Wednesday, February 1, 2012

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 and 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.


  1. That would be Yuri Wright from Don Bosco Prep (includes NSFW tweets) - the NJ school featured in the New Yorker last month -- expelled from HS and Michigan lost interest, but he LOI'd Colorado today.

  2. Chin Music5:55 PM

    Horribly one-sided contracts of adhesion? Was it a horribly one-sided contract of adhesion when these guys signed up for pee-wee football and put their health at risk while paying the league money for the right to play the game?  What about when they went out for high school football and they put their health at risk for the financial benefit of the school and the entertainment of the alumni and regional fans while getting absolutely nothing in return?  What about the guys who sign up for D-III football and play at the college level but don't receive scholarships? 

    This argument places way too much importance on the star players.  In reality, these guys come and go each year and and the tickets still sell out every Saturday at Michigan Stadium, the Horseshoe, Ben Hill Griffen Stadium and elsewhere across the country.  Sure the schools benefit but it is the school they are selling, not the individual players. Or, to borrow from Herb Brooks, the name on the front of the jersey is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back.  

    In exchange for populating the school's roster, these guys have an incredible opportunity to continue playing a game they love on a national stage where they can earn the opportunity to play the game professionally all while getting a free college education (a crucial benefit for the 90% of college football players who will never make a dollar in the NFL).  Or they can choose not to and they can pay for college with loans and work-study jobs like the rest of us.  

    Also, are you both complaining about the nature of the letter of intent and bemoaning the ability of the players to change their mind before they actually sign it?

  3. Jordan6:30 PM

    There's always this guy:

  4. What about being committed to the same school as your deaf cousin, who is already enrolled, but switching at the last minute to Houston, the Conference USA school who just lost their all-world QB and young phenom coach. This would be in spite of having offers from the likes of USC, Alabama, Miami, Boise, Cal, Washington, etc. I won't even get into weighing the real world benefits of a degree from Houston versus one from a top twenty undergrad university.


    That said, Jordan Payton trumps all.

  5. KarenNM8:07 PM

    So many players make multiple commitments now that there is actually a thing called a "soft verbal," where the kid has committed to one school but is still being recruited by other schools (including taking paid visits).  (I'll stay out of the rest of the discussion since I'm currently interim Athletic Director at my institution, and my signature was on all the NLIs we issued for this signing period!)

  6. isaac_spaceman8:14 PM

    Who's bemoaning the ability of the players to change their minds?  I thought it was pretty funny when Jordan Payton flip-flop-flap-flupped, and I say that as a devoted fan of the last of the teams he scorned.  What I don't like about the LOI is that it is binding on the player but not on the school.  A school can revoke a player's scholarship or pressure him into leaving, but a player who winds up in the wrong situation can't go anywhere else without losing a year or maybe two of eligibility.  And players can commit to a school only to find their coach (ahem, Chip Kelly, let's talk in a few weeks) leaving for the NFL or someplace else. 

    And the LOI problem is not just about pampered basketball and football players who are gaming the system.  There are tons of students, some athletes (mostly in non-revenue sports) and some not, who transfer for great reasons.  Homesickness, culture, family, etc.  A kid shouldn't be penalized for correcting a bad decision.    

    I do understand the need to have an end to the recruiting process, but that is not the same thing as having an LOI.  An LOI is solely for the benefit of the school.  The smarter basketball players aren't even signing them these days -- they're just signing financial aid agreements. 

    Also, maybe I just didn't grow up where you grew up, but I don't remember any rich Pop Warner leagues.  Pop Warner and high school ball where I come from were sports.  College sports is business. 

  7. What's new is the nationalization of this.  Dave Campbell's Texas Football magazine has been aggressively covering recruiting of Texas high school stars for years, and, at my school, LOI day was a decently large size--we didn't have megastars, but there were definitely LOI signing ceremonies for a couple of players.  (None of whom made it to the NFL--the only player from my HS that I believe made it to the NFL was Phil Dawson, who's still the kicker for the Browns.)  We've done better in Hollywood, with Mark Salling being the current big thing.

  8. KarenNM12:18 AM

    One more thing - I know there's a lot not to like about NLIs and the the whole recruiting process in general, but if you haven't watched this signing day announcement from last February, you really should (hang around until the :25 second mark)." type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="170" height="140

  9. Jenn.8:27 AM

    I can respect that. I know my law school experience would have been improved by a CFA in the neighborhood. Also: a Waffle House.

  10. J. Bowman6:53 PM

    I call bullshit. There's a CFA in the middle of the fucking Student Union.

  11. Next graf:

    "<span>Never mind that </span>there is a Chick-fil-A on Clemson's campus<span>. Clearly this crucial fact was not highlighted on McKinzy's visit. And if you've ever been to a Chick-fil-A, you can sympathize with McKinzy. There's no better way to start a morning than with a spicy chicken biscuit and no better way to settle into an evening of studying than with some waffle fries."</span>

  12. J. Bowman10:19 PM

    Ah. I just went to the video, missed the Y! link. And now that I've clicked on it, I'm sad, because I accidentally scrolled all the way to their comments.

  13. kenedy jane11:27 PM

    Interesting comments from Jimbo Fisher (Go Noles!) during his news conference yesterday about what social media has done to the recruiting process and the amount of time they spend having to defend/refute the things that anyone and everyone can post.

    Isaac, here in Texas high school football certainly feels like a business.  My daughter's high school football stadium is called 'The Palace' and seats 11,000.  (The student body was 2,800 when she graduated.)  It was the venue for the US vs World game yesterday.  We bought season tickets to the high school games.  I've been in Texas too long - is that normal elsewhere??

  14. isaac_spaceman2:26 PM

    Yeah, no better way to become an elite athlete at a position where speed is important than fried food and gravy for four square meals a day. 

  15. isaac_spaceman2:31 PM

    I'm sure things are different in Texas.  The point I was making, though, is that both the risks to the student and the benefits to the institution are greater in college.  There's no denying that the increased speed and strength of college players, plus the increased number of games they play, increases the risk of injury, especially cumulative injury (like repeated sub-concussive head trauma).  There is also no denying that college football is bigger business than high school football, and colleges rake in more money (ticket sales, TV, licensing) from college football than high schools do for high school football.  The relationship between high school athlete:high school may be one-sided, but it is not as one-sided as the relationship between college football player:college. 

  16. isaac_spaceman2:32 PM

    a good editor would beat me for that last sentence.