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Column: Recruiting is a game before the games

And it.s a game that can be described in all sorts of ways.

The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.

Wednesday was the big day.

High school seniors across the country signed football scholarships with the school of their choice among the ones that gave them an opportunity to further their careers with their team.

Obviously, several Georgia players were part of the fun as Peach State prospects from all corners of Georgia broke out their pens and put their names on letters of intent to wherever they were headed next to compete on the gridiron.

In case you are among the uniformed, yes National Signing Day used to be in February, and it still is. This is so much fun that we’ll do it all over again in a matter of weeks.

Some of the big names may still be out there, but now that has actually become a day when the kids going to the smaller schools get their moment in the spotlight. The blue-chip prospects, if you will, have already signed and delivered their official papers.

This thing that happened Wednesday is a new deal. This is what they call the early signing period. It took place for the first time this time last year, and this year it took place again just days ahead of Christmas.

Nowadays, schools offer kids scholarships sometimes before they even step into a high school classroom for the first time and certainly this happens for the top kids in every graduating class within their first two years of high school.

And along this line, schools are more and more impatient with the athletes. They make offers earlier and expect answers earlier, too.

So, the athletes often times feel pressured and many commit as sophomores, more commit as juniors and many, many more commit prior to their senior years or maybe sometime during their final high school season when they take official visits to schools on the weekend of a home game.

Even when there was only the February signing date, there really weren’t all that many surprises. Most of the kids had already announced their school of choice with a verbal commitment and signing day was nothing more than a formality.

It’s still that way, even with this new early signing period. The kids and the schools know for the most part where they are going and again signing becomes nothing more than another step in the process.

Of course, it is a big step in the process. Obviously, it makes their commitments official and they are binding once they put their John Hancock on the official scholarship award.

And until they do, schools can do what they now call “flipping” a kid, which is getting him to sign with their program versus the one he said he intended to sign with when the time came.

The verbal commitments are considered non-binding and thus they are not really official.

So, a lot of the kids, commit and then decommit from a school. They might come back to that same one or the next time they commit it might be with another school.

And, some kids do this more than once. They’ll commit, then change their minds. They’ll commit to another school, but have a change of heart again. And maybe again, and again.

The reasons are different and many. Some are justified. There might be coaching changes at the school they had planned to attend. That can lead to a big change in the game plan and understandably so.

Or a school might lose players to the pros or lose players for other reasons and they might come calling for a kid they had on hold until they knew their numbers situation as you can only have so many scholarship players on the roster. This kid might get that call he always wanted from his dream school and bolt to that team as quickly as they make the offer.

Unfortunately, schools often offer a kid and then pull back offers as more sought-after prospects say they’ll come and play for them.

This is a dirty tactic, indeed, but no one said this recruiting game was played above board.

Of course, anymore the athletes’ commitments sometimes don’t mean a whole lot either.

Some kids, they like to play the game, and they too are good at it. They’re starving for the attention and they’ll offer a commitment just to get their names in the headlines.

When they jump ship and say they are no longer committed to a certain school, yes this creates a stir also, especially if a four-or five-star kid that is courted by a bunch of Power 5 schools is involved.

The fans who follow this recruiting stuff closely chime in, perhaps favorably if they are a fan of a rival school who now has the chance to land the big fish themselves.

But then there are the fans of the school the kid is spurning for the moment who posts the player’s mug shot on their dart board and take aim at it like a linebacker stalking a quarterback standing in the pocket.

Innocent or not, the kid becomes the enemy of this fan base, particularly when he ends up signing with the top rival school.

It’s all a game, and so many people are involved – high school coaches, mentors, teammates, family members, the college recruiters, the fans and the media who cover this game better than they cover the Super Bowl and we all know the hype-machine that always involves the Roman Numeral Game.

It can be nasty. It can be fun, dramatic, aggravating, exhausting and certainly often as entertaining and suspenseful as the games that are actually played on Saturdays with these same players who first participated in this recruiting game.

But, it’s a necessary evil that reoccurs year after year. It’s really a viscous cycle that never actually ends.

Colleges have to play the game, and the better they play it, the more successful they will likely be on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

Kevin Price is a freelance writer for AllOnGeorgia with more than 20 years experience in journalism and communications.

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