraced their opportunity to “enjoy the process,” and hold power over major programs while they can, and as long as the coaches of those programs need those players, nothing will change.

Blake Branch is the Sports Editor for the Minden Press-Herald and a graduate of Louisiana Tech University

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