High school football recruiting hype going overboard?
Five years ago, Terrelle Pryor was asked about the intense and often overwhelming attention he was getting from college football recruiters. Pryor, then a senior at Jeannette High School, lamented, “It's hard to be a kid.”
Especially when you're uttering such words before several microphones and cameras, a room full of reporters and a national TV audience.
Pryor held off on his selection (he would later pick Ohio State) but still dutifully engaged in what has become a recent phenomenon — the national letter of intent signing news conference, aired coast-to-coast.
On Wednesday, 17 accomplished high school football players are expected to announce their college choices to the world, or at least the part that cares about recruiting. Which, apparently, is significant. ESPNU has set aside 11½ hours starting at 7:30 a.m.
The practice of announcing college choices to the local press is nothing new. But the concept has gone national. Although it's a big moment for players, families and the winning schools (and their fans), some believe the practice does little to rein in what already might be a case of ego-inflation and a sense of entitlement acquired at an early age.
“Kids who are 16 or 17 years old who are in an activity with a very short life span are often given an unrealistic idea of their importance to society,” said Dan Doyle, founder of the Institute for International Sport in Kingston, R.I. “A national press conference for a kid who may or may not be a star in college is imprudent.”
“Their whole being is associated with their athletic skill,” Doyle said about many of the blue-chip football and basketball recruits targeted in recruiting wars. “If a 16-year-old is told he's special, he's probably gonna feel pretty special.”
Leah Lagos, a New York-based sports psychologist, said a press conference can serve as a reward for a recruit's hard work. But she cautions, “These young people, however, can get caught up in the hype. The danger is that they feel self-entitled or an exaggerated sense of importance or value to their new team.”
Lagos disputes the spoiled athlete stereotype. As a consultant to an NFL team, she has interviewed hundreds of top college players at the annual combine in Indianapolis. Many “have a real sense of objectivity in knowing their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “They're confident, but most don't have an inflated sense of self.”
The press conference is the “culmination and celebration of a job well done,” ESPN recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. “I don't think there's anything wrong with allowing them to enjoy it.”
But he added, “I can see the circus element and how it's perceived. It's something we guard against.” The hat switch — faking with one hat before choosing the hat of the intended school — is OK, he said, “but we don't want a three-ring circus.”
In other words, no LeBron James-style extravaganzas.
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl, during which recruits go on live with their verbal commitments (like Clairton's Tyler Boyd), also sets standards.
“We want to give a kid some recognition and experience on national TV,” said the bowl's player personnel director John Schmid. “But we want them to have respect and thank all the schools that have recruited them. We teach them to do it with humility.”