Cycle of recruitment hype not likely to end soon

By Erik Prado

I was sitting in the second row, utterly confused for a good five seconds as Cliff Alexander trolled Illinois on national television when he used an Illini hat to demonstrate a perfect pumpfake.

I came home to witness an event that lasted all of 10 minutes, which was shorter than the drive from my house, in Chicago’s Jefferson Park, to where Alexander was making his decision.

Why did I do this? Well, partly because it was my job. But I was also really engrossed with the world of college recruiting.  

Recruitment is the lifeblood of collegiate athletics. If a coach doesn’t consistently pull in strong classes, they might get by for a year or two, but those weak classes will haunt come to haunt them.  Just ask Bruce Weber. 

Has recruiting become too much? Seventeen- and 18-year-olds are followed around, sometimes for years on end. These kids are then given all-star treatment. The blue-chippers sit in front of the bright lights and big cameras to announce their decision, sometimes by picking a hat. 

With the advent of Twitter, these athletes are now being harassed for not choosing certain schools. For as much attention as the recent Phyllis Wise situation brought, the reaction to Cliff Alexander was just as knee-jerk and insensitive.  

This is the state of college sports. Recruiting for the big sports (football and basketball) turned into a full time service when websites such as scout.com and rivals.com launched. They keep track of everything, from athletes’ grade point averages to the number of times they can bench 225 pounds.  

Most of these kids are then assigned a star rating, with five stars being the top rating and no stars being the lowest. Obviously, successful programs will attract and sign higher-ranked recruits than, say, Illinois football. 

These services suck us in. They sucked me in years ago when I started following college football. I remember thinking the Illini were going to be great for years if Ron Zook kept pulling in four- and five- star prospects. 

As Zook’s tenure at Illinois shows, none of this means anything. Recruiting in these sports is, and will remain, a relative crapshoot. More often than not, big time recruits will not live up to their hype.

Illinois basketball fans can definitely relate, with Jereme Richmond serving as a perfect example. He was a McDonald’s All-American and Illinois’ Mr. Basketball in 2010. Rivals had him ranked as the 35th overall prospect; however, he played one unspectacular season before deciding to leave for the draft. He didn’t get drafted and was sentenced to three years in prison back in November.

When a prospect doesn’t pan out, fans blame the coaches, which they have every right to do. Coaches are expected to develop and nurture talent. 

These recruiting services are also blame. They assign these rankings based on physical attributes. They can’t measure the intangibles. For every Percy Harvin, there’s a Garret Gilbert, the five-star quarterback who flamed out playing for the Texas Longhorns and began the demise of Mack Brown’s coaching career. If recruiting services were spot on, two-star prospect Russell Wilson would not be a Super Bowl champion. 

The fans, myself included, have come to expect instant results. However, few coaches are Nick Saban-esque. I found it ridiculous that calls were being made to fire Tim Beckman after only his second year. Continually firing coaches does not build a program. Programs will go through dark days to achieve success. Just ask the Stanford football team, pre-Jim Harbaugh.  

I’ve tried my hardest to turn away from putting too much into star ratings, but the cycle always repeats. A big name comes out saying they are interested in Illinois, and I hop on the bandwagon.

Don’t get me wrong, every athletic program needs to put effort into getting top recruits. It’s the way they are being hyped, and then sometimes torn down that is most revealing of the recruiting landscape. All this occurs before many can legally drink.   

Will anything change? Doubtful. Sports websites and broadcasts need content. Hyping up recruits delivers the viewers and website clicks.

We may as well get used to disappointing prospects and pumpfakes.

Erik is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @e_prada.