Every year signing day gets bigger and bigger. Espn has bought in fully devoting an entire channel to covering a bunch of 18 year olds making decisions about their football futures and people soak it up. This year was no different as we saw all the different versions of the timeless children’s games “which hat do I choose?” and “what tie is under my jacket?” replayed 24/7. There’s just nothing like watching a bunch of young men sit at tables surrounded by as many people as they can cram into the viewfinder who are programmed to erupt no matter what school is picked and given the gift having this player on their team. But is all the celebration really worth it? Not a chance. Putting stock into what takes place on signing day is just about as wise as putting stock in Enron at this point. Hit the jump to see why it just doesn’t really matter.
Let’s just admit it now. Signing day is nothing but another excuse for every fan of their team to take a day and get excited about what the future may hold. For teams who end up with top classes, fans get to think about how much more they’re going to dominate. For teams coming off less than stellar seasons, signing day is the opportunity to dream about what next year could bring. But if most people were honest, they don’t know jack about what signing day really means for their teams and that’s because it’s impossible to have any idea.
Q: What do these programs have in common: Tennessee, UCLA, Michigan, Clemson, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Penn State. Miami?
A: Each has been ranked in the top ten signing classes over the last five years and all have had less than what anyone would call super success. This is best seen in Notre Dame, Michigan, and Miami who are a combined 104-86 from 2006-2010, which puts them right at a 55% winning. That might explain the coaching carousels that these schools have become. (To be fair, also included in the top ten signing classes over those same years are USC, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc. but they don’t help my argument so let’s just ignore them!)
While having the greatest athletes year after year sign with the college of your choice is clearly not a bad thing, it doesn’t guarantee success down the line for any program. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposed to Kansas State having the number 1 class from here until eternity but there are so many factors that determine success other than rank of class. To make my point, only two of those factors need to be examined.
1. Level of play: Signing day is the day when a bunch of 17-18 year olds go from being one of the top, if not the top athlete on the field to just another athlete among many. Ask any freshman what the biggest change from high school to college is and they’ll tell you something like the size of the players or the speed of the game. That’s why names like Ciatrick Faison, Bobby Morton, Joe Cohen, Andre Caldwell, Keith Rivers, Webster Patrick, Antone Smith, and Ryan Perrilloux probably don’t ring a lot of bells. (Those were the #1 & #2 ranked recruits from 2002 to 2005) A kid who may have owned the field as a junior and senior in high school may lose his advantage when things are evened out a bit. No one can predict which player is going to continue his dominance at the college level. Many have tried, and many have failed.
2. Coaching: Coaches who can recruit are much different than coaches that can coach. Plenty of guys can go into a kid’s living room and promise him and his parents the moon. They flash their facilities, their boosters, and their tradition (academics if absolutely necessary) as much as possible hoping that the teenager will be blown away and sign up. When those same players show up for spring practice it becomes a whole new animal. Sometimes the players respond to the nuances of the coaching staff and sometimes they don’t. Every end of season brings a slew of transfers to prove it. Even if the coaching style fits perfectly with the player, there’s no assurance that the coach is going to be around for their entire career. A coaching change can come at any moment in college football and that can set a kid back years in his football ability and make a number one into someone forgotten. On the flip side, a talented coach can take kids that most schools passed over into a force to be reckoned with on the field. For every top player that fizzles out, there’s a walk on – turned scholarship athlete – turned draft pick. A perfect example is going to be seeing plenty of action this Sunday in Dallas.
Throw in the other factors of academics, time management, home sickness, college parties, boosters, position competition, etc and any athlete can have a hard time. Actually, the more you think about it, any guy who can make it through four complete years of college and maintain a high level of play is a success no matter what takes place at the next level.
So have your signing day fun. Go nuts and brag like mad when your school gets the number one class. Veg out in front of espn, esp2, espnU, espn3, espn.com, espndesportes, and espneastpacificislands. Post on facebook how good it’s all going to be next season. But don’t forget… there’s some team with a sub top 50 recruiting class that just waiting to kick the crap out of you blue chippers!