Saturday morning- growing up that meant superhero cartoons with my siblings and staying in my pajamas as long as possible. Years later it meant something was horribly wrong, since I was never awake by noon on Saturday. Now it appears it means a new timeslot for this column, joining Lindsey for your weekend BSR content. So grab a bowl of cereal, try to ignore how much less appealing Batman, and X-Men cartoons are now than they were 20 years ago and enjoy Broken Bat’s move to Saturday!
By this time next week we will have hit college football’s signing day, the most overhyped ESPN-manufactured event since, well, every NFL Draft and “The Decision.” Thousands of college kids will announce and sign their letters of intent, and committing themselves in writing to attend that particular university. Well, at least to try to attend that university. You see, the university is in no way bound to honor that letter of intent if it turns out they don’t have enough scholarships to offer to all the players they signed. You would think that the head coaches would know how many scholarships they have and only agree to have that many players, but, well, math isn’t quite their strong suit I suppose. I won’t beat a dead horse too much on this farce of oversigning, since other sites have it covered pretty well.
However, there is one part of the letter of intent itself that makes it more insidious than merely one-sided. The scholarship is only offered on a one-year basis, and must be renewed each year by the team. If a player isn’t performing on the field, even if he has incredible grades and is a model citizen, the coaches can elect not to give the player the scholarship, often the lone means for these athletes to attend college. They must find another school willing to take them or try to afford the rest on their own. Now, this doesn’t happen to most athletes, but simply the fact that it happens to any athletes should make our skin crawl as we shell out hundreds of dollars a year for tickets, gear, and television packages to support programs that are academically-based in name only. The only side committing to anything lasting is the athlete, who must sit out a year if he chooses to transfer (unless he is going to an FCS program).
As Taylor Branch pointed out in his brilliant piece in The Atlantic, there is a simple solution: allow universities to offer longer scholarships. Suppose Toledo was willing to commit to a player for four years and Ohio State could only commit to two years- certainly that would weigh on a player when he saw the depth chart and the likelihood he could be seen as expendable and dumped from the team for some arbitrary offense or imagined injury to free up a spot in a couple years. Of course allowances would be made to remove a player who was failing or did something particularly heinous, but in general it would force universities to make the same commitment to their players that the players make to them.
An open market would not change the landscape much in the recruiting process after a few years I imagine, as most schools would simply get on board with a maxed-out four or five year scholarship, but at least student-athletes would be secure in knowing they will be given the opportunity to complete their degree at the university they have chosen, regardless of whether the coaches had a better prospect at the position down the line.
Signing Day has gotten more coverage every year, as millions of fans wait with bated breath to hear what a 17-year-old has decided to do with the four playing years he probably has left after being barraged by fans, fast-talking coaches and shady middlemen. Most top prospects have already taken their decision to LeBron-esque heights, and you know what, they should have their fun. They have been given pretty much all the control in picking their school and in some way or another they have earned it. They should enjoy all the pageantry, games and momentous anticipation of their decision, because as soon as they sign their letter, that control flips completely.