Georgia football coach Ray Goff shares Knight's concern about recruiting hoopla. Indeed, he's so fearful of its effect on prospects that he has changed his opinion on freshman eligibility, from for, to against. "NCAA rules say a prospect can get one phone call from staff each week [between Aug. 15 and Nov. 30]," Goff says, "but there's nothing in there about recruiting publications and the like. Those people have more contact with prospects than college coaches do. [All the stories they write] make for good reading, but they put pressure on young people that they don't need."
Jim Lyon, a Tennessee alumnus who is active with the Big Orange Club of Atlanta and publishes his own recruiting newsletter, concedes Goff only half his point. "There's obviously a potential negative in how [the hype] might affect the prospects," says Lyon, "but they'll have to learn to live with success sooner or later anyway. Besides, it's not so much a matter of whether they play their first year but whether they play as advertised when they do play. Doing away with freshman eligibility wouldn't stop the recruiting frenzy."
That frenzy is fed by several factors besides freshman eligibility. One is the timing of the recruiting seasons, which each provide an off-season diversion in the same way trade talk enlivens baseball's hot stove league. Another is the wait-till-next-year syndrome that fans fall victim to when they realize their school won't win a title. More than anything, however, the trellis for the who's-going-where grapevine is erected by the NCAA, whose rules prohibit schools from saying anything about a recruit other than confirming interest in his matriculation. "Because we can't talk about it," says Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams, "[the recruiting news services] all talk about it for us."
And do they ever talk. This correspondent spent a season slinking abashedly through the precincts that recruiting junkies frequent. I subscribed to nine recruiting publications, pored over countless newspaper notes columns and monitored so many talk shows that I started to hear the words "turn your radio down" in my sleep. Twelve months later I felt not only as if I sorely needed to get a life but also as if I had somehow helped keep several thousand teenagers from getting one.
I started to use verbal as a noun and a verb. When I wanted to get my verbals (or verbal commitments) aurally or find out who might be verbaling to whom, I called mnemonically obliging numbers like 1-900-370-PREP, 1-900-7RE-CRUI and 1-900-CAN-HOOP. I learned that a player named Booker Washington "has good hops" and that another, Eric Eberz, "has serious ups." I learned the fine distinction between a Near Super and a Big Timer from a North Carolina talk-show regular named Brick Oettinger (although it occurred to me that getting the skinny on the ACC sharpshooters of tomorrow from someone named Brick is a little like getting stock tips from a guy named Crash). And the surname of Prep Football Report publisher Tom Lemming had me wondering whether, if you placed a 6'6" lineman with a 4.5 40 at the bottom of a cliff, it might be possible to lead several thousand lunatics to their death.
As I tried to sort out the heights, weights, strengths, weaknesses, grades, school preferences and, sometimes, girlfriends' school preferences of such future college football and basketball stars as Laneal Cross, Laray Hardy, Lasean Howard, LaSalle Lyons, Laploise Crumsby, LaRoi Glover, Ladwaun Harrison, Lavon Lamb. La Ron Moore and LeJohn Vivers, I made the acquaintance of someone named David (and mercifully not LaDavid) Benezra. He's a Los Angeleno who, under the pseudonym Ian Rockfish, contributes his insights on the basketball stars of tomorrow to several publications and does so in a peculiar piscatorial vernacular that he was kind enough to walk me through.
"All big guys are tunas," he says. "A big tuna is a big big guy. Take Darnell Robinson (a 6'11" senior from Emery, Calif., who has signed with Arkansas). He's a big tuna. He's also a studfish."
"A studfish is a player who's in total command of his game. Randy Livingston [a 6'4" senior from New Orleans, who is going to LSU), he's a studfish. Now, there are also rockfish, chocolate rockfish and all-encompassing chocolate rockfish. A chocolate rockfish is roughly the same as a studfish. Michael Jordan, he would be an all-encompassing chocolate rockfish."
Why chocolate, exactly?