Tuesday, February 01, 2011

National Letter of Intent Signing Day 2011

by Jeff Fisher
High School Football America

It's amazing how high school football's National Letter of Intent Signing Day has grown over the last 16-years.

In 1995 while working as a sports reporter at WFMZ-TV in Allentown, Pennsylvania, I decided to call all of the athletic directors in our coverage area that had players that were signing their letters of intent on the first Wednesday of February.  I asked them to help me set-up a schedule that would allow me and my cameraman to get to as many signings in our large coverage area as possible.

While my request was met with surprise, every school official was happy to oblige.  What was really surprising were the return calls from the school officials asking if they could invite the family and hold the signing ceremonies in-front of the student body.

My answer was a resounding YES!

After traveling over 100 miles in eight hours I sat down to edit what I still consider to be one of my best television features in my career.  I still remember that it was four minutes and 18 seconds in length, which angered the show producer.

It wasn't fancy, it was a straightforward story that captured the celebration of years of hard work by the student-athetes, their families and their schools.

The reaction from the viewers was nothing short of astounding.  Most weren't aware of how the players got their college scholarships.

I'm not saying I was a trailblazer with that 1995 piece, but I do know I was one of the first to cover the signing day to that extent.

Now on the eve of 2011's signing day, sitting in a blizzard in Chicago, I'm asking the question, have we gone too far?

ESPNU will have 10-hours of coverage tomorrow that will feature about seven players making their official announcement on the Worldwide Leader in Sports.  Last month there were were two all-star games that have been built on players making their decision announcements on national television.

It all seems a little bit overblown to me.

It's the same feeling I had back in 1997 when James Mungro of East Stroudsburg High School in Pennsylvania called the local media to his school in the Poconos.  Mungro, who is still Pennsylvania's all-time leading rushers, lined-up five possible helmet choices on the stage in the auditorium before he announced that he was going to Syracuse.

What I remember the most was the pressure that Mungro had on him.  Yes, he was excited to have the "signing event", but you could see in his face and hear in his voice that he was more relieved than happy on that day.

I remember James telling me that it was tough to be constantly asked about what school he was leaning toward.  But, James was a special kid and gave everyone the time.

Times have changed with recruiting news traveling very quickly thanks to the internet and social media.

When I read last week that one of the nation's top recruits, Philadelphia (Mississippi) High's C.J. Johnson closed his Facebook account over unruly comments and slanderous messages, I felt we've gone too far.

If you've been following my work over the last several years, you know I haven't liked the direction the sport is taking as a result of the bright lights from ESPN and the FOX Sports Nets of the world.  I'm all for the promotion of the sport, but I do not feel as though these made-for-TV, national match-ups do anything other than promote someone's Top 100 players list or someone's Top 25/50 Poll.

Of course, that's why I started High School Football America.  I want to bring storytelling back to the sport.  Remember there are over 15,000 football teams and 1.1 million players...not just 50 teams and 300 players.

Now to end on a positive note, tomorrow is a HUGE day for these kids...and not just for football.  These kids are being given an opportunity to get a FREE education.

Of course, I can go off on a tangent here and attack how the NCAA abuses its student-athletes with its current rules that allow all but the athletes to benefit.  However, I'm not going to do that.

What I am going to do is to wish each player and their families heartfelt congratulations, and hope that each student-athlete takes the time to go to class to take advantage of that FREE education.  America is in your hands, and even if you do make it to the NFL, the life expectancy of a pro football player is three-and-a-half years.

In closing, click here to see exactly what that precious piece of paper known as the National Letter of Intent looks like.

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