So I woke up yesterday morning expecting to thoroughly enjoy National Signing Day. Most recruiting analysts projected Notre Dame as having one of the top classes in the country, its best in well over a decade, with an outside shot at ending the day with the #1 ranked class.
For the most part, that’s what happened. The ND faithful were a little disappointed when Milton Knox deferred to Hometown U and picked UCLA, but other than that it was a great day. A surprise commit from Kapron Lewis-Moore briefly vaulted ND to #1 in several recruiting rankings, but the Irish eventually got in line behind Alabama to be ranked a near-consensus #2 by the likes of Rivals.com, Scout.com, and Tom Lemming.
Note that I said near-consensus.
I had some time to spare, so I made the mistake of watching some of ESPNU’s coverage of National Signing Day. I didn’t expect a whole lot from this crew. While the other aforementioned recruiting analysts use fairly complex methodology in ranking teams, ESPN pretty much collectively pulls info out of its ass. Their defining criteria in ranking recruits boils down to 1) Did you play in the Under Armour High School All-Star game that we televised? 2) Do you live in the state of Florida?
Knowing this, I was still shocked at ESPN’s final rankings. Alabama and Notre Dame, the near-consensus 1-2 recruiting classes in the country? Try #3 and #9. Even better, at the beginning of the day ESPN had Notre Dame ranked #7 and Alabama #9. How does Bama go from #9 to #3 in the span of about 12 hours while ND gains an elite player and drops two spots? I won’t speculate on ESPN’s venomous hatred of all things Notre Dame, but I will speculate on Alabama. I figure an industrious ESPN intern was surfing the other recruiting websites and said to himself, “Wow, we are staggeringly stupid.”
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN’s Scouts Inc. (not to be confused with Scout.com, the older and more credible recruiting service). It is reasonable to say no one does less homework on the recruiting trail than Luginbill and his lackeys. They indiscriminately start, flame and retract unsubstantiated rumors. They sport wood for any kid in the Sunshine State who runs a 4.4. And they are unabashed Urban Meyer jock sniffers.
Case in point, ESPN singularly projected the Florida Gators as having the #1 recruiting class for 2008 heading into National Signing Day. And by “singularly” I mean every other recruiting service looked at them and said, “Pass me what you’re smoking.” Looking at UF’s depth chart, any armchair recruitnik could identify a stud running back and some elite offensive lineman as absolute musts, plus maybe a few receivers coupled with a Tebow understudy. And yet, when the dust had settled on NSD, Florida had suffered two elite Signing Day decommits, they whiffed on quarterback, they whiffed on running back, other than one touted juco they whiffed on wide receiver, they didn’t get a tight end, and they managed only one good and one mediocre offensive lineman.
What did this unbalanced class yield Florida? As the ESPNU NSD coverage wrapped up Wednesday evening, the Gators were still at #1. To their credit, by Thursday morning morning ESPN had dropped Florida all the way down to #4, sighting the said decommits of elite linebacker and o-line prospects Ramon Buchanan and Ricky Barnum. Curiously however, the ESPNU talking heads neglected to mention these defections during their Wednesday broadcast, even going so far to interview Urban Meyer a full three hours after the decommits were public knowledge and have a circle jerk about his “#1 class” and how it “met all their needs.” (Speaking of the Florida head coach, did he even wait until the ink dried on Omar Hunter’s LOI before reneging on his promise that defensive coordinator Greg Mattison wasn’t going to the NFL? There’s slimey, and then there’s Urban.)
Meanwhile, Notre Dame fans watched as for most of the day ESPN had Kapron Lewis-Moore—a Texas A&M decommit for the better part of a week who faxed his Letter of Intent to Charlie Weis around 9:30 AM EST—as an Aggie commit. And then, to add insult to injury, ESPN dropped Notre Dame from #7 to #9, apparently because they failed to land Milton Knox, who was already committed to UCLA anyway. It wasn’t quite the snub ND and other schools endured a couple months ago when ESPN blatantly downgraded any players who opted for Tom Lemming’s Army All-Star Game over their Under Armour game, but a snub nonetheless.
Look, I realize oftentimes these recruiting rankings are a crapshoot. But when the “leader in sports entertainment” gets into the business of high-stakes college football recruiting, I would expect at least a modicum of intelligence and professionalism. ESPN’s research is shoddy. Their recruiting analysts wear their agendas on their sleeves. They’ve turned their recruiting coverage into a shameless vehicle for the Under Armour All-Star Game. All in all, their product is a steaming pile of tabloid-quality wildebeest dung. Luginbill & Co. have the biggest microphone and the biggest stage, and they are little more than PR guys for high school football south of the Mason-Dixon Line. ESPN’s viewers deserve better. College football coaches, players, and fans deserve better.