Brown saga reveals recruiting flaws; here's how to fix them
Despite committing to Miami in 2008, Bryce Brown officially signed with Tennessee
We can benefit from the saga by identifying & eliminating systemic recruiting flaws
Create an early signing period, accept handlers, stop using the word 'commitment'
"Honestly, I wasn't in a rush. It was more of a spiritual thing, but this hopefully will keep it from being too crazy." -- Bryce Brown, shortly after telling Rivals.com that he had committed to Miami on Feb. 21, 2008.
It wouldn't have been a true recruiting circus without the hat dance, and Bryce Brown didn't disappoint. When the moment came for Brown, the top-ranked player in the 2009 recruiting class, to finally choose a college Monday, the former East (Wichita, Kan.) tailback reached into a bag beneath the lectern and pulled out a Miami hat.
Could it be true? Would Brown honor the verbal commitment he made more than a year ago? Of course not. Miami stopped recruiting Brown last month after he elected not to sign on National Signing Day and allowed the Hurricanes' letter-of-intent to expire unsigned two weeks later. Brown handed the hat to older brother Arthur, a Miami linebacker, and said, "I'm going to let you handle that down there." Bryce then pulled out a Tennessee hat, placed it atop his head and announced his intention to play for the Volunteers.
If we didn't know it already, we should know it now. For all the controversy surrounding new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin the past few months, he's shown he can stockpile talented players just as well as his former college boss, USC's Pete Carroll. The 6-foot, 215-pound Brown boasts the combination of size, speed and power to become a great back. He could help Tennessee climb back into the national title picture.
Brown also could help college football in general, and he plans to. "I think I can help other recruits out," Brown told SI.com Monday. "I've come up with some goals and plans for the future. I plan on holding seminars where I can talk to recruits and help them make spiritual decisions."
With any luck, Brown's very public, very bizarre recruitment will make everyone -- the prospects, the coaches and the media who cover recruiting -- re-examine the courtship process between recruits and college football programs. Just as the Willie Williams saga changed the rules regarding official visits, Brown's adventure should force the following changes:
It's time for players and reporters like me to stop using the word "commitment" to describe the moment when a player pledges to sign with a school. Sagas like this have rendered the term meaningless.
The NCAA can take steps to improve the process for players and for coaches. An early signing period would be a good start. So would a rule that limits the number of written scholarship offers a school can extend.
We need to get used to the idea of players working with handlers such as Brian Butler, the trainer/mentor/Svengali who guided Bryce and Arthur Brown's recruitments. Top recruits these days are celebrities, and celebrities typically have agents.
On Sunday night, Brown's father, Arthur Sr., told Rivals.com that if he could go back and change one thing about the recruitment, he would have told his son not to commit anywhere. "I would say to a recruit, do not commit," the elder Brown told the site. "If you commit to a university, be absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt sure that you don't need to see another university. And let that be your stance. If you have the need to visit other schools, do not verbally commit."
The commitment issue really is just a matter of semantics. Go back and read the coverage from Brown's "commitment" to Miami. The day he committed, he said he told Miami coach Randy Shannon he intended to take all five official visits. That's a bit like accepting a marriage proposal and then saying you're going to sleep with four other people before the wedding day. But Shannon didn't pull the offer when Brown said this. He accepted the commitment.
So Brown, Shannon and anyone with half a brain knew Brown really wasn't committed to Miami, yet the media perpetuated this myth for so many months that when it became apparent Brown wouldn't sign with the Hurricanes on Feb. 4, cranky sports columnists everywhere ripped Brown for going back on his word.
Last month, the Miami Herald's Manny Navarro wrote a fascinating blog post about the disconnect between top prospects and the general populace when it comes to the definition of the word commitment. In a more recent post, Navarro placed the word in quotation marks. In this case, the marks didn't announce a verbatim transcription. They were the print version of air quotes. Kind-of, sort-of, but not really.
Navarro has the correct idea. So does the BCS-conference coach who last week, after I asked about some of the ills plaguing recruiting, groused that a commitment isn't a commitment anymore. "They're just making a reservation," he said. "Hold the scholarship for me until I find something better."
If the player reneges on his commitment, fans and media paint him as a flake. If the coach finds someone better and yanks the offer, the press destroys him, and he'll struggle to win the trust of future recruits. So maybe we should take Navarro's plan a step further and eliminate the word commitment from the recruiting vernacular. Maybe we should follow the aforementioned coach's lead and call them reservations. I can see the stories now ...
Jimmy Jockstrap reserved a scholarship at State U. on Friday. As long as he cancels before National Signing Day, his dad's Visa won't be charged.
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