Long before Twitter (which is hilarious to imagine the primitive lives we all lived before the mico-blogging service blew up), when Pete Carroll was at the height of his powers, I remember logging onto the internet one day and seeing the college football realm aflame with news of a highly touted running back from Louisiana heading to LA to play for Carroll. After a vicious recruiting battle, The Trojans had found the person to fill Reggie Bush's magical tap-dancing shoes. Joe McKnight, as recruitniks told it, was destined to pick up Heisman trophy at some point in his collegiate career.
"That bastard!" I thought, as I envisioned Pete Carroll laughing at the rest of college football while surfing naked with two USC co-eds in the Pacific on a Wednesday morning during the off-season. This, of course, came on the heels of Florida wrapping Ohio State up in chicken wire and a $30 area rug from a Boca Raton Wal-Mart and tossing Alex Boone & Co. into the Gulf of Mexico after winning the 2006-2007 national title. The nation had yet to realize the Six Finebaum-headed SEC krakken Ohio State had awoken, and I was naive enough to believe Pete Carroll was one of only a few college football coaches gaming the system. (Everything in that last paragraph hurts my soul to type.)
Looking back, the hype over Joe McKnight seems almost comical given what ended up going down at Pete Carroll's USC. Sure, Joe McKnight would burrow 100+ all-purpose yards in Ohio State's ass in 2009 and would be featured in his own Youtube mixtape before turning pro three days before his coach followed suit in January of 2010. Yet, Joe McKnight never lived up to the impossible expectations that were assembled (for other people's monetary gain) before he even played his first game for the Trojans. There was Heisman hype, but like most things in McKnight's career, that's all it ever amounted to. A lot of it might not have been his fault, one might argue, while pointing to the budding NCAA investigation and the explosion of Tim Tebow and the SEC during McKnight's "amateur" career. (LSU won the national title in 2008.)
Yet, the manufactured hype wasn't all bad. Hell, a TEAM IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE (*said in my Ron Jaworski voice*) thought highly enough of him to draft him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, which means he made more of an impact on NFL scouts than Tom Brady did. Unfortunately for Mr. McKnight, he was drafted to another team built on polished chunks of brass they tried to pass off as their testicles: Rex Ryan's New York Jets. While he has made the odd play or two in the NFL, his biggest professional contribution to date is probably taking Danny Woodhead's spot on the Jets' roster after the 2010 cuts. McKnight, obviously, had priority due to his draft status. Danny Woodhead, who was never drafted, will be a valuable cog in the Super Bowl for Tom Brady and his New England Patriots. Woodhead would probably thank McKnight today.
For whatever reason, it's always Joe McKnight's recruitment process I contrast against Troy Smith's, even though Joe McKnight began his career shortly after Troy Smith gagged on the steps of Ohio State demi-God status, I think they offer a good case studies. While still an Ohio State legend, it was Troy Smith, former punt returner, who ended up snatching the Heisman glory. Sometimes, I think, it's better to be the guy without all the media attention and expectations. (Especially considering it doesn't take much to inflate an 18 year-old's ego.)
I'll confess something that's probably obvious by anybody still reading this far: I've never cared for college recruiting in general. For all the hype given to these recruits, the black market which lurks behind this process' curtains seems to never be explored or mentioned. Chip Kelly -- a state employee -- authorized the payment of $25,000 to somebody like Willie Lyles. I wonder who was involved in wiring $25,000 of taxpayer money to him? On another note, am I supposed to believe Cecil Newton letting Mississippi State know it would "take more than a scholarship" to secure his son's services as something that isn't routinely happening at every major program in America? Am I not supposed to wonder about what kind of systems would have to be in place for a man to even request that of somebody, much less a college recruiter? Am I then supposed to believe Cecil Newton's church -- after years of being unable to afford repairs to keep their Church up to code -- suddenly found $50,000 to do so after Cam Newton signed with Auburn? Also, would there any better organization to launder money through than a church? I can't think of one. But hey, why do actual journalism, when there are stripper's abortions and sensualistic page-view grabs (which in turn means $$$$) cloaked as "hard-hitting, investigative journalism". It truly takes a moron to be surprised by any of this once the entire scope of it all is taken into context.
