Welcome to the new world of recruiting
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Butch Jones is falling behind in the recruiting arms race that is college football.
The new Tennessee coach let the Manning family pass through Knoxville last week without making one scholarship offer much less a verbal commitment from the next generation of the family now synonymous with elite quarterbacks.
It’s probably the first step on the path out for Jones.
Marshall Williams Manning — Peyton Manning’s 2-year-old son is still uncommitted. Give the vagaries around the 2029 recruiting class — which is far enough out that a female quarterback may not be as noteworthy as it is now (Google up Jasmine Plummer’s 2003 Pop Warner Super Bowl or Erin DiMeglio seeing time at South Plantation High school last fall) — Jones could have at least gone outside the box and gotten a “Yes” from Marshall’s twin sister Mosley or cousin Ava — Eli’s daughter — just to be safe. I mean, you don’t want to take chances and let someone else — Ole Miss for instance — get there first.
Getting an insanely young verbal commitment is the latest trend in college recruiting and it is figuratively taking candy from a baby for coaches to get verbal commitments from children who have been teenagers for mere months.
Jones has so far restricted himself to offering high schoolers at least, but Tennessee is — partly at least, by the law of unintended consequence — to blame.
A majority of UT fans loathe Lane Kiffin for a lot of things. Fair or not, those mainly involve either the opinion he started or continued a slide in the program’s performance and how he departed for his dream job. Even if Kiffin manages to turn down the temperature on the coaching hot seat he’s currently enjoying at USC, there will be a solid core of people in East Tennessee rooting for his demise, dismissal and fully willing to give him their own personal directions to the hottest seat of all.
And after the emulation of his worst attention-grabbing shenanigan of all time, the NCAA, http://Rivals.com , a whole heap of sports writers nationwide may be looking around for their own torches — or wayward mattress — to set ablaze for the nearly criminal complexities that’ve been unleashed.
Kiffin started a trend in 2010, offering a scholarship to David Sills of Elkton, Md., and the seventh-grade quarterback verbally accepted the offer to become the first member of the Trojans 2015 recruiting class.
It was treated then as a sad ploy worthy of a punch line.
It’s now rapidly becoming a genie that won’t be easily forced back in the bottle.
Take Dylan Moses, who has eight major offers and has yet to start high school in Baton Rouge, La. Or how new Kentucky coach Mark Stoops emulated the tactic earlier this month offering Jairus Brents the chance to play for the Big Blue in 2018 when the 13-year-old defensive back starts shaving. Kiffin chipped in again offering an eighth grader this year and apparently that pushed the button for UCLA. Jim Mora’s restraint at least waited until the target was technically an incoming high school freshman to make his offer.
When they player is chronologically closer to an age where they were playing with a Tonka truck than having a license to actually drive a truck, it’s time to stop and wonder where exactly this road goes and just how many ugly crashes we’re going to be treated to along the way.
It cost those programs nothing in the present to make an offer to a middle schooler. It’s free publicity in the now for the program. And let’s face it Kiffin is as much the mastermind of generating free hype for a program as his father was a defensive guru.
But what does it cost those verbally-committed kids over the next four, five or six years? What will it do to those programs as it gets closer for the debt to come to due?
Fans may want to attribute this as a sign of a coach’s commitment to such-and-such program and its future. I’ll agree it certainly says something about a program and someone’s definite need to be committed, but I doubt that’s the interpretation they’ll intend.
The new reality of college football recruiting has finally shown the only thing worse then taking candy from babies, is giving them the candy in the first place.
Marcus Fitzsimmons is sports editor at The Daily Times, who enjoys reading comments posted to this column at http://thedailytimes.com