There is a way clean up recruiting. NCAA president Myles Brand led the charge in 2004 after recruiting scandals at Florida State and Colorado.
Brand used his bully pulpit five years ago to address a "culture of entitlement". Hey, all it took was Williams' diary about scarfing down steak and lobster during his Florida State recruitment. That was when FSU victories still counted, by the way.
Bravo for Brand. The recruiting process had spiraled out of control. The NCAA needed to close up some loopholes.
Several columnists were up in arms again Monday when celebrated recruit Bryce Brown announced his signing with Tennessee. The more more than year-long "drama" played out with the Wichita, Kan. tailback walking into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame (ugh!) sporting a Miami hat (gag me). He then took it off and put on the Tennessee hat (barf bag, please).
As distasteful as that scene was -- please, kids, give us something original than the chapeau charade -- it doesn't necessarily mean the process needs to be cleaned up this time. Brown was taking advantage of the rules that allow prospects almost two months to sign letters of intent. We've become so wrapped up "commitments" and "national signing day" (please, not capital letters) that kids like Brown become boogie men when they don't sign on the prescribed date.
Dinner theater histrionics aside, Brown was taking advantage of the system. Sure, the kid and his advisor/mentor Brian Butler were quirky. Brown committed to Miami in February 2008 with the caveat that he would take all five of visits. Huh? In the end, things degenerated so much with Miami that Brown taunted the school (described above). Butler was the first of his kind in college football, a handler who recruiters had to go through to get to Brown.
You know what Brand can do this time? Nothing. Blame the kid, blame the culture of recruiting it is what it is. There has been a cry for an earlier signing date to head off scenes that played out on Monday. An earlier signing day would only move the angst to December when several states are still involved in the state playoffs. Imagine being pressured into signing with a school the same week you're playing for a state championship.
The early signing day is brought up by coaches each year and each year it is shot down. Such legislation would be self-serving. The coaches can get their recruiting done earlier, get on with spring practice and have a longer offseason. I'm in favor of letting the athlete take as much time as he wants. I've brought this up several times, but the top recruits could really make a statement by waiting until August to sign a scholarship agreement.
"That's funny you said that," Eugene Byrd, told me in 2003. Byrd was the director of the National Letter of Intent program. "There's even a place on our website where it says you don't have to sign a letter of intent, you can use this scholarship agreement."
Administrators are amazed an alternative, the scholarship agreement, isn't utilized more. After the football signing period ends ... a scholarship agreement is basically a yearly promise from a school it will provide X amount of books, board and tuition if a prospect comes to that school.
It's not the NCAA's fault that marriage vows can be viewed less solemnly than a recruiting "commitment." It's up to us -- fans, journalists -- to just calm the heck down. Hey, I'll admit it. I drove to Wichita to talk to Butler. I wanted to find out what he was about. Others have followed. The NCAA is now involved into an investigation of Butler.
I think Butler's a mostly innocent party. The guy cares for the kids but also has an entrepreneurial spirit too. I also think that the NCAA is out to make an example of him, trying squash him before more of his kind pop up. Slimy handlers in college basketball long ago soiled that sport's recruiting. In the end, don't be surprised if the NCAA labels him a "representative of a university's athletic interests" and he will be done. Which university? Doesn't matter. The NCAA will find one.
By the way, let's give Brand credit for being the most accomplished CEO in NCAA history. There was doubt about his abilities when the former Indiana president took over. His claim to fame was firing Bobby Knight. While that was a lifetime achievement good enough for me, some wondered how an academic would do leading the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
Brand has turned out to be a forceful leader. I can't imagine Walter Byers, Dick Schultz or Cedric Dempsey trying to clean up recruiting on their own. In fact, I can't imagine the last of those three doing much of anything. Our thoughts and prayers now are with Brand who is fighting pancreatic cancer. His legacy will be having led the NCAA into an era of unprecedented credibility.
There will be more Bryce Browns but there will be fewer Willie Williams.