Media coverage of signing day takes spotlight off athletes

Alexis Morris February 13, 2013 0

Last Wednesday, Feb. 6, was national signing day for the Class of 2013 Division I football prospects. ESPN and other top sports outlets have a ball with signing day, providing minute-by-minute updates about which top recruits surprised the nation and signed with Auburn University instead of the University of Alabama. After the big names have signed, analysts begin discussing which team has the strongest class and producing draft after draft of their “2013 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.” With so much hype surrounding the signing, am I the only one who thinks the sports media has run away with this yearly event?
I am not trying to discredit the importance of signing day for the athletes. Young men are making one of the most important decisions of their lives – what school they will attend, what team they will spend the next four years of their life with and more. The signing of the National Letter of Intent (NLI) is no joke; according to the NCAA, the NLI is an official binding statement in which the student agrees to attend that university for one academic year and the university agrees to provide some sort of financial aid for that academic year.
Signing day is also important for the 120 DI football programs across the country. Months of hard recruiting efforts are finally wrapped up (well, recruiting efforts for the Class of 2013 at least), and the guesswork is over. Although many recruits verbally commit to their institutions before signing day, until the signature is on the letter, no commitment is binding. With the smoke cleared, coaches can finally begin their strategizing for the upcoming season.
So yes, signing day is a big deal for future DI football players, their families and the schools they plan on attending. However, it seems that this life-altering decision is made too rashly. Sure, recruits are contacted by coaches more than a year before signing day, which should mean they have plenty of time to consider their options before signing. Add in the last-minute decision flipping and it seems that these future collegiate athletes have done a quality job in choosing a school. While I am sure there are many athletes who do take this process seriously, I am pretty sure quite a handful take the wrong approach to one of the most important decisions in their life.
At Elizabethtown College, all of our teams are Division III, meaning that signing letters of intent are unnecessary because athletes do not receive any scholarship money to play for the Blue Jays. Still, it can be hard for some prospective student-athletes to keep the allure of athletics from being their primary reason for choosing Etown. When I made my decision to attend Etown, playing lacrosse was a factor in my choice, albeit not the main factor. We are not even offered scholarship money and free athletic gear, but it can still be hard to keep in mind that our athletic success at Etown will be more of a personal victory, not something that will be talked about for generations. Therefore, I can see why it is hard for DI football prospects with a shot at a professional career – an extremely slim shot I might add – to consider their school based on the football program.
The media’s portrayal of signing day is perhaps one of the biggest culprits to blame. With their instantaneous updates of the day, it can put pressure on recruits who have yet to sign. The No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche signed his intent to the University of Mississippi Rebels rather early in the day, and sports analysts all agreed that this was good news for Ole Miss. Other top recruits choosing between Ole Miss and other top schools could be more likely to commit to play for the Rebels with Nkemdiche locked in.
Other athletes succumb to the pressure of reporters who are so desperate to break the story of new commitments first. This desire to catch the attention of the media prompts rash decisions from students. One top recruit, Reuben Foster, was verbally committed to Auburn and decided to display his choice by tattooing the Auburn logo on his arm. It would have been okay except Foster withdrew his commitment, ultimately signing with Alabama. Although Foster’s bad decision in body art is a different story in itself, incidents like this are products of the extreme hype surrounding athletic commitments to universities.
With months and months to make pros and cons lists and evaluate the many different aspects colleges have to offer, do athletes really take the time to critically think about what school will help them most in their life after college? Do you really think that 17- and 18-year-olds are looking at attributes beyond whether Nike or Under Armour sponsors the athletic teams or what the team’s chances are of making it to the BCS Championship Bowl? I don’t think so, but how can you blame the athletes? They are only high school seniors, dreaming of careers in the NFL and not of getting a degree in a program that matters to them. However, analysts and sports journalists are solely concerned with how a signing will affect a team, taking away the focus from the students. While the media should be more concerned with the objectivity of “if this five-star rated right tackle goes to University of X, that will help their running game,” their mentality is dripping down to the minds of high school coaches and students’ families. Signing day has become such a spectacle that, unfortunately, the best interests of prospective student-athletes have become a footnote among the glitter and glamour of athletic scholarships and school-themed tattoos.

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