There’s a large contingent of grown men (and women) who pay to use a message board so that they can hang on every word a 17-year-old kid utters.
Out of context, this seems very strange. In context, really, it’s not much better.
What I’m talking about is college football fans and the obsession with recruiting in the modern world, especially with the development of the internet over the past two decades. These fans look at tweets, pictures and stories, trying to gather any inkling of knowledge that will tip a recruit’s cap as to where they’ll be playing college ball. They try to infer anything they can from who these players are retweeting and who they're posing for pictures with.
It’s sickening how these men drool over recruiting classes and get so involved in the lives of high school athletes. Some fans want recruits of their favorite teams to care about football at their new school and only football at their new school.
Christian Hackenberg, a four-star pro-style quarterback, committed to Penn State in late February. The high school junior played baseball in the spring and was ‘late’ to the summer football camp circuit.
I read several different posts on message boards asking why Hackenberg is playing baseball in the spring. Some questioned his commitment to football and called for him to quit the sport.
Why, I ask, would anyone be seriously upset if a 17-year-old kid wants to play baseball before he enters college? Why are these people following Twitter accounts of recruits? Why are they concerned with what these athletes do in their daily lives?
Gunner Kiel, a blue-chip quarterback who committed to Indiana, then LSU, and finally Notre Dame just a day before he was supposed to enroll at LSU, got abused all across the internet for his choice to flip-flop at the last second. Maybe, there was more to the decision than we know. Maybe, he had a good reason and wanted to make sure he had found the best fit. Maybe for him, it took him until the final day of his recruitment to find that fit.
While choosing a college should be a personal decision between the athlete, their family and the school's coaching staff, it has become more than that. Every recruiting ‘expert’ from around the country is constantly calling these players to spread their thought process across the Internet.
Choosing a college is a life-altering decision and all factors should be taken into account. Kids should be given time to think about a number of different things, which include academics, campus atmosphere, proximity to home and, of course, the football program.
Fans will sit behind a computer and criticize a kid for not picking their favorite school. I dare them, however, to criticize that same kid in person, because they never would.
The fascination with the lives of high school football prospects has gotten out of control, and there is an immense amount of pressure on them to commit to one school or another at an early stage in the process. Committing before your senior season seems to be the trend nowadays, but there's plenty of players who would like to take their time, take official visits in the fall and weigh all available options. Yet, some fans question why some players are taking so long to make a decision.
So when you criticize a player for not giving a pledge to your favorite school, consider this: How would you feel if you had to make the most important decision of your life thus far at 17-years-old with thousands of people pulling you in different directions?
College football fans need to lay off the recruiting binge that has swept the sport. Let kids be kids, and let these athletes make their decisions without condemning them. Let them live their lives without being stalked and harassed via the internet.