TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 05: Defensive back Greg Bird #35 (R) of the Utah Utes awaits a kick off during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Utes defeated the Wildcats 34-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Few choices in a teen's life are more important than where he or she will attend college. For the thousands who labor over this decision every year, a fraction has millions deliberating over them. Influencing them. Debating, judging, agonizing over this decision.
Recruiting coverage is an interesting animal. The importance of recruiting has never been lost on college football followers. Former Cal head coach "Pappy" Waldorf pontificated on its significance back when the fathers of today’s recruits were just a gleam in their daddies’ eyes.
However, the animal has become a beast, fed by the Internet. Demand from consumers largely on the web has caused recruiting coverage to become its own industry. I would call it "cottage industry," but with ESPNU devoting an entire day to broadcasting National Signing press conferences, it’s more mansion than cottage.
Prep talents become household names before ever setting foot on a collegiate practice field. Davonte Neal is one such talent.
The delayed process of his recruitment, which today took the dramatic turn of his no-showing a press conference, exemplifies the absurd levels to which recruiting has gone. Adults took to the internet to criticize a kid – and no matter how good he is carrying a football, that’s what Neal is.
One prominent Notre Dame recruiting site’s official Twitter account went so far as to suggest conspiracy theories involving the Arizona-based media pushing Neal to UA.
I don’t know Davonte Neal much, if at all more intimately than most of those who attended his non-press conference Tuesday morning. I did however write a profile piece on him in the autumn of 2010.
He emphasized laboring over his college choice then, stressing the importance academics as significantly as his football. He said he wanted to play the game alongside athletes and coaches who bonded like a family.
Nothing in his demeanor suggested that anything occurring today was done maliciously – to reporters, to the fan bases of the schools recruiting him, to the coaches hoping to add him to their programs.
He’s a teenager, like the many others around the nation struggling with their college choice. I struggled mightily with my decision to attend either Arizona or New Mexico as a student, or become a bench jockey at a D-3 basketball program, and I didn’t have millions sitting behind their keyboards ready to pounce on my choice.
The no-show is bad form, sure. With the recent turmoil Josh Harvey-Clemons experienced choosing Georgia on NSD, and Neal’s fiasco today perhaps future recruits will rethink the public spectacle route when signing their LOI. However, it’s important for the adults in this matter to remember who the kid is and behave accordingly.