Remember, this is just the stuff that is out in the open, which means stripper-abortions are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Thank God Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey were willing to play the roles of good soldiers. Woody Hayes Knows the stories those two could tell about some of the benefits they saw since arriving in Columbus as five star recruits. And remember how Jim DeLaney strong-armed the NCAA into allowing those two to play basically because of the Cam Newton saga down in Auburn? And remember how the NCAA had to let them play, because the last thing the NCAA was going to do is kill off the best player in the nation's best conference heading into the national title game. Because if they did that, then the next year, they might have to take a look at how an unemployed father of 2 in Birmingham, Alabama, was able to afford $70,000 in SUVs. (Hint: This is probably why Tressel laughed as he added extra exclamation points to his e-mail where he promised to look into a few of his star players getting discounted tattoos.) If this "cheating" (an hilarious use of this word given NCAA sanctions) was ever proven to be pervasive as even John Cooper apparently thinks, then their tax-free fantasy land would collapse upon itself (much akin to what happens to a star, which is coincidentally how the NCAA allows its "amateurs" to be rated for outside, monetary gain before they even step foot on their campus. The kids just aren't allowed to see any financial gain, you see, then it wouldn't be "amateurism".)
I'm sure the kids enjoy the hype and the extra followers on Twitter, but is the best route for the development of America's young athletes? How would you feel, as a father, with millionaires coming into your house and telling your son what is best for his life? As any of them wouldn't leave for a pay raise, a chance at a more prestigious job or at the first chance of regulation turbulence at the program? Remember, your son -- no matter how good he is in high school -- isn't guaranteed a spot in the NFL. You only get one chance at this. The wrong selection, and suddenly, your son is playing for a wallowing team at the bottom of the Big 10. Is it any wonder weasels like Willie Lyles are there to fill the void, to guide parents "through these troubled times as somebody with insider know-how", as those types have been since the inception of college football? Why shouldn't we assume these people, by and large, will always be one step ahead of the NCAA and their pinkertons? Haven't they always proven to be?
And, another question I have is, why do people act surprised when 18 year old kids, who have been pampered for being good at football pretty much their entire life, don't take education seriously? Especially when some of them had college admission standards lowered for them and were basically told "You'd be too dumb to walk on this campus otherwise." (And to a further extent, why do we assume a college education is guarantees material stability in the 21st century?)
I ask, because as I'm sure most of you are aware, National Signing Day approaches. (11W's own Alex and Jeremy have done a much better job than I ever could at chronicling Urban's dominance over Ohio State's enemies.) While, admittedly, 2012's recruits are different recruits under a much different regime in Columbus, Ohio State fans should take heed of the last recruiting class people piled expectations on. And if they are to make the same mistake, at least next time they will act less incredulous when it turns out their star recruits had their hands in one of the all-to-ready cookie pots located in the metro-Columbus area or felt entitled?
Do I have a problem with Ohio State raiding other people's recruits? No, I don't, because I'm a fan of Ohio State. After Tressel insisted on ruling the Big Ten with an unnecessary silk glove covering his iron fist, I'm glad Urban Meyer is openly pillaging programs while (reportedly) doing so without negative recruiting. Would I feel different if Urban Meyer were at Penn State and it were Ohio State's administration asleep at the wheel (imagine: Gordon Gee and Gene Smith without Lex Wexner's warchest) and it were kids from Cleveland getting flipped? Probably.
Even so, the image of Noah Spence basically shilling for UnderArmour in an "amateur showcase game" makes me a little bit queezy (and not just because UnderArmour put an obnoxious "u" in their company name). But it must be asked: what would have happened if Noah Spence would have been severely injured during that game? And what if, by turn, he had lost the "elite range" that had people drooling? (Submitted, for the record: here's what Nick Saban did when confronted with that very issue. But hey, the dude wins college football games, so who am I to question?) And these kids have no right to the financial revenue streams which their hard-work is creating?
Judging by the numbers 11W has been running and the servers we've been smoking, a lot of people care about recruiting. I would argue that these kids have become market commodities; and thus, are being traded (and ranked and profiled) like stocks on the open market. And please know, People Who Take The Internet Super Seriously, I make that comparison fully understanding all my knowledge on economics and markets comes entirely from Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, that bar scene from Beautiful Mind and a Macroeconomics night-class I took in 2009 to fulfill a GEC credit and I got a C- in. But, all jokes aside, how are these kids not?
So, given the ineptitude of the NCAA to enforce their arbitrary, out-of-date rules and the furthered commercialization of recruitment and college football overall (something that probably won't be curtailed going forward); again, is the best system we can devise?