January 31, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: Recruiting process gets dirtier

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Mike Leach signs his first class of recruits today as football coach at Washington State and it’s ranked … 12th.

In the Pac-12.

(It used to be 10, you know, but they added two more schools to out-couch the Cougars.)

Nationally, the ranking is somewhere around 60, give or take a three-star linebacker and depending on your choice of recruiting guru and mountain top.

In other words, things haven’t really changed for the Cougars, other than the mind-boggling payroll spike.

This is a simplistic assessment, truly. Leach has been on the job for but two measly months, not nearly enough time for a high school senior to read the Cliffs Notes version of “Swing Your Sword,” much less absorb the entire text. Besides, every new coach gets a mulligan on his first class, assembled as it is on pretty much the same panic deadline as a Christmas bicycle.

Well, every coach except the last one. He’s still getting pounded for his first group.

Of course, UCLA has a new coach, too, and the Bruins are putting together a Top 15 class  – and their guy hasn’t even written a book.

You don’t suppose weather, the beach, Hollywood and coeds strolling campus in cutoffs in January still mean the same thing to 18-year-old males as they used to, do you?

Nonetheless, it has been posited by those expert in these matters that whatever the number assigned to this Wazzu class, Leach has already made inroads on better players – which, for $2.2 million a year, he’d better. When the congregation gets the word from the man himself tonight, the reaction of choice will be the fist pump and not the shrug. And why not? If they aren’t going to get excited about the possibility of good times to come, what’s the point of all this?

Not that you couldn’t ask that question anyway.

Next to his team losing and whatever team he hates winning – and the damned media – what is it that most irritates the backside of the college sports fan?

Is it the kid who can’t seem to put his roach clip in storage? The kid who thinks nothing of gunning it up to 118 mph in a car he shouldn’t be driving anyway? Who throws a postgame punch? Who won’t pay his dues as a backup and transfers upon getting the word he won’t start? Who reneges on a “commitment”?

Is it the athlete’s sense of entitlement?

And is there a single enterprise that reinforces that affliction more with each passing year than the one that culminates today?

Look, recruiting has never been a Beaver Cleaver deal. Yes, it’s reasonably brightening – a kid gets a chance to go to college – but naturally the purported adults could never leave it at that. Which is why Eric Dickerson drove a black Trans Am as a high school senior and why Cecil Newton had his hand out for $180,000.

Mostly things aren’t so nakedly mercenary. Mostly it’s just broken pledges, look-the-other-way expedience and over-the-top obsessiveness.

Yes, this is something of a get-off-my-lawn moment.

Still, what is it that’s being taught when high schools sanction assemblies to parade their homecoming hero out to put a cap on his head, and when newspapers stream such nonsense over the Internet?

How many fan hits do you suppose the webcam trained at the fax machine at Woof U. across the state got last year?

How is it that a high school player spews the most vile, hateful stuff over his very public Twitter account, and exactly one of his suitors backs off with the thought that, hey, maybe there’s a character issue here?

Why isn’t it an institutional commitment when a coach tenders a scholarship offer to a player, but instead an offer that can be withdrawn by that coach’s replacement? After all, if the player wants out of a letter of intent if there’s a coaching change after his signing isn’t he often told he signed with the school and not the coach?

And how can anyone possibly say the word “commitment” with a straight face in recruiting anymore?

Leach, as was his right, honored only about half the offers to player who had committed to his predecessor. Coaches at nearly every college continued to pursue players who had announced their commitments to go elsewhere. Committed players were more than happy to have the wooing continued. There is more misdirection in the final 48 hours before signing day than you’ll see on any fall game day.

Why, just Tuesday, Washington received a commitment from a young wide receiver. He’ll probably be an impact player because he’s more developed than most of his peers.

See, he’d committed to USC and Cal before he committed to the Huskies.

Enjoy signing day. The circus starts anew on Thursday.


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