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COLUMN: My issue with National Signing Day

A five-star football recruit sits in front of a table with two collegiate hats in front of him.

There are bright lights shining upon him while local and national reporters gaze upon his every movement, while hundreds of fans, friends and family members attend to support him and appease their curiosity.

For those who can’t make it in person to witness such a spectacle, it is being broadcasted throughout the day on numerous national sports stations.

The high school senior sees the mass audience in front of him and he waves his hands over each hat in an almost teasing manner.

Which one will he pick?

Where is he heading this summer?

The suspense factor has been so artificially inflated that people are literally getting goose bumps in anticipation for this seventeen-year-old to pick up a hat.

And then…it happens.

He adorns his head with a ball cap as the audience goes nuts and fan bases, who are watching online, race onto their twitter accounts to commend/ridicule this teenage boy’s decision.

This is National Signing Day; an event that lasts but a day but can have ripple effects for the next four years or more.

The 2015 National Signing Day is drawing near and for a lot of high school athletes; life is going to be put in hyper-drive in less than 24 hours.

A majority of athletes (from all sports) have already announced where they’ll continue their athletic career and Wednesday is something of a formality.

For others, the secret is being guarded as if they have possession of the Holy Grail.

According to recent CBS Sports article, 247Sports National Recruiting Analyst Steve Wiltfong is estimating that there are more players revealing their decision on National Signing Day this year than in recent years.

Can that stat along with the fact that media coverage of NSD has exploded in recent years simply be coincidental?

I think not.

Don’t get me wrong; I think it is a wonderful thing for a young athlete to be able to celebrate all of his/her hard work with friends and family.

These kids put in more hours on the field/court/weight room/classroom than they are ever credited for and they deserve a day (if not more) to be recognized for their efforts.

While I completely endorse students taking their time to decide where they will not only continue playing on the field but where they’ll be learning off the field, I fear that we are giving some athletes the wrong idea about themselves.

“Without a doubt, there are some kids that allow that exposure to give them a lofty feeling of themselves," Cocalico coach Dave Gingrich said. “Not all kids allow this to happen.  Some of these kids seem very humble and well-grounded, while others continue to get their ego fed.”

Once again, I cannot stress enough that we are talking about seventeen and eighteen-year-old kids.

Gingrich doesn’t just coach future college athletes; he also has a daughter, Marissa, who went through the process of choosing a college to continue her athletic career. Marissa is currently a freshman on the Elizabethtown College girls’ basketball team.

“I do think the family needs to keep the kid grounded and explain to them that for 99.99% of high school athletes, this is an academic decision, not an athletic decision.  In my daughter's situation, she could've played field hockey at a higher level and gotten money to do it. But she wanted to play basketball in college and had to play at a lower level that didn't offer her money.  As a parent, that is tough; but you do what's right for your child.”

One of the most pressing issues in collegiate and professional sports today is the personal conduct of the players.

Coaches, counselors, team advisors and analysts are constantly looking for the root of these young players’ poor decision making (See: Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon, Ray McDonald, etc.).

“I think the role of the high school coach is to help the kid get to whatever level the student/athlete is able to succeed at.  Too many times the kid only sees the money and not where they fit in academically, socially and athletically,” Gingrich said. “They enjoy feeling wanted (as we all do), but they let that cloud their judgment on where they actually fit best.  Our job is to help them see everything.”

Though there are obviously other contributing factors to poor behavior as a college student, treating a teenager like a sports messiah can do nothing but hinder a young and sometimes fragile psyche.

Do you really wonder why an athlete in the NFL continues to make seemingly stupid decisions?

Perhaps it’s because that guy hasn’t heard the word “no” since he put on his college hat in front of a televised audience as a high school senior.

With the interest rising and therefore media expanding of NSD, some big-time college recruits see the day as an opportunity to let everyone know that they have arrived.

In reality, they are only getting started.

After all, we are talking about seventeen and eighteen-year-old kids.