“Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.” (Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky)
Late last September, when the Oregon football team played host to the California Golden Bears, the coaches were hosting several recruits as well. One of those recruits, Tony James, had traveled cross-country from the state of Florida to check out everything the Ducks had to offer.
With the breadth of talent available in places like Florida and Texas, the Ducks made the important decision to go outside of their traditional recruiting grounds and look for the right type of talent to fit their schemes. Oregon had traditionally been heavily influenced by players from Southern California and, despite the fact that California is loaded with Division I talent of their own, there simply is more talent around the nation Oregon misses out on each year.
That had to change. And it did.
In their rise to national prominence, the Ducks have increased their national visibility and have become more reliant on casting their recruiting net over a broader, nationwide sea to harvest the best talent for their warp-speed, high-flyin’ offense. The fact that the Ducks have been able to build their national brand is made more impressive by their relatively remote location.
Being in a small town might not present much of a problem if that university was close to big population centers and had deep pool of high school talent. Eugene really has neither of those advantages. Facilities certainly draw interest from recruits and their parents, but getting the decision makers to see Eugene as the right place is easier said than done. Especially given the somewhat arcane rules of the NCAA and its guidelines for recruiting.
In 2012 it was learned that an assistant coach at Tennessee had secretly paid for a parent to make a trip to Knoxville with her son and this is an NCAA violation. The question, though, is whether this rule has seen its better days.
This NCAA rule does not permit the athlete to make their decision alone, it requires a parent or guardian signature on the National Letter of Intent. The catch? The parent cannot see the institution unless they pay their own way.
While many young men take up to five trips to check out their college options, parents are not afforded the same opportunity. How is a young man supposed to make an informed decision if at least one of his parents has not had the opportunity to visit along with the athlete? Honestly, they cannot.
That issue came up a season ago when a running back from the state of Florida (seem familiar?) decided he wanted to play football for a specific coach – Brett Bielema – who at the time was the coach at the University of Wisconsin. After leaving Wisconsin to take over the head coaching position at the University of Arkansas, Bielema continued recruiting the talented running back.
The problem? Mom had never been to campus and refused to sign the National Letter of Intent.
This wasn’t an overprotective parent or “nut-job” – as had been speculated in February – she was simply a mother who wanted to make sure her son was making his decision for the right reason. After all, he wouldn’t have been the first 17-year-old to make a bad decision for the wrong reasons.
After learning of the reasons her son chose to play for Bielema, she acquiesced and signed the papers needed allowing him to attend. The reality is that he just wanted to get out of Florida and be where he could truly become a man. That is an incredibly mature and intelligent thought process that should have been rewarded. It came close to not happening because his mother had not seen Arkansas and had no understanding of this process.
Surely, there were some communication issues between mother and son. It took a drastic act on the part of the mother to get the young man to speak openly and honestly about his decision.
Nonetheless, the NCAA requires a signature from someone whom they do not permit to be hosted. There is something a bit off about that rule.
This rule needs changing.
Youth is a time of learning and exploration and what happens on the football field pales in comparison to what happens in the classroom of life. As these young men travel through the morass of life, they have a choice to accept on their own without question or compare it with others. Comparison is a great guide to decision making.
The problem is that the athlete’s decision is only a ruse because a parent signature is required and it is really the parent making the decision. If the NCAA expects the parent to make informed decisions in the best interests of the student-athlete, what would be wrong with allowing the universities to pay for a parent to visit along with the student-athlete? In a word; nothing.
Oregon was fortunate in the case of James because the mother, father and sister were able to afford the cross-country trip. When James committed to the Ducks, it was clear that his choice was truly informed and had input from his family.
Not everyone is so lucky.
Bottom line — the decision should be a family affair.
Top Photo courtesy A.J. Jacobson-Duck Sports Authority