Its now been over a month since National Signing Day, and yet Terrelle Pryor has no idea where he is going to play football next season. He says he's been waiting for basketball season to end before he makes up his mind, yet it seems as if he's 10 times more interested in the added attention he's receiving than in making a correct decision. Why has this high school player become a celebrity for nothing but speculation? And what does this debacle of a story say about college football as a whole? Lets take a look
The Background: Terrelle Pryor is a 5-star quarterback prospect from Pennsylvania. His recruiting process has been going on for years, and he has narrowed his choice down to four schools: Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Oregon. The problem is that because Pryor is in the midst of his high school basketball season, he doesnt feel he's had enough time to choose what school is right for him. Therefore, his entire recruiting story has gone on much longer than it should have, and at this moment we still know as much as we did about 8 months ago.
The Controversy: There are so many factors that are in play in this story. First of all, Pryor is two things: an excellent athlete with a formidable ego, and an attention whore. He acts like he's the first top prospect with a tough decision to make regarding his college choice. Pryor has an action figurine, a recruiting "advisor" in Charlie Batch, his own website and a habit of teasing the fans of the schools he's interested in that he will be playing football there. Combine this with a prominent coaching change at one of the school's he's interested in and a desperate home state school fighting to stay relevant in college football, and you have a full-blown shit storm.
The Decision: At this point its anyone's guess where Pryor will go. Ohio State has long been considered the favorite, since Pryor nearly committed to them before his senior season and many of his friends are on the Buckeyes. Michigan has the most immediate need for him, since new coach Rich Rodriguez coaches a system that fits Pryor well and incumbent starter Ryan Mallett was basically told to leave school. Oregon has its ties to Nike, and for someone with an ego like Pryor, the thought of playing for Nike U could fit his dream of becoming a marketing megastar. Finally Penn State is basically falling over itself in its courtship of Pryor. Living fossil Joe Paterno actually left State College to make his first in-home visit of a recruit in years and the Nittany Lions have reportedly formed a tight relationship with Pryor's father in hopes of keeping him in state. The smart choice in his decision would still be Ohio State but there is no real solid ground to stand on for any of the four schools
So how did it happen that a high school player (not even considered the top player in the nation by many scouts mind you) became such an in-demand commodity for schools across the nation. You can put a lot of the blame on Pryor for thinking he's the Lebron James of football, but he's merely exploiting a system that has been heading towards a controversy like this for years. Three main parties are to blame for this mess so lets take a look at who's to blame.
1. Scouting Services. In the past 10 years, unknown scouting services have quickly become authorities on high school football players. They subjectively rank players by star systems and hype up their college choices so that the recruiting process has become almost as big of a sport as the games themselves. The problem is, that these recruiting services are full of shit. There is absolutely no way to rank a football player's talent, let alone ranking entire school's recruiting classes and trying to predict how one player's college career may play out. Many of these scouts are biased, like Tom Lemming, who overinflates player values for specific school's like Notre Dame, while decreasing values of schools he doesnt like such as Florida and Florida State. Other recruiting sources never see the players they grade in person, instead relying on grainy videotape. Regardless, these sources rank each player, with the best earning a coveted 5-star rating. Sometimes they are right, players like Reggie Bush and Darren McFadden were both 5-stars, but other times they are dead wrong. Ever heard of Whitney Lewis, Ryan Powdrell or Jeff Schweiger Jr.? Don't worry if you haven't, but those were players who earned 5-star ratings and attended USC, the school considered to have recruited the best in the nation over the past decade. All this says is that evaluating high school players will always be a inexact science, with no real way of proving a player's talent until they step on the field in the fall.
2. The Media. In step with the growing importance based on the scouting grades described above, the media has cultivated the recruiting process into a great part of their coverage. Classes are broken down in depth, player's college decisions are broadcast live, and all-star games were created to hype the supposedly best players in the nation. By making these college decisions so public, the media creates a feeling of entitlement in the minds of the players they deem to be the best in the nation. In this year, Pryor was the golden boy in the media. Previous years its been Jimmy Clausen and Mitch Mustain. These players are so glorified that they feel like they are going to have everything handed to them at the college they choose. When they find out they aren't as hot of shit as they thought, they either sulk and look terrible all season (Clausen) or run for the hills (Mustain). Any high school kid is going to enjoy hearing someone say that they are good at something, and by hyping up high school players to such an insane degree they are giving these kids the feeling they don't have anything more to prove once they get to college.
3. The Coaches: For years coaches have bent over backwards to get top players to sign at their schools, but in this instance the levels coaches have stooped to for Pryor has reached unprecented levels. Tressell basically told Pryor that he had the starting job locked up after Todd Boeckman graduates next year. He also told the same thing to Justin Zwick, a previous 5-star recruit who cost Ohio State the Texas game in '05 when Tressell had him split time with Troy Smith who was a lower-rated player in theory but a much better player in actuality. You think a coach considered as good as Tressell is would be more cautious this time around about guaranteeing playing time to a prospect. Penn State's coaches are even more embarrasing than Tressell. Joe Paterno, who hasn't recruited a single player at Penn State in about 10 years, actually went and visited Pryor and basically begged him to play for the Nittany Lions. Furthermore, Paterno's offensive coordinator Tom Bradley has forged a close relationship with Pryor and his father in hopes of convincing him to come to State College. So therefore, when Bradley was named Paterno's eventual coaching replacement, many believed it was a final step in begging Pryor to attend the school, even though he has said before he has no real intention of going to the school. The coach who takes the cake in the Pryor wooing has to be Rich Rodriguez though. He is so desperate to have Pryor play for him, that he called him to tell him he was leaving West Virginia for Michigan before he even told his own players already on the squad. He's guaranteeing a starting spot for Pryor this fall, even though he'll only have 4 weeks of training camp to learn the offense. All of these instances show how obsessed coaches can become with one player and how necessary they feel it is to keep that player away from a major rival. By bending over backwards for one player, it basically gives that guy all the power in the relationship so that his chance of actually respecting and listening to his coach become smaller and smaller.
What it all means
By March 31st Terrelle Pryor will have to make his decision. After that, he will have the near impossible task of reaching the level of expectations that have been created for him. If he does not have a career on par with what Vince Young had in Texas, Pryor will be considered a failure. And even if he does succeed to some degree, he will always have another hot shot recruit coming behind him. Rivals.com has already declared Matt Barkley the top QB recruit of 2009 despite the fact that he hasn't even played his senior year yet. And Barkley will be attending USC, where he will be playing behind 3 qb's who had the same status as he did as the best QB prospect in the nation (Matt Sanchez, Mitch Mustain, Aaron Corp). So even if Pryor thinks he is invincible, whatever coach that actually gets to coach him will not think the same. They'll all be recruiting the next hot thing, because that is the nature of the beast. And all of us who care so much about college football will hear a whole new list of names from scouting services and sports media until the point that we consider them gods that will guarantee success when they step on campus. College recruiting is only becoming bigger, the competition for player's services becomes more and more vicious, and the recruits feeling of greatness grows more overblown by the year. There is no stopping the process, just remember that star-ratings don't mean shit on the field until the best actually prove themselves.