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Internet brings recruiting woes to small schools

The Internet: It’s a recruiting nightmare.

I’ve always been a big fan of the ‘net. It’s the only place where you can receive readily available Chuck Norris facts, convert any Web page into ebonics, play Mah-Jongg with someone named Ma Jong, or order used Batman soap from a person in Vermont.

But the Internet age also has an ugly side: the world of college football recruiting.USF’s relatively new program has three Web sites a person can consult about recruiting – Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN.com, three sites with staffs committed to updating commitments in real time. If a player wakes up in the morning and even thinks of attending a school, it is the job for someone at one of those Web sites to know about it.

The sites use language such as “solid” and “soft” to define a verbal commitment. Anyone with $9.95 can find out a player’s height, weight, 40-yard-dash time, bench press, vertical leap and which staff member recruited him. There are also entertaining Q&As and conversations with relatives and coaches about each player. The bios are so extensive they are a compatibility test and a clever jingle away from being confused for a dating site.

It’s a rabid environment. Fans sit by their computers hanging on every decision a teenager makes. A player switching commitments – a common occurrence when dealing with 17- and 18-year-old kids – is taken personally by fans of the shunned program. When Detroit Lions running back Kevin Jones held up a Penn State hat on signing day six years ago and jokingly switched to a Virginia Tech hat, he received hate mail galore laced with expletives and death threats.

People now obsess over a four-star athlete’s decision until the last second, adding drama to an otherwise anticlimactic moment. The second day of February has turned into another national championship for some people. I know because I was one of these people.

As a former recruit-nik, I have read articles written by the people in charge of these sites.

From what I could surmise, being a recruiting reporter involves calling players at all hours of the day and asking any person related to the recruit what the kid is thinking and feeling. As of Tuesday night, a search for players who have at least minimum interest in USF comes up with 103 results. That’s 103 confused teens with 103 different decisions being poked and prodded. Rarely is invasion of privacy an issue, and many of the blue-chip athletes turn their phones off because of the 50-plus calls per day they get from college recruiters and Web site managers.

Recruiting sites have put more pressure on coaches. Recruiting classes are ranked and made available to boosters and administration – the same administrations that have adopted Al Davis’ “Just win, baby” philosophy when dealing with coaches. If a coach fails to land a player Rivals.com considers a No. 1 prospect, it is seen as a failure to some, and these are athletes who – with the exception of very few – might not even make any impact at the school they decide on.

It has made it even more difficult for the USFs of the college football world to sell a player on a school, and the pressure of succeeding almost becomes too much to handle. A story of a crooked program may be front-page news, but it’s hardly surprising when a school is busted for luring an athlete to a school illegally. Now Web sites make money by selling and making drama out of the decisions of teenage athletes. It’s an ugly business.