LOI? I? I LOL: It used to be that if you wanted to make some kind of big point about how ridiculous sports fandom gets, you'd point to coverage of the NFL draft. But today eclipses that. Today is college football's National Letter of Intent day, the day when hundreds of hypertalented 18-year-olds -- some impossibly large, some impossibly fast, a few both -- sign horribly one-sided contracts of adhesion granting them the right to put their health at risk for the financial benefit of the school and the entertainment of the alumni and regional fans.
You can look at LOI day in two ways. The traditional (or "traditional," since the concept of "LOI Day" as an event is itself fairly recent) way is to see it as a celebration of potential, an introduction to the players who will make up a quarter of a favored team for the next several years. The second way of thinking of LOI Day -- the ascendent, but unspoken way -- is as an event unto itself, a corollary contest bearing roughly the same relationship to college football as beach volleyball bears to indoor volleyball. No matter what happens next year, or for the next four years, Cal lost this LOI Day, and Alabama won this LOI day, and your officially sanctioned (pun intended) underdog USC overachieved, and years from now, thousands of recruiting junkies will look back on this as one of the most exciting days in the history of college recruiting. Thus do Scout.com and Rivals.com compile rankings of all of the major college recruiting classes, diligently tallying the weighted aggregations of five-, four-, and three-star recruits, or of blue-, red-, and white-chippers. Thus do the fans of Cal pour into Cal Golden Blogs, less to read and remark about their new players than to spew vitriol at Tosh Lupoi, a man whose late-vintage fame derives principally from the fact that he left employment at Cal (where he was a key recruiter) for a rival that doubled his salary. And thus do 18-year-olds say and do tremendously stupid things, not in the privacy of their own communities, but in tweets and press conferences solemnly repeated in national newspapers and widely read web sites.
I have two favorite examples this year. The first is from a blue-chip player (the name escapes me) who orally committed somewhere, but who then ended up dropped from that school's and various other schools' recruitment after everybody found his unusually single-minded sex-obsessed Twitter feed. The second is the story of Jordan Payton, a wide receiver who orally committed -- publicly, earnestly, and enthusiastically -- to USC, then to Cal, and then to Washington (yesterday), before signing an LOI today with UCLA. If you're counting, that's only a third of the schools in the Pac-12. I'm surprised he couldn't fit Oregon in there anywhere. "Commitment" -- You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.