“Inebriate of air am I,
And debauchee of dew,
Reeling, through endless summer days,
From inns of molten blue.”
This is the second stanza from Emily Dickinson’s “Poem # 214.” Often referred to by the first line of the first stanza, this poem delves into what provides happiness to the soul. The voice of the poem is drunk on air. This is almost a euphoric state that is ineffable.
Last week, on a bright and sunny Tuesday the Oregon Ducks received not one but two commitments from two very good players. Travis Waller, constantly a fan favorite topic over the course of the early recruiting season is, simply put, one of the top players in the nation regardless of position. He is young to the quarterback position and has made drastic improvement over the course of the off-season by working with a quarterback guru to improve mechanics.
P.J. Locke, a defensive back from Texas, who boasts 38 major college offers, became the second commitment of the day. Much like the voice of Dickinson’s poem, Duck fans were feeling somewhat euphoric.
But there is a dark side to all of these early commitments. Money. Are wealthier parents pushing out those with less means? More and more we are seeing kids make college tours all across the nation, and that takes a lot of money. In a way, college football recruiting – with elite camps and 7-on-7 tournaments popping up everywhere — is going the way of AAU basketball or even the elite soccer clubs, and I think that is bad.
With the pressure on coaches to fill their slots or lose out on some of the best players, there are families who can, essentially, buy a football scholarship for their sons. Unlike other sports, there is no early signing period for football. If players going to elite camps have not paid their own way, then an unofficial visit will be out of the picture for them.
This provides a huge advantage to families who can afford to send their son on a criss-crossing tour of colleges. One quarterback in this year’s class was quoted as having traveled to four different schools at all corners of the nation in a span of two weeks. So what happens to the talented players without these financial resources? They are stuck looking at local schools or hoping there is room for them somewhere after they start taking these official trips.
The NCAA does not allow an official trip, one paid for by the institution, until after the player has started his senior year in high school. Every spot that is taken by someone afforded the opportunity to take an unofficial visit is one less spot for the prospects lacking the funds to do the same. In the Southeastern Conference, nine of the 14 teams have more commitments than the Ducks. Six of those teams have 17 or more commitments.
Now, let’s be brutally honest, many of those kids who cannot afford unofficial trips still find a way to make them, and sometimes this involves a middleman paying the freight. Remember former Tennessee assistant Willie Mack Garza? He was found to have provided money to Lache Seastrunk for an unofficial visit. It happens, but is a violation when it occurs. Those with more resources, though, are taking over in the early recruiting process and creating an uneven playing field.
This lack of resources is creating another sector where opportunity is an illusion. After all, if a player is good enough, he will get the chance. At least, that is what we are told. There is no doubt that the truly elite players will get the opportunity they want regardless of resources and inability to make an unofficial visit. Trust me, Oregon will have room for Byron Cowart if he has to wait for an official visit in order to make the trip to the University of Oregon campus.
It is not the elite prospect to whom I am referring. It is the mid-range prospect, a three-star player who might live on the outskirts of a place such as Newark, NJ. Maybe he wants the chance to get out of the area, perhaps find a new home. But when he talks to a school that is full, his chances may not be there. No middleman is going to get involved with a talented prospect who isn’t an impact player. No coach is going to risk an NCAA violation for a three-star prospect from New Jersey. These are the kids getting left behind and it really stinks.
It is time the NCAA takes a look at more than one of their arcane rules, but the first, in my opinion, is the official visit rule. It is time to allow kids earlier official visits and, while they are at it, allow a parent to accompany a prospect on an official visit – on the university’s dime.
Yes, be euphoric about the early commitments for the Ducks, but don’t lose sight of what is actually happening. The term ‘Elite’ may soon mean something other than the best player; it may mean the player with better financial resources and the ability to ‘visit’ at the most opportune time.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”
Let’s not let that moment be taken away from someone because they lack the financial resources to take unofficial visits prior to their senior year of high school.
Top photo by Kevin Cline