I was assigned by the Boston Globe to cover a National Signing Day ceremony for four local high school athletes choosing their college destinations. Wednesday was the first day in which prospective college football players could sign a National Letter of Intent to play for a particular school. In recent years the date has become one college football fans circle on their calendars to see how their school fared in signing the best recruits.
College football is, of course, big business. Kristi Dosh, who started businessofcollegesports.com, reveals just how big this business is. In December she posted a list of the top 50 most profitable college football and basketball programs in 2010-11. The University of Texas, which finished 5-7 and did not qualify for a bowl game, made over $71 million in profit. Imagine what the Longhorns could have pulled in had they won nine or 10 games?
With so much money at stake the race to woo the best high school players in the country has taken an ugly turn. Urban Meyer, the new head coach at Ohio State, was accused by other coaches of illegal recruiting practices that violate NCAA law. Meyer is one of many college coaches who hounds high school athletes in hopes of convincing the 17 or 18-year-old that their school is the best. In-home visits, emails, phone calls, text messages and other gestures are all part of the game.
The University of Notre Dame spent over $2 million on recruiting expenses in 2010-11, $1 million of which went to football alone. With average football recruiting classes numbering between 20 and 30 athletes, that breaks down to $33,000 to $50,000 devoted to each athlete who signs.
Sadly, what this has created is a high-stakes poker game with high school athletes as the chips in the middle of the table. It’s not so much helping the student find the best school for him, it is about finding the athlete who will help the school make money.
As I spoke with the athletes after they signed their letters of intent, one called the recruiting process “an awful thing to go through” that puts “pressure, not only on the player but the family.” It’s sad that what should be an exciting achievement in a young person’s life has to come with such a catch-22, but as they say, “that’s business.”