A thoughtful debate between two of our nation's finest intellectual powers.
So let's talk about National Signing Day. This is a uniquely 21st Century and Internet-related phenomenon phenomenon. 20 years ago there was an information deficit; the only people who actually knew about these players were the coaches recruiting them. Maybe you'd see something like a feature in USA Today or Parade Magazine but that's it. But with the rise of the Internet you have these services like Rivals and Scout where fans can see how these recruits are ranked. This raises a number of questions for me:
- Has this made coaches lazier? I remember Charlie Weis would brag about the great recruits he'd gotten, then you'd look at his linebackers and see that they were all different sizes. He was just grabbing the best players without thinking about his system. You also saw Houston Nutt just hand out offers to every four-star recruit without checking for character flags or whether they could academically qualify. Those are obviously extreme cases, but do you think that the rise of third party scouts has harmed scouting by the schools?
- Is this good for the actual recruits? On the one hand it gives them more choices. Back in the day if you lived in a small town in Alabama then your options were limited. Justin Tuck only went to Notre Dame because the scout that Notre Dame had sent to look at another player accidentally went to a wrong game. But now it's impossible for a school not to have heard of you. All you need to do is e-mail a highlight package to a school you like. On the other hand, increased scrutiny on the process has destroyed some of the perks. The Willie Williams recruitment seemed to ruin some of the sleazier aspects of recruiting that nonetheless were beloved by the actual recruits. And with the advent of Twitter you have annoying fans asking you to go to their school and Facebook means you have pictures of yourself on campus partying spread across the Internet.
Those are just a few preliminary thoughts. Was interested what you'd think.
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So I'm watching National Signing Day coverage on ESPNU and it looks a lot like CNN's coverage of an election. This is a shift that I've detected in the past few decades. When ESPN started it was funny and irreverent but its news coverage increasingly resembles more "serious" news coverage. Even less news-y shows are still presented in a serious manner.
Now this speaks to the increased importance of sports in our society. As the size of these college football programs have grown, they become increasingly newsworthy. But I just hope we don't re-enter the pre-'60s era where all the media does is build up and tear down players. Do you worry that media coverage has gone away from seeking truth and more toward seeking ratings?
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The way fans use Twitter vis-a-vis their recruits concerns me too. When they are recruits the fans suck up to them and beg them to go to their schools. But what happens once they join? Do fans check to see if the now-players are being treated properly by the staff? That they're enjoying everything on campus? It's all sales but no account management.
Also, one of the ways that the NCAA is able to maintain its power is by giving schools such a great amount of leverage over the players. (I have no data for this and have never looked up anything in my life.) And the fans clearly side with the schools over the players once the recruits have signed with their teams. Do you think Twitter has just exacerbated this problem?
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