Student-athletes need to be left alone on National Signing Day

By NICK THOMAS | Evergreen columnist

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Cameras, lights and national TV coverage. Sometimes enough stars to fill a red carpet. A scene usually reserved for modern cathedrals of sport has invaded a high school gym.

National Signing Day has recently evolved from simply the opening of the NCAA’s official signing period to an extravagant celebration where a few 18-year-olds decide if they want to commit to a college and play football for the program.

The circus of National Signing Day has become so extreme that it is affecting the landscape of college sports as a whole and does away with the idea that there’s something to play for, other than a player’s own interest.

With the amount of media coverage a star recruit receives, it should not be surprising that many of them continue to yearn for the spotlight at the beginning of the season in August.

While this all originates from the fact that college football has become a money monster, it is time for the media and the fans to back off and let these kids decide where they want to go to college without the threat of a thousand hellfires raining down from grumpy, middle-aged men they’ve never met.

The amount of hate some players receive after committing to attend a school is quite honestly disappointing. For example, when Adoree’ Jackson announced he would not be attending the University of Tennessee, he received at least one tweet that took fandom way too far.

“God won’t accept you into heaven anymore now that you have eliminated the #Vols” @GarthVader18 tweeted at Jackson’s Twitter account.

For the record, tweeting at a recruit is highly unlikely to help in any fashion. Leave the recruiting up to the professionals and enjoy the product on the field.

One of the reasons so many people love college sports is because there is a certain dedication and loyalty to a program that you can’t find in the NFL. Players will leave teams in the NFL during free agency for better contracts, whereas players in college play for pride and the drive to be good enough to earn an NFL contract.

Airing a five-star recruit’s announcement of where he is going to go to college is similar to LeBron James’ “The Decision,” a special televised announcement from James declaring he would leave Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat back in 2010.

The publicity that stems from these highly anticipated announcements piles onto the image of college football as a money machine that is straying further and further from its core values.

Not to say that college football isn’t a money machine, but fans often cite the idea of playing for more than money and fame as an aspect of college sports they enjoy. The continued promotion of high school seniors as the next LeBron James or the next Julio Jones takes that aspect away from the game.

I understand that becoming a top recruit is not easy. There are very few out there, but the biggest difference between LeBron James’ “Decision” and the broadcast of National Signing Day announcements, is that James had already proven he was one of the best at the top level, while players out of high school are unproven.

How can we anoint the next big thing in sports when half of the tacklers they run through during a game probably won’t play at the next level?

A student’s decision of where to attend college is their personal choice. Get the cameras out of their face, and let them make it on their own.

Nick Thomas is a freshman studying communication from Bellevue. He can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]