Fambrough: Sometimes recruiting obscures why athletes go to college

In our society, the notion bigger is better isn’t just an idea anymore. It’s synonymous with power and success.

And when it comes to power and success in sports, there’s no show quite like what happens on national signing day for college football.

The top programs flex their muscles by signing prospects with a combined recruiting star power brighter than a galaxy. Smaller programs, including Louisiana’s state colleges, get caught up in the frenzy, too.

It is one long, frantic day as fans attend school-sanctioned bashes and television networks cue up the exact moment when a recruit makes his college choice. For student-athletes and their parents the first day of the NCAA’s football signing period can be a mega-dream come true.

But it wasn’t always that way. At one time, colleges actually waited to release lists of signees. National media exposure was limited. The signing day rituals were lower key and typically involved family members and teammates.

I pondered those contrasts as I checked the lists of college signees that made their way through our office last Wednesday.

Let’s face the facts: college football recruiting has become a reality show. And like it or not, the athletes, along with the colleges, are its stars.

It’s a great show with plenty of smiling faces if you only look on the surface. The reality is there are many layers to the recruiting process and not all of them culminate with the ending the athlete anticipated.

The story of LSU and Denham Springs lineman Tevin Lawson offers just one case in point. Lawson committed to the Tigers last spring and then as signing day drew closer, Lawson was asked to become a grayshirt instead of a signee. Accepting the grayshirt offer would put Lawson in line to be part of LSU’s 2014 class instead.

Stories like Lawson’s are not new. These tales illustrate how much pressure this super-sized recruiting process places on everyone involved.

We tend to forget college athletics is a business. The schools are under pressure to secure the best players they can. Football coaches’ jobs depend on that. By the same token, parents and student- athletes are looking toward dreams become reality by netting a scholarship.

These facts ring true for colleges on all levels, not just the power brokers who posted top five national signing classes each year. That’s why several schools, including some who are not in the upper echelon, release signing classes with up to 40 players.

Not all the players listed are likely to receive scholarships. But the desire of everyone involved, including the families who want their child to have that signing moment of glory, is so strong. As a parent, I certainly get that.

And as naïve as it sounds, I think some schools do try to find ways to include athletes who don’t rank at the top of the class for reasons that aren’t underhanded. Yes, some probably do it to lock up another player, but I suspect some do it because they like a particular kid who projects just outside a certain size range or talent level.

It’s the reality check, not the reality show, we all need to keep in mind. Out of the list of players who signed scholarships last week, only a small number will make it to the NFL.

Though we can’t go back to the times when the recruiting process was simple and less star-studded, there are still ways to keep it basic.

Each year, there will be examples that offer a negative education on recruiting. That’s when we need to remember that it’s the education the student-athlete is in line to receive over the next four to five years that counts above all else.

Track signees

Plaquemine High girls track competitors, Tori Williams and Marissa Batiste signed with colleges Friday.

Williams, a sprints/relays specialist, signed with the University of Houston. Batiste, who competes in jumps, sprints and relays, signed with Southern University.