Starmaking out of control in the amateur ranks
I'm pretty skeeved out by high school athletes holding press conferences to announce where they're going to college.
Full disclosure...I've attended only two such press conferences in my life -- Bobby Wade's 2000 announcement that he was going to play his college football at Arizona, and D.J. Foster's gathering last month to announce that he'll play for ASU. I didn't feel totally comfortable at either.
A lot changed in the world in those twelve years that separated the two events. At Wade's event, I was one of a handful of media members there, and I attended mostly because of my own curiosity. I worked in radio at the time, but high school football talk was relegated on the airwaves to Friday nights. Specialty websites were in their infancy, and mainstream sports websites hadn't yet realized the thirst for recruiting coverage.
In 2012, high school athletes have audiences of thousands awaiting their choice through webcasts and in some cases, television broadcasts. Last year's top recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, announced that he'd be attending the University of South Carolina live on ESPN -- a network beamed into roughly 100 million households in the United States. It seems strange to me that a 17 or 18-year-old student can leave a fourth period econ class and then go address millions of people via the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
But my disdain for the whole process reached a new low on Tuesday morning. That's when Scottsdale Chaparral High School star Davonte' Neal, the 8th-rated recruit in the country according to ESPNU, was supposed to make his long- awaited college announcement. The event was to take place at Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary School in Phoenix, where Neal attended before starring at the high school level.
A webcast was carried on FoxSportsArizona.com and started at 9:00 a.m. The student body of the school, some 600 strong, assembled to be a part of the announcement. The funny thing is, it never happened.
At about 9:55 a.m., the school's principal, Dr. Cheryl Greene, dismissed the students back to their classrooms. There would be no announcement made.
Reports of a power struggle between Davonte' and his father surfaced soon after. It is believed that the younger Neal wanted to commit to Arizona, where his former high school coach Charlie Ragle had been hired to join the support staff of new coach Rich Rodriguez. Dad is reportedly set on Notre Dame.
Mind you, this is all three weeks after National Letter of Intent Day. I have absolutely no problem with a student athlete taking his time and weighing his options on college choice -- it's a life-changing decision. Davonte' Neal could make the decision in July if he wants. Being confident in your selection is the most important element here.
But don't pull 600 kids out of class to have them sit on a cafeteria floor awaiting your almighty arrival, and then never show up. That's wrong no matter how you slice it. It's akin to inviting 200 guests to your wedding even though you're not sure you're in love.
At least the kids didn't bring gifts.
At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old man (even though I'm only 40), there's too much star-making going on in the lower ranks of amateur sports these days.
Remember when only the championship game of the Little League World Series was televised? Now, you can see the regional tournaments for weeks leading up to the big event in Williamsport. How does that kind of exposure not inflate the heads of impressionable 12-year-old boys in their formative years?
And now we've got the Davonte' Neal debacle. Neal called a presser, didn't show up while hundreds of kids waited, then later went back to the school and reportedly wanted to go to each classroom to apologize to the kids. Nothing like interrupting the education of young children twice in one day.
About four hours after the original announcement was scheduled to be made, Neal finally made his future plans known in front of a handful of people and without a live webcast.
He will attend the University of Notre Dame.
Is this a case of father knows best? That remains to be seen.
But nobody involved knew well enough to handle the situation correctly the first time, and that's disappointing.