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Column: Hope, not hype

By Andrew Callahan
On February 6, 2013

Lance Armstrong. Alex Rodriguez. Manti Te'o.
Fingerprints of organized crime all over international soccer. Daily breaking news about PEDs in the NFL and MLB. NCAA investigators overstepping their bounds and then the organization's bigwigs lying to cover their own hides.
Boy, sports in 2013 have been as cheery as a marriage proposal rejection on your birthday.
Except for yesterday.
National Signing Day-a day of rebirth and celebration for college football. Thousands of high school players officially declared where they would go play collegiately as close to millions watched. Coaches, media members and die-hard fans grew giddier than the grandmas of these kids because fresh talent was about to be pumped into their programs. Some of the most highly anticipated 24 hours of the year came, and then like most years, fizzled out.
But, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the culmination of college football recruiting, a very brief overview:
National Signing Day is built upon months and months of college coaches scouting the best high school players in the country. They judge, visit with and rank potential prospects from coast to coast, before paring all of them down to a list of targets. These targeted kids are then chased and fawned over more than a pretty girl at a Star Trek convention.
Persuasion techniques work over time, as recruits receive endless texts, calls, letters, offers and basically everything but nude pictures from coaches right up until early February. Then, the most highly touted players sit in front of hoards of media and a table holding a few baseball caps, each sporting a logo to represent their final college choices.
The high school phenom then puts on a hat, family and friends cheer about and a Letter of Intent is faxed to the selected school. The player is signed, sealed and delivered to a football-happy campus hoping he becomes the next guy who won't ever have to pay for another drink in town.
Now, as with many things in the sports world today, National Signing Day has become incredibly overhyped. We're talking overblown coverage with the power of a Category 4 hurricane.
Thousands of websites are dedicated to seeing where these athletically gifted 17- and 18-year olds choose to go to school, listing more personal details than you could ask for. ESPN parades National Signing Day as a few hours where programs can get turned around in one fell swoop.
But, as we know, it takes months and months to even reach this point.
The prospects are also heralded as heroes, despite the fact that not a single one of them has yet played a down of college football. And the four- and five-star rankings given by and others, so coveted by fans and recruiters, hardly hold any real meaning. They're just temporary estimations used to shape the high school football scene of the time, and have no impact on the college gridiron. The only way to know how good a player is, is by evaluating him once he's on the college gridiron.
Think about this: in 2011, this year's Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel, was rated the 14th-best dual-threat quarterback. He wasn't even considered in Rivals' top 250. Did that inhibit him in any way from gashing the best defenses in the college ranks this season? No. On the flip side: did the No. 2 overall prospect ranking that year help linebacker Curtis Grant get on the field this season as a sophomore for Ohio State? No, of course not.
But in this age of 24/7 news networks, small news bits are made into huge stories, and questions whose true answers may not be revealed for quite some time, get debated about and decided upon now. Sure, a day like yesterday deserves some attention. Without good recruits, good teams and especially ones that win championships wouldn't exist.
However, the attention paid to this process has gone too far. We can be happy the kids have gotten athletic scholarships, but what truly matters comes much later - not when a pen is put to paper in February, but rather when a placekicker's foot is put to a football. This same kind of media molestation can also be seen with events like the NFL Combine and Draft.
Thus, even on a joyous day like yesterday, people get annoyed because of the hype. And it takes away from the core of the event. This is not to say we feel the same way about National Signing Day as we do about Lance Armstrong or A-Rod. But our feelings do begin to sour.
It is at this point where I'd like to draw the line.
With all of the recent lying, cheating and warping of what we hold dear about sports, National Signing Day serves as an important reminder that hope is built into sports. No matter what story tears down our goodwill towards the goodness of professional and collegiate sports, there's always something up next to smile about.
Think about it.
Spring Training. Free Agency. NFL Kickoff weekend. The NCAA Tournament. A kid , who might otherwise not have had the chance to attend college, getting a full scholarship to play football at the school of his choice.
One of the greatest things about sports is that they keep on giving. Fans' calendars aren't measured by months that begin and end, but rather seasons that roll right into the next. We don't have to worry about this quarter's profits or performance because sports will always be there. If a team has a poor season, they work towards the next.
If a roster becomes riddled with injuries, the players get healthy knowing they can give it a go once again the next year. If a school unfairly gets denied the opportunity to go to the post-season, they make the most of their current opportunity and know that next season the playoffs will be there. If a college football team can't win a single game, its coaches can hit the road in search of the next best class of players to change that.
All of these things give us hope. That's part of the reason people spend thousands of dollars on their teams and schools; the reason they get tattoos representing these same clubs; the reason that no matter how many times we are betrayed by even the greatest of heroes, we return to sports because we have hope for what's guaranteed to come next.
Truthfully, no one deserves all the flattery, attention and benefits the high school players in the country receive during this time. But, given the way in which college football recruiting has evolved, it's become a necessity for coaches everywhere.
These players may not be heroes to us yet, if ever. They are, however, important potential pieces of a much bigger puzzle, just like coaches, managers, scouting departments and administrators. And it is the synergy of these pieces, each irreplaceable in their own way, which makes up the teams we love and provide the special moments we are eager to witness.
We all have bones to pick with the Armstrong, Rodriguez, the NCAA and others. You and I can have disdain for and debate all the hype involved with how sports are nowadays portrayed.
But, there's something you can almost never, ever argue with, that's not going away no matter how a year starts or ends-

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