Plenty of things have changed when it comes to National Signing Day. First of all, there wasn’t even a National Signing Day and nobody knew anything about recruiting except for a couple of reporters and every college coach in the country. Most fans didn’t know and didn’t much care either. Up until about 50 years ago, if you lived in Florida and you were a good football player, you were going to Florida. There was a color barrier in the South, so the civil rights movement integrated schools and football teams alike. Players whose only option had been historically black colleges now had other choices.
As college football grew, Florida State and Miami started to take their share of fringe players but the Gators had the run of the state. A few guys went to Georgia from North Florida and some from the Panhandle headed to Alabama or Auburn. And Notre Dame had their pick. With no limit on scholarships, Bear Bryant, Ara Parsegian and others perfected the scenario of recruiting all of the best players in they could. If they could get the ten best quarterbacks, they’d take them all and play one, ensuring the nine others didn’t go somewhere else and try to beat him. The NCAA started to restrict the number of scholarships allowed in 1973 and with all of the blue-chip athletes coming out of the state of Florida the Gators, Hurricanes and Seminoles couldn’t accommodate them all so they started going elsewhere.
But things started to change as television expanded a school’s appeal. With games on Saturday afternoon nationwide, everybody knew about the Crimson Tide and the Trojans of USC, Texas, Michigan and Ohio State. Then regional broadcasts made different schools, closer to home a reality. But as the money expanded and coaches like Bobby Bowden and Howard Schnellenberger moved into the state, recruiting became the lifeblood of every program. Bowden made the Seminoles a national presence and brought players in from all over. Schnellenberger drew a line from Daytona to Tampa and called anything south of that the “State of Miami.” He knew the level of talent in the state and declared everybody the property of the Hurricanes.
In 1990 when Florida hired Steve Spurrier, he said at his opening press conference that winning the recruiting battle in the state was paramount to any success the Gators might have. Vince Dooley used the Bulldogs appearance in Jacksonville every year to keep Georgia’s presence in the minds of local coaches and players.
Cable television diversified where players started going and as more and more schools ramped up their programs like Georgia Southern, and a variety of Florida schools, (FAU, USF etc.) more and more players had their choice instead of the other way around.
And then the Internet changed everything. With it a whole industry emerged surrounding college recruiting from predicting where players would go to places like the HIT Center in town creating combine like workouts for athletes to work on their skills to be more attractive to college scouts.
So as the day progresses on Wednesday and there are constant reports about who won and who didn’t get anybody, remember, it’s an inexact science at best.
Before the whole thing exploded in the ’80’s two running backs created a stir like no others in back-to-back years. When Emmitt Smith was coming out of high school, the phone on my desk rang about every 2 minutes or so all day with somebody asking where he was going to go play college football. The next year, Marquette Smith was a 12th grader and my phone rang every 30 seconds or so asking the same question. Emmitt went on to Florida, was an All America selection, a first round NFL pick and onto a Hall of Fame pro career (although he never mentioned the Gators in his induction speech). Marquette went to FSU and elsewhere, his career ending early.
An inexact science at best.
We’ll have full coverage on New4Jax.com all day. We’ll be at more than a dozen local high schools where the announcements will be made and the signings announced. Follow us on twitter @News4Jax for instant updates as well.