Recruiting has and always will be college football's dark art. It's something that happens in the shadows, away from the media and away from fan interaction. Coaches can't talk about it but it might be the part of our sport fans want to know the most about.
That appetite for information led to the rise of websites that covered recruiting for a living like Rivals and Scout. Their success then forced more mainstream media, like beat writers and ESPN, to cover it more thoroughly. What used to make headlines once a year is now a full-time beat at some outlets and a full-time headache for others.
In the last 10 years, coverage of recruiting has ballooned at about the same rate as connectivity on the Internet. So we shouldn't be surprised that the two have crossed paths at an increasing rate. Last year, USC recruit Markeith Ambles famously announced his decision on Twitter with a, "Go Trogans!!!!!!"
And so as the coverage and obsession fans have with the decisions of 17- and 18-year-olds increases, so does its depravity. Earlier this week, when it was reported Virginia Tech commit Lafonte Thourogood had made an official visit to Vanderbilt, one Vandy blogger (not Anchor of Gold) encouraged its readers to friend Thourogood on Faceboook and convince him to become a Commodore. And if you think I'm going to link to that blog and give them page views, you've got another thing coming.
Another recruit, C.J. Johnson from Mississippi, called his recruiting experience "a living nightmare" because of messages he received from fans on social networking sites. What should be the best time of a high school football players' life is now often the worst.
The NLI gives all the power to the school and the recruitment process is probably the last time these kids get the chance to be lauded over before turning their lives over to a football coach for the next four years. Instead, fans are ruining it and it's probably only going to get worse.
College sports is an arms race because of the recruiting process. There's not draft or free agency so recruiting will make or break every team that plays major college football and basketball. It's why fans obsess over it even though it's something we have no business being involved in.
But because it's usually the deciding factor in a team's success and thus of interest to the obsessed fan, it's something we talk about, beat writers cover and I post about. In the end, none of us really know what's going on with recruiting. We aren't in the living rooms with the coaches, we aren't walking the halls of these kids' high schools and we aren't involved in their decision.
The problem is that our desire to be is quickly becoming a blacker and blacker spot on a sport I already care way too much about without being obsessed with decisions made by teens.
How do we fix it? One possible way is to give kids more control once the NLI is signed. If movement from school to school was more fluid like it is in college baseball, the recruiting process becomes less important. Another would be to allow coaches to talk about recruiting. While it would open up a rather large and potentially uncontrollable can of worms, it would bring the recruiting process out of the shadows and more into the light.
In the end, there probably isn't a simple fix. Fans of college sports have to deal with something pro sports don't, recruiting, and usually don't deal with it in a rational fashion. The demand for recruiting information will grow and it will be fed by news agencies because news agencies aren't exactly swimming in cash right now and can't afford to ignore something that is in as high a demand as recruiting is. Like I said, it's only going to get worse.