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The State of Recruiting

I’m not a basketball coach, or a football coach.  I wasn’t a high major recruit in any sport.  I was a very low level recruit for some small school in track and cross country.  I had a few coaches from a few small schools call me and talk once a week or so.  I eventually had to tell those coaches thanks for the interest and I’m sorry but I’m going to Purdue.  Looking back on it I know it was the right decision because Purdue was were I truly wanted to be.  At the time though it was extremely difficult because I loved running.  I still love running.  I now fill my competitive streak competing in the occasional 5k or mini marathon.  The point is I didn’t just commit to these schools and then back out.  I know most of you probably follow the world of recruiting and therefore I don’t need to tell you that Purdue lost Derek Willis this weekend who was a consensus top 50 recruit and even as high as #19.  What I can’t tell you is why or how this happened.  I’m not on here to rip Derek or his family.  If Purdue isn’t the right place for him so be it.  I wish him luck in the future unless he is playing Purdue.  I do want to write about the state of recruiting in general and why things need to change.

Think back for a minute to your freshman year of high school.  Remember how cool you thought you were?  Odds are you weren’t cool.  It’s just a fact of life.  High school is an awkward time for most kids with freshman year being the worst.  After a year, maybe less or maybe more, you start to figure out who you are and get into a groove.  Maybe you like being in the band, maybe you’re a runner, or maybe, just maybe, you’re a big time athlete.  In most schools that means you’re a basketball player or football player.  It sure does make the transition a little easier.  Whatever you are or were in high school it’s a time to grow as a person and mature.  There was a time not long ago when basketball players didn’t commit until right before their senior season or even during their senior season.  This was the case with the Baby Boilers.  Now though thing seems to have progressed to the point where a kid like Gary Harris who wants to take his official visits and make a well thought out decision is considered an oddity.  Something about this seems wrong.

I understand one of the main reasons for this is because there is a feeling out there that if you aren’t one of the first to offer a kid you may as well not recruit him.  That’s not the case for everyone of course.  Teams like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCONN can all come to the party fashionably late and get away with it.  Teams like Purdue can’t do that.  We aren’t a blue blood.  We don’t have a rich history of national titles to fall back on.  So instead you see recruits being offered their freshman year, sophomore year, and you see interest in recruits earlier and earlier.  I saw info out there the other day on the best 8th graders in the country!  8th graders!  These kids haven’t even started growing facial hair and they are being looked at as high major prospects.  I don’t get how this is even possible.  At that age almost all kids are still growing.  Hell at that point in his life JJ wasn’t even playing basketball and he ended up and All-American and first round pick.  Something is wrong with the current system.  I don’t have the answers on how to fix it but I know that the way things are progressing and the pressure coaches get to win it’s no wonder offers are going out earlier and earlier.  Purdue has had commitments for the 2012 and 2013 classes for years.  Sure they are still recruiting for 2012 but that’s more of a luxury than a necessity.

There’s no easy answer for coaches.  It’s sort of like the prisoner’s dilemma in economics.  You can all agree not to recruit kids until their junior years but then what’s to stop some other coach from breaking his word and recruiting?  Then that guy gets all the recruits he wants and you’re left holding the bag.  Coaches could agree to not recruit and then you could cheat, but then when you get the recruits what happens?  Are there penalties or fines?  If all coaches agree not to recruit what happens to the motivation of players?  Does it increase or decrease?  There is no simple solution for the coaches because so much of what they do depends on other coaches and the scholarship numbers that are available to them.  From the kids perspective though there is an easy solution.

Think things through.  That’s all I ask.  I know de-commitments are rare but they are unnecessary and should never happen.  I’ve read different things since this happened of people bashing Willis and his family, specifically his Dad, for saying how solid they were with Purdue and that, “people in Indiana will be happy.”  You have to wonder why all of this happened anyway.  Get rid of the thought of other coaches meddling or his friends from Kentucky getting in his ear about going to UK or UL.  Why did he commit in the first place if he wasn’t sure?  Why do any kids do this?  Del Willis said that, “Most of the time you don’t marry the first girl that you date.”  I agree with him here.  If I would’ve married the first girl I dated who knows where I’d be.  The fact is though you shouldn’t propose to the first girl you date if you aren’t sure you want to marry them.  Likewise you shouldn’t accept a proposal (or scholarship) if you aren’t 100% sure.  Breaking off an engagement is more than likely the hardest thing anyone has to do.  I know girls who have been engaged 2-3 times.  At a certain point your word and that promise starts to lose it’s meaning.  I understand he’s a 16 year old kid and this is a big decision, but that’s just it he is a 16 year old kid.  People should be helping him with this decision.  Someone should tell him to pump the brakes.  Ask him questions, prod him.  Find out why he’s so sure.  At some point people have to learn that giving your word to someone means something.  If I say I’m taking little Suzie to the prom but then my dream girl comes up and wants to go with me I can’t say yes unless I want to crush poor Suzie, or if I’m on any 90’s sitcom.  Also, you have to ask yourself where was my dream girl as I sat alone waiting on her to talk to me?  Is she only coming up now because there’s someone else involved?  Everyone wants something that someone else wants.  It’s human nature.  Clearly I’m happy with Suzie and wanted to go with her but if I wasn’t sure why did I ask?  At a certain point I have to live with the decisions I’ve made.  Why make such rash decisions though?  A well thought out decision isn’t impossible at the age of 16.  It’s just a matter of sitting down and thinking rather than being rash.

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is.  It’s not just an issue with Derek Willis.  It’s a problem that is emblematic of college sports as a whole right now.  Recruiting is dirty and is becoming increasingly difficult for all involved.  That includes those who police the many scandals going on right now.  I don’t have the solution but I hope that those in higher positions than I can make necessary changes to protect the well being of both kids and college coaches.  This situation has been heading south very quickly and someone needs to correct its trajectory soon.

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