Michigan football recruiting eighth-graders is absurd, nauseating
Jamie Samuelsen, co-host of the "Jamie and Stoney" show at 6 a.m. weekdays on WXYT-FM (97.1), blogs for freep.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the Detroit Free Press nor its writers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @jamiesamuelsen.
Michigan football has offered its second eighth-grader of 2018. Does this seem OK or a little too far?
Can something be completely absurd and no big deal at the same time?
If so, this is at the top of the list.
I have the same reaction that everyone else does when they see a headline about an eighth grader getting a scholarship offer. It’s ridiculous. These boys have barely entered puberty and they’re already being told how great they are and how big of an impact they can have at a university like Michigan.
But let’s be clear. This is not a Michigan thing. This is not a Jim Harbaugh thing. This is a college football thing. And it really has no negative impact on the game.
If the kid matures and improves, the school can say that they were with him from the start. If he doesn’t, the scholarship can be rescinded. And in some ways, it puts the kid on the map and probably brings other schools in to watch him and, perhaps, give him an early offer as well.
The two recruits are linebacker Tyler Martin from Massachusetts and quarterback Ty Simpson from Tennessee. Defensive coordinator Don Brown offered Martin. Harbaugh offered Simpson earlier this year. Both recruits said they were honored by the offer and obviously neither committed, yet.
Think about it from the kid’s perspective. If they are this good at this age, they’ve clearly dedicated their lives to playing football and improving enough to even get noticed. Most young athletes dream of making their high school varsity teams. These kids are getting told that they’ll be on the college varsity team.
So all the countless hours of practice and work and training have paid off and you find out — at the age of 14 or 15 — that all of your dreams are coming true. An eighth-grade boy getting a college scholarship offer may seem like the worst thing in the world in your mind. But it’s the best day that they’ve ever experienced in the sport that they love. How is that a bad thing? Are we looking to reform sports to such a degree that we dash the dreams of others?
That’s not to say that these offers don't have a downside. There’s a problem with crowning heroes in the eighth grade. There’s a problem when they start to act like heroes on and off the field. There’s a problem when players on other teams target that player largely because he’s gotten all of these accolades at such a young age. And there’s also the issue that he might not perform in high school the way he’s performed to this point in his life and might start to be looked at as a disappointment.
That’s also one of the downsides of preseason polls or Heisman betting favorites. When you are called a can’t-miss or a top prospect and perform anywhere beneath the highest level, you get labeled a disappointment. That could easily happen to an eighth grader who has an All-State career in high school as opposed to an All-American career.
(On a side note, that’s just another amazing thing about NBA star LeBron James. I’m not sure that any young athlete ever had more hype than James as he entered the sporting landscape, and he’s not only lived up to it, he’s exceeded it. It seemed like the only place that he could go was down, but he defied the odds and continues to do so with every game he plays.)
While others will say that getting younger and younger recruits represents the downfall of college sports, I’d say it’s simply a symbolic act with some strong positive and negative connotations.
Turn on the Winter or Summer Olympics and you’ll see hundreds of athletes who are either competing in their young teens or were at least tabbed in their young teens to be sports heroes on the world stage. Granted, they train in relative obscurity up until when they actually compete, but that doesn’t mean that they do so with any less pressure or any less stress in their lives. Their dream is to compete for a gold medal.
These eighth graders dream of playing college football. Who are we to say when they’re allowed to start living the dream?
And just so we’re clear about it — these “offers” are revealed by the players and their families. Michigan is not allowed to comment on high school players until they sign a national letter of intent. So it’s the kids and their families that choose to make these public announcements. They run the risk of putting targets on their own backs. And yes, they run the risk of performing at a level less than “an eighth grader who was offered a scholarship by the University of Michigan.”
There’s a lot that happens in recruiting that makes my blood boil and my stomach turn.
But this is more nausea-inducing than anything else. Not because it speaks to any lack of ethics at the collegiate level (and there are plenty of examples of that). It speaks to the willingness and aggressiveness of sports parents to crown their kids and push them up on a pedestal, or more specifically a podium. “My kid made junior varsity!” “Oh yeah? Well, my kid is the starting quarterback.” “Oh really? My kid just got offered a scholarship to Michigan!”
Odds are the offer doesn’t change anything. Odds are these kids won’t even end up going to Michigan. It’s a nice story for the kid. It maybe puts Michigan in a good position for a potential elite athlete going forward. And it keeps the college football machine churning right along, even when we’re three months away from the start of the season.