HEY, IT’S HIGH SCHOOL – NOT THE SUPER BOWL

It is wrong and harmful and we should all be ashamed of ourselves and I guess I’m going to keep writing it until I’m the last person in this business saying it. This glorifying of high school recruits has got to stop.

Last week was Signing Day for college football, which used to be a date known only to coaches. Today, it is cause for endless TV coverage, mountains of newsprint and an Internet gone wild.

What’s changed? Nothing and everything.

The nothing part is that a high school kid picks a college.

The everything is everything else.

First, there’s the theatricality of it all. High school athletes now take over an auditorium or a cafeteria – often during school hours – and play a coy little game with a bunch of hats while reporters record every pathetic minute. Will he pick the LSU hat? The USC hat? The Michigan hat?

The recruit usually is surrounded by an entourage of family, friends, the girlfriend of the moment and some future hangers-on. He finally picks a hat and crowns himself with it and – ta-da! – the news wires burn and the bloggers hyperventilate.

Never mind that many of these top 100 kids won’t even be factors four years from now. Never mind that there is no such thing as a sure thing in college football.

That doesn’t stop the glamorizing, analyzing, interviewing and, of course, the ranking of which school did the best, orchestrated by tout services and magazines that created this whole false fury in the first place. A star system run amok

A few examples of what this hype machine produced last week:

A linebacker from Hawaii named Manti Te’o made his announcement to much fanfare. He chose Notre Dame. The reason?

“Their recruiting coordinator, Brian Polian, flew here every week from South Bend,” T’eo told the Honolulu Advertiser, “and that just shows me his determination and dedication.”

Really? It shows me Notre Dame has enough money to send a man commuting to Hawaii week after week at a time when many families can’t afford to pay tuition. How about taking that airfare and giving it instead to a need-based scholarship? What’s that? But then you won’t have Te’o making tackles next fall?

Well, the kid is a Mormon and says he may leave after his freshman year to go on a mission.

I wonder if airlines do refunds.

Then there was a defensive back named Craig Loston, out of Houston, who picked LSU. His Eisenhower High coach was excited. Funny thing is, Loston doesn’t even attend school anymore. According to the coach, the kid lives in Louisiana. According to the principal, the kid says he’s taking online classes to finish his requirements. Online?

How about a Texas safety named Colton Valencia, who brought four hats to his news conference, then, for drama, ignored them and pulled out a Texas A&M hat from under the table. What’s next? A rabbit?

Only once in my career did I attend a recruiting announcement. It was for Robert (Tractor) Traylor, a prep basketball star in Detroit who did the TV/entourage thing, chose the University of Michigan, and later became part of a recruiting scandal that led to his coach’s firing and the school’s NCAA probation.

I lasted five minutes at his event, left, went to the school library, and found a kid going to the same university on an academic scholarship, all alone, doing homework. Don’t play follow the leader

The editors and writers in our business should, in my view, do the same thing. Walk away. Ignore this hype. Report the details and that’s it. Who cares if the Internet burns with this stuff? The Internet burns with porn – we don’t print that.

Who cares if these tout services and magazines sell a lot of copies? Are we here to mirror another business’ panderings? If so, why don’t we have centerfolds every day? Or is that next?

Don’t we realize how we’re hurting these kids? With recruiting mania, we increase pressure, expectations, egos and temptations to cheat – so much so that last year, you recall, a kid made up an entire news conference, phony selection, phony everything, just so he could be part of the hype.

That should have been our wake-up call. Instead, Signing Day was bigger than ever. We talk as if education matters, but we act as if nothing could be more important than which 17-year-old kid – still taking high school English classes – will hike the ball at some college next year.

Until we learn, they never will.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com.

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