For all of their pronouncements about superiority in college football, the Southeast Conference sure seems to get things wrong an awful lot.
Take this ridiculous idea about an early signing period for football that SEC coaches wanted before the conference presidents and athletic directors summarily rejected it. Those coaches aren’t being the least bit protective of high school prospects by wanting an early signing period. Their reason – and their only reason – for espousing such a proposal is to protect themselves from themselves.
Coaches in that part of the country are commonly referred to in the profession as “poachers.” In other words, no verbal commitment is safe with those guys around. Last year, for example, more than a dozen prospects de-committed from SEC schools to sign with other schools in the same conference.
Alabama head coach Nick Saban ran off with the unofficial national championship in recruiting this year because he wrested a bunch of top prospects away from his SEC rivals. Among Saban’s recruiting haul this past February were outside linebacker Jerrelle Harris of Gadsden, Ala., defensive tackle Marcel Dareus of Birmingham (Ala.) Huffman, defensive end Michael Williams of Reform (Ala.) Pickens County and five-star receiver Julio Jones of Foley, Ala. Each of those four players were highly rated performers by Scout.com, and each one selected Alabama over the scholarship offers of at least one other SEC rival school. In the case of Jones, he selected the Crimson Tide over conference rivals Auburn, Florida and LSU
Only three of the 12 SEC coaches against the early signing proposal – Bobby Petrino of Arkansas, Steve Spurrier of South Carolina and Urban Meyer of Florida – and Meyer went on the record with his opposition.
“I think recruiting should be done in December, January and February,” he said. “I think it speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives. To squeeze them, to press them, to say you’ve got to get it done now – I just don’t believe in that. My daughter is going through recruiting right now. If someone ever does that to her, it’s going to be a tough phone call. Take your time. Take your trips.”
Not surprising Meyer would say something like that. He is a well-known poacher from his days at Utah. Two years ago, Meyer’s recruiting class of 2007 contained eight players who de-committed from other programs including safety Jerimy Finch of Indianapolis Warren who changed his mind twice – first committing to Michigan then switching to home-state Indiana before finally signing with the Gators.
Even with the poachers around, it seems that waiting until National Signing Day benefits the prospect more than an early signing period, especially a marginal or so-called off-the-radar pick. Anyone with even a passing interest in recruiting can identify the five-star prospects. By waiting until later in the process, the ones who may take a little longer to mature can go through their senior seasons, take their full allotment of official and unofficial visits and make what they hope can be a measured, thoughtful decision.
There are other drawbacks to an early signing period. What if a coach gets fired? What if a program gets put on probation? There are any number of mitigating circumstances that could change a prospect’s mind between September and the following February.
Even Joe Paterno agrees and he was victimized last year by a poacher in his own conference. Four-star running back Michael Shaw of Trotwood (Ohio) Trotwood-Madison had committed to Penn State the summer before his senior season but changed his mind after a visit to Michigan in January.
One of the reasons why you are reading this blog is because of Jim McKay. Growing up in the 1960s, there wasn’t much to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon except watch old black and white movies on television. But in the late afternoon came a ray of sunshine in the form of ABC’s Wide World of Sports, hosted by McKay.
Whether it was log rolling at some lumberjack camp in Vermont, the Indianapolis 500 or the 24 hours of Le Mans, McKay always seemed to be having the time of his life as he reported from some far-off place I’d never heard of. It was about that time when I decided if I couldn’t have a career as a professional athlete, I could at least have one in sports journalism.
As you have no doubt heard by now, McKay died Saturday at his home in Maryland at the age of 86. During his illustrious career, he won 13 Emmy awards, earned induction in the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and hosted Wide World of Sports for more than 40 years. Although I never met the man, I felt a sense of loss when I heard the news of his passing. It was like I lost a sort of a mentor over the weekend.
Today also marks the ninth anniversary of the passing of another man who was influential in my life. He is the person who taught me how to throw a baseball, the person who encouraged my writing and the person who first introduced me to Ohio State athletics. Many people come up to me today and tell me how much I remind them of my father. I consider that a compliment of the highest regard because I figure if I can be one-tenth the man he was, I’ll have turned out all right. As I told him the last time I saw him, I have been and always will be proud to be his son.
Happy 27th birthday today to actress Natalie Portman, who has an interesting connection to Ohio State. Portman’s father, Avner Hershlag, who is an Israeli doctor specializing in fertility and reproduction, was visiting OSU in the late 1970s when he attended an event at the Jewish student center on campus. Selling tickets to the event was Shelley Stevens. The two met and began a relationship that continued even after Hershlag returned to Israel. The two eventually married and daughter Natalie was born June 9, 1981, in Jerusalem. The family moved to the United States three years later and Natalie began acting in films at the age of 13, taking her grandmother’s maiden name Portman as her professional name.
Others celebrating birthdays today are guitar pioneer Les Paul, former baseball player and manager Bill Virdon, college basketball loudmouth Dick Vitale, former Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Dave Parker, prolific crime novelist Patricia Cornwell, actors Michael J. Fox and Johnny Depp, San Francisco Giants outfielder Randy Winn, Chicago Cubs infielder Mike Fontenot, Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday and New England Patriots linebacker Tedi Bruschi.
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY
On this day, exactly 35 years ago, Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by a whopping 31 lengths and became the first winner of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown since Citation in 1948.
In the wake of Big Brown’s big loss at Saturday’s Belmont, I feel sorry for those of you who weren’t around to watch Secretariat run. The chestnut colt, nicknamed “Big Red,” still holds the record times in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, and might have the Preakness mark as well had the timer not malfunctioned the day of the race.
On his way to a still-standing Churchill Downs record of 1:59 2/5 over a mile and a quarter, Secretariat ran each quarter-mile segment faster than the one before it. That means he was accelerating throughout the race. No other horse ran the Derby in less than two minutes for another 28 years.
I can still remember track announcer Chic Anderson’s famous call at the Belmont that included the classic line, “(Secretariat) is moving like a tremendous machine.” You can relive Anderson’s magical call thanks to YouTube. Here is your link: Secretariat’s Belmont Run. It still gives me chills.
Secretariat won 16 of the 21 races he entered during his career, and finished in the money 20 times. He retired to stud (now there’s the life) in 1974 and lived out his days at Claiborne Farm just outside Paris, Ky., where he died in 1989 at the age of 19.
** Once again, almost as if these things are scripted, you needed only to watch the final two minutes of last night’s NBA Finals. Of course, you also needed to stay up until midnight proving why the NFL remains the No. 1 spectator sport in this country. Their one-game championship begins at 6:30 p.m. and is over by 10:30 p.m. Basketball and baseball insist upon beginning their championship series at 8:30 p.m. in the East, stretching those outcomes to midnight or after. Hardcore fans will watch but to sustain your game, you have to bring in the casual fan … and the casual fan isn’t staying up past midnight to watch the outcome of a game that will be replayed a hundred times the next day.
** According to his blog, Greg Oden has a major league crush on singer Rihanna and had a chance to meet her backstage after a concert in Portland. How did the big guy do with the leggy singer? Let’s just say his moves seem to be limited to the court. In his own words, when he met Rihanna, “I froze up. I had all this great stuff in my head about what I was gonna say to her, but none of it came out. I could (have) punched myself.”
** John McCain or Barack Obama, are you listening? If you want my vote in November, do something about the ceaseless spam I find in my inbox every Monday morning. Find a way to eliminate the emails about fake Rolexes and penis enlargements and you have my support.