Middle school commitments meaningless

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
3:30
PM ET
Recruiting is out of control.

Surely you heard the big news today. Kevin Gemmell, who is supposed to be sharing the Pac-12 blog with me going forward, has committed to Oregon -- for the class of 2017, reportedly because joining the Ducks seemed like a cool way to celebrate his 40th birthday.

And that paragraph is only slightly more fantastical and fatuous and phony than this recent uptick in middle schoolers committing to big-time programs.

The latest is this: Rising eighth grade quarterback Tate Martell of San Diego has "committed" to Washington.

And by "committed," we mean an exchange took place with all the depth and meaning of a pronouncement of affection from a Kardashian.

This really has nothing to do with a recent trend in recruiting. It has to do with a recent trend of attention grabs and a belief in the awesomeness of any sort of publicity.

Martell might end up at Washington. And he might end up at Eastern Washington. Or he might end up playing baseball. Or deciding he prefers theater. Or he may join the circus. Nothing he does in football this year matters. And, really, nothing he does until his junior season of high school matters.

The only way he gets a scholarship to play football at Washington is if he proves to be good enough when he is a mature high school player. And, along the way, he might decide he'd rather play for Michigan, Texas, Oregon State or Florida.

My point: Nothing in the universe of college football changed today. Martell is no closer to a football scholarship to Washington than he was yesterday, nor is he bound in any way to go to Washington.

I wrote the same when David Sills committed to USC as a 13-year-old in 2010. Utterly meaningless. I continue to believe the odds are remote that Sills will ever play quarterback at USC.

So why does this happen? The best answer is also the worst: Why not? Just because a gesture is meaningless doesn't mean it won't produce a momentary media tempest in a teapot.

The other answer is this: Steve Clarkson, prep quarterbacks guru, loves publicity. And he's the common denominator here. From the ESPN.com story:
While the early commitment certainly caught most of the college football world off guard, Clarkson said plenty of thought went into it from Martell and his family. The 14-year-old is close with Sills, who made a commitment to USC as he was entering the eighth grade.

"The family followed that situation," Clarkson said. "He's seen how that unfolded. But that's kind of the trend. The landscape has changed."

No, it hasn't. It matters not a whit what these guys look like now.

Steve Clarkson
Kevin ShepardHigh school QB guru Steve Clarkson has tutored Tate Martell and David Sills, very early commitments both.
Clarkson has the respect of many folks in football. His track record is strong tutoring quarterbacks. He's a proven commodity. But he's also a businessman. He knows this story sells him more than anything else. And, well, feel free to read into what Clarkson calls himself on his website: "Dream maker."

While many folks slap their foreheads over 13- and 14-year-olds "committing" to big-time college sports teams, there also are a number of, er, highly involved daddies and mommies who are looking at their cherished little sprout as he tosses a Nerf ball around the living room thinking, "I got to get me some Steve Clarkson!"

From Mitch Sherman's story:
According to Clarkson, it's the wave of the future. Athletes are more specialized today, often spending three times as many hours per year on football than the players of a generation ago. They ought to be ready to make such decisions much earlier, he said.

"The next time a sixth- or seventh-grader commits," Clarkson said, "you've already been doused with the frozen water, so the shock is gone."

Clarkson said programs like his, which identify and groom quarterbacks barely into their teens, are growing in prominence as high school football loses some of its power in recruiting.

Let me tell you something without an iota of doubt: No, this is not the wave of the future. An annual blip? Sure. A trickle? OK. No wave here, though. Mostly because it makes no sense to conduct business this way. For one, so much can change in five years. For example, one of the reasons Martell liked Washington was that former quarterback Jake Locker was his favorite player. Well, what happens is Locker never pans out in the NFL? Will that thinking still hold for Martell?

So, you say, what do Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian get out of this? Ah, glad you asked. For one, they have nothing to lose. But recruiting is a spiderweb of intrigue. The public looks at one spot getting touched and don't take note of more notable vibrations elsewhere.

Kiffin, you might already have deduced, is crazy-smart like a fox in recruiting.

Guess who Sills just happens to be teammates and good buddies Insider with? Kenny Bigelow, the No. 2 defensive tackle in the country, who is committed to USC for the 2013 class, and Khaliel Rodgers, a four-star offensive guard who also is committed to USC in 2013. Now those are two meaningful commitments.

How connected are these three guys? When Red Lion Christian Academy in Bear, Del., decided to to become more of a school with a football team than a football team with a school, all three transferred Insider to Elkton (Md.) Eastern Christian Academy.

Some might counter that Kiffin didn't know about these two in 2010 when Sills committed. Fine. My response: Kiffin is crazy-smart like a fox in recruiting. Funny how this is working out so well for him, eh?

Yes, recruiting is out of control. It has been for some time. But the next wave isn't 13-year-olds committing. Something irrelevant can be quirky or even interesting and inspire some media rubbernecking, but it ultimately will fail to hold sway in a high-stakes game based on a real-live bottom line.

Ted Miller | email

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