Tuesday, February 02, 2010

SPORTS >> Lifeblood of football is life itself

Leader sports editor

Well, it’s national signing day and you know what that means.

Yes, it’s time to break out the William Shatner impression.

You remember the SNL sketch in which Shatner, old Capt. Kirk himself, addresses the rabid, costumed fans at the Star Trek convention with the immortal words: “Get a life, will you people?”

For a lot of football fans with not enough to do, today is the sports equivalent of the Star Trek convention. And I echo Shatner, minus the chewed scenery.

Across the nation, athletes in several sports will sign NCAA letters of intent to compete for institutions of higher learning next year. The focus, around here and everywhere else, of course, is on football.

Since the game is our most popular spectator sport, the attention is understandable and fans’ interest is justified, though locally we have athletes signing in baseball, softball and track and field as well.

I don’t have a problem with a kid getting a full athletic scholarship. None.

You know that on the field, at least, the scholarship has been earned in a measurable way, quantifiable by film and statistics, and such a ride gives an opportunity to a kid who might not have otherwise had one. That’s regardless of whether or not he stays in school or declares for a draft.

I personally hope he stays in school and finds a cure for cancer someday.

No, what has made the whole recruiting scene a “colossal waste of time” as Shatner also told the Trekkers, are the Internet sites like Rivals.com, message boards, radio talk shows and media coverage that have turned recruiting into a spectator sport unto itself.

That and the obsessive fans who gobble up this stuff.

Many of the so-called media experts are glorified fans of the programs they cover; they have been known to brag about landing recruits for a particular team or, just as unethically, they become too close to recruits and wind up trying to find them a coach with a scholarship to give — in other words, they meddle in the stories they are supposed to be writing.
I have seen this firsthand.

Many coaches don’t put stock in the Internet rankings and choose to do their own player evaluations. Arkansas State’s Steve Roberts told me that by the time a 17 year old cracks the Rivals top 100, he may have already reached his athletic peak, and college coaches have to sign players as much for their potential as for the players they are.

Yes, recruiting is the lifeblood of the sport, but it doesn’t have to be life for the sports fan. If you like athletics, there are real live sports being played right now.

High school basketball is coming up on its regular season home stretch, the college basketball races are starting to take shape and for pity’s sake football fans, the Super Bowl is Sunday.

Do the recruitniks miss football so much when the season is over they actually have to know if a kid in Possum Guts, Tenn., is considering playing for Arkansas?

Sure it means your program is doing well if you’re landing the so-called blue chippers, it means you’ve won some games, you have a high profile, people want to play for you. It’s understandable a fan might like to know who is in this year’s signing class.

But even recruiting guys like Little Rock Christian’s Michael Dyer, the all-time Arkansas high school rushing leader heading to Auburn, can be a crapshoot. Hasn’t Dyer struggled with ankle injuries in the past?

Say that lineman from Possum Guts commits to Arkansas and one of the two recruiting “gurus” in the statewide daily breathlessly reports the news?

What does the fan do with that news once he has it? Sit on pins and needles for the two years or more it will take for that lineman to become a contributing player?


The kid has to make it to campus and not get hurt during summer conditioning or some high school all-star game or some sort of youthful hijinx.

He must log time on the scout team and learn the system.

He must make grades.

He must stay out of trouble (never as easy as it sounds).

He will probably redshirt.

And he must live up to the expectations that got him signed in the first place.

Then, maybe in two years minimum, the kid becomes a contributor, if he stays injury free.

You could read a lot of good books waiting for that moment. You could take a lot of long walks with your wife or spend a lot time with your kids. Two years is plenty of time to lose 10 pounds or quit smoking.

You could get a life.