|Brian Kelly is the latest coach to nab the nation's best quarterback recruit. (US Presswire)|
Gunner Kiel is going to Notre Dame. For now. The risk of writing those words is that they could be meaningless by the end of this column.
Ask Indiana and LSU. Both schools thought they had the five-star quarterback. Both were wrong. Kiel, considered the nation's best prep quarterback recruit from Columbus, Ind., hung with the Hoosiers and coach Kevin Wilson for four months (July to October). There is bread on supermarket shelves that lasted longer than Kiel's undying promise to LSU.
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There are those who will now label Kiel unstable for changing his mind -- twice -- in the recruiting process. If reports are to be believed, Kiel's mother simply wanted her son closer to home. But the recruiting culture has conditioned us to think otherwise. How reliable, that culture would argue, can Kiel be if he can't decide on a school? More culture groupthink: Notre Dame deserves everything negative it might get with this kid -- including incomplete passes and the possibility of a transfer.
Commitment. That's the insidious decades-old recruiter's term for loading up the wagon. You're either in or you're out. De-commitment. That's another decades-old term for breaking that commitment. Gunner Kiel broke his twice, leaving a trail of tears, hurt and recrimination behind.
Good on ya, kid. Good on anyone who hustles the recruiting system. It's there for the taking, but too often recruits are the taken. They are the hustled. They are the rubes. And there is no reason. In the culture, if you violate that commitment, you're something less than trustworthy. Your character is questioned.
Hopefully, Kiel isn't listening. Hopefully, he understands it is his right to take his time making a lifelong decision. Check supposedly real commitments. The current divorce rate is 50 percent. God forbid, Kiel actually change majors once or twice during his college career.
It's a cutthroat business, so let's not get all weepy here for the effected schools. Coaches are looking for roster stability on signing day. Names to fill empty spots. Two-deep certainty. That's where it gets complicated. Players are looking for an education, playing time, ability to win, access to the NFL in varying degrees. Sometimes all of those.
Long ago, a teenager's lifelong vision has been subjugated. Recruits have been deluded into thinking they must sign on signing day. (Kiel enrolled early for the spring semester Tuesday at Notre Dame.)
Feb. 1 is the first day of a process that lasts two months. Even then, recruits hold the upper hand. A recruit can sign a scholarship agreement that binds him to a school only after he enrolls.
That may explain the trend over the last few years for top recruits to push their decision past that magic signing day. They're learning. The recruiting culture doesn't want them to learn.
Good on Gunner, then, for taking his time. For years, scholarships were subject to year-by-year renewal. NCAA president Mark Emmert is in the process of pushing legislation that would allow schools to offer full four-year scholarships.
Good intent, but read the fine print. Full scholarships would be "permissive," not required. Basically, they would be optional. That raises an obvious question: What school worth its big-time BCS status is going to guarantee a four-year scholarship? Not many that want to stay competitive with other big-time BCS schools.
Too many lemons sour a roster.
That's a brutal truth that makes Kiel's decisions understandable, laudable and even righteous. If they're going to work you, why not work them?
Let's forget, for a moment, the hormonally-challenged whimsy involved in a 17-year-old's decision on where to play college football. Schools want a commitment, but they're not always willing to honor one, certainly not for four years.
They don't tell you that in the middle of your college career, the coach may leave or be fired. They don't tell you a new coach may have absolutely no loyalty to you. In street terms, they call it "running off" players who don't fit the new coach's vision.
They do tell you right there on the National Letter of Intent that you are committing to the school, not the coach. That gets everyone off the hook, except the player who is being asked for that undying commitment from the coach.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist was lucky. He was able to honor his commitment to Charlie Weis at two different schools.
"The relationship I had with him was the biggest thing in picking up recruiting and coming here."
That was Crist on Monday explaining why he transferred to Kansas. Weis had taken a job there two years after leaving Notre Dame.
It was Weis on Monday who announced that at least 10 players he inherited were gone. Officially, they departed for unspecified reasons but Weis had no choice on some of the roster moves. Some, he said, had "severe academic issues". There may have been disciplinary issues. Fourth-year junior quarterback Jordan Webb had his scholarship honored, but is no longer the starting quarterback. Nor is he on the roster.
The 14 seniors still on the roster are playing for their third coach since signing their letters of intent. Somehow that possibility was left out of the initial recruiting pitch.
Good on Gunner Kiel, then. In the recruiting culture, he's crazy, unstable, unreliable. In reality, he is working a crazy, unstable, unreliable system.