You thought it was over. The 24-hour loop of talking heads and overhype that we call Super Bowl week. Just when you thought you’d escaped the indulgence of the sports media, we bring you the most manufactured event of them all: national signing day.
ESPNU covered Wednesday’s event for 11½ hours, cutting in live to the signings of the top 17 high school football recruits. The network, Sports Illustrated and all the online recruiting services rolled out their rankings, declaring winners and losers while assigning fixed number positions to hundreds of prep athletes across the country.
But what does any of this mean in the big picture? Very little.
Hold off before you crack the Champagne. You’re team may be ranked in the top 10, but most of these kids won’t see the field for another two years and that’s if they develop, stay healthy and remain academically eligible.
In truth, it’s difficult to assess which of these 17- and 18-year-old players will best adjust and adapt to the incredible leap between high school and college football when you’re an outsider looking in.
Of course, every class will feature a handful of freak athletes. Keenan Allen’s size and speed was undeniable when Cal snagged him four years ago and coach David Shaw knew he’d hooked a big fish when Andrus Peat, the prototypical blind-side tackle, signed with Stanford last February.
But aside from the Allens and the Peats, most of these rankings are completely arbitrary. How do you determine who is the country’s No. 23 offensive lineman or the No. 36 defensive back? What’s the difference between the No. 37 running back and the No. 47 running back?
Signing day is becoming a national spectacle, in part, because of the cottage industry that is cropping up around high school recruiting. College football is big business and a market certainly exists for year-round analysis on all of the nation’s top high school players. It isn’t enough to just win on the field anymore, fans want constant updates on where they stand in the arms race for the blue chips who will lead them to glory three or four years down the road.
Web organizations, such as Rivals, Scout and MaxPreps have emerged to fill the void, but are these self-appointed experts really qualified to judge which players will have the biggest impact at the next level?
The problem with the system as it exists is that these kids are evolving human beings, not fixed numbers. You can assess a player’s speed, strength, height and weight with statistics, but the intangible variables — desire, resiliency, commitment — are impossible to measure numerically.
Rivals tabbed Andrew Luck as the nation’s No. 68 overall player in 2008. Did their scouts have any sense of his meticulous attention to detail? His relentless pursuit of self-improvement? His unwavering loyalty to the team?
But coaches, like Jim Harbaugh and Shaw, are the best judges of tomorrow’s talent. They spend time with the kids, meet the parents and can judge the character behind the crude data being tossed around by the recruiting services.
Sure, it’s fun to learn about our team’s next wave of Saturday heroes, but let’s wait until they win a game or two in a couple years before we celebrate.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.