A couple of weeks ago Kyle Kalis, a 5 star tackle from Ohio, decommitted from Ohio State and committed to the University of Michigan soon after. Now, that in and of itself is nothing more than a ticker on the bottom of the newscast, it is of little importance where a high schooler might or might not play more than a year from now. Heck, Kalis may change his mind again and commit somewhere else. A good pickup, sure, but not earth-shattering, even in a rivalry like Michigan-Ohio State.
But what struck me was not the anger of Ohio State fans but the sense of betrayal that came with it. There was talk of turning his back on his state (funny, since he had only lived there a few years) and disloyalty in not going to Ohio State University. The level of vitriol thrown his way, as he has disclosed in recent interviews, was unsettling to say the least. But this is not a Michigan fan attacking Ohio State, since this is hardly a unique case. Earlier this year, 5 star linebacker C.J. Johnson switched his commitment from Mississippi State to rival Ole Miss over the hounding and harassment he received on his Facebook page from Mississippi State fans. I have no doubt, by the way, that Michigan and Ole Miss fans have done the same to their commits or prospective commits at one time or another.
Most fans tend to view their college teams in much the same way as the professional teams they root for. They are reflections of us, taking aspects of our personal pride and identity with them. I was raised in Baltimore, and thus the Orioles and Ravens, bearing that name, are objects of my personal pride. My twin brother went to Maryland, so that bond extends to the university and I want the Terps to do well. On the outside, both professional and “amateur” teams behave the same, putting profits first, giving lip service to the fans, and trying to put together a good enough product to keep their buyers coming back.
But an alma mater is unique. I could ditch the Orioles for the Detroit Tigers if I really wanted to or lived in Michigan long enough to change my sense of identity (not likely, given the giant Maryland flag on the wall of my office). I attended the University of Michigan, and that goes on every resume I send out or job interview I go on. It is conversation starter with strangers and the place where I became who I am today. That would be true no matter where I went to school, from Michigan State to Auburn to Stanford.
Professional teams are different in that the team is the only thing they have to sell. A university is selling an education, a place to live, a school whose professors and fellow students will create opportunities and set the stage for someone’s future. When we talk about prospects’ decisions to attend one school or another we talk about playing time, coaching style, closeness to home, their childhood rooting interests, or where their high school typically sends recruits. Occasionally we find a student who will eliminate schools or target schools based in part on their academic prowess, but not on the level of the average applicant.
But more than that, a recruit has to think of his or her future, where they see the kind of opportunity they want and the kind of people they want to spend time with and learn from. Call me naïve, but I think a fair number of them really do make their decision largely based on those factors. Fans make the mistake of thinking about high school players as professional free agents, who should have an allegiance to their home state. Fans, however, are only thinking of the next four or five years, and their own personal sense of identity being lifted and buoyed by someone else’s effort on the field. Recruited players owe it to themselves- and their future- to look beyond that to the rest of their lives. The players who do will be the real champions, regardless of where they attend school.
Weston Bruner writes the ‘Broken Bat’ column for BaltimoreSportsReport.com, he’s a diehard Orioles and Ravens fan and alumn of the University of Michigan.