Braxton Miller, for the next few days at least, is my new most favorite person in the world. By ending his recruiting journey early and picking Ohio State, he has successfully subverted the machine and can now enjoy his senior year of high school football in peace. In the current climate of college football recruiting, this is a welcome breath of fresh air and I hope that more kids start to choose the route Braxton has. Because in all honesty, college football recruiting has reached a tipping point for me in terms of how it is approached, how it is hyped, and how it affects players, coaches, and the game. Recruiting has never been a savory practice, from literally generations ago right up to the present. We would be fooling ourselves if we pretended that the Lane Kiffins, Nick Sabans and Ron Zooks of college football invented inappropriate conduct on the recruiting trail, and we'd be naive to pretend that it won't continue. But the sheer excess of recruiting today in the social networking/media age is something out of the ordinary, and today I want to talk about who shares the blame, how it reflects on Ohio State, and how we can change it, even just a little bit. The Fans and the Media Hype is a powerful thing, and money is even more powerful. The combination of these two things is now a given where recruiting is concerned; fans want as much information as possible and the media is more than happy to give it to them (or at least, what passes for "information"). This isn't bad per se: there's nothing wrong about wanting to know more about the guys who might play for your favorite team, and in my opinion interviews, player analysis, and the like are completely reasonable and fair. The Better Know A Buckeye series at Our Honor Defend is a terrific example of what I'm talking about. The entries in that series are always fair, well thought out, and not sensationalist.
Where I feel fans and the media start to cross the line is when we start to manufacture issues and assign negative character elements to high schoolers we've never met. Sometimes these concerns are warranted, but did we really need to spend so much time grousing over a photo of Terrelle Pryor in front of a car? Seantrel Henderson could, as some like to claim, be a self absorbed jerk with a wannabe rapper for a dad who cares more about a potential recording contract than the well-being of his son. Or maybe he's just a high school kid who had a hard time making up his mind. Who knows which is more accurate, but the former is certainly more interesting. The media plays the same game, with the added effect of having at least some perceived legitimacy to their words. No one cares if JohnDoeCommenter says something like "Braxton Miller is a crybaby," but if Sports Illustrated says it, people might take pause. Websites like Scout and Rivals have become masters of the nonstory, turning incredibly innocuous statements from recruits into full blown scandals. 90% of it is ridiculous fluff, but that's the point: sensational stories get pageviews. The Players and the Coaches
I could spend the next five updates summarizing the litany of recruiting violations, embarrassing messages and tweets, unethical behaviors, and many other just plain ridiculous tactics carried out by coaches during recruiting. Suffice to say, there are many and it is widespread. But what I find most disheartening isn't just that coaches are doing these things, it's that they seem to work. Read the article about the Tennessee "cheerleaders" again.
Two of Lattimore’s teammates, Brandon Willis and Corey Miller, have orally committed to Tennessee. Lattimore described the hostesses as “real pretty, real nice and just real cool.” He said he thought they had “a lot” of influence in Miller’s and Willis’s commitments to Tennessee.
Players clearly share at least some of the blame here. The hype machine that the media creates, that the fans perpetuate, and that the coaches sell is bought into by a huge amount of recruits. Some players seem to genuinely enjoy the recruiting process and the attention that comes with it. This alone is not the problem. Your average recruit certainly should not be prevented from exploring their options. Even for mega-recruits, it's hard to get angry at them for enjoying the red carpet treatment from the likes of USC, Florida, Notre Dame, and yes, Ohio State. Their parents, however, should see these overtures for what they are: calculated attempts to curry their favor. And frankly, at a certain point, so should the players. If a coach or a booster starts to ply you with promises of parties and booze or women, something inside should probably go off, telling you their motives may be less than genuine. Jim Tressel
Of course, part of what drives me nuts about this is that the reason more recruits don't speak up about possibly unethical recruiting behavior is that for some, it's expected. My question is, can a guy notorious for the low pressure, squeaky clean recruiting approach consistently land top flight recruits in an era where social networking, high pressure, and lavish overtures are not only the norm but expected? Would Tressel's approach be as successful at another school that doesn't have the kind of instant name recognition that OSU has? Is he even as squeaky clean as we would hope he is? I don't know. I hope the answers are Yes, Yes, and Yes, but who knows. I do know this: Braxton Miller bought into the Jim Tressel approach. Instead of spending the next 8 months in a media circus with the top coaches in the country as ringleaders, Braxton made his choice and can now concentrate on his senior year at school and on the field, having a good time with his friends, and being a normal high school student, and in an ideal world he would be able to sign right now. Sometimes that's more valuable than any amount of jersey mock ups or hostesses screaming at you. It seems like Braxton is one of many who are beginning to opt out of the craziness, and I hope even more follow suit.