Last Friday's big news in the college football world in 49 other states was Tyrann Mathieu's dismissal from LSU. The junior was a consensus all-American last season and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. But failure to follow team rules (whatever that might mean specifically) was his downfall, and Les Miles felt he had no choice but to dismiss Mathieu from the team.
Tony Barnhart of CBS, while making it clear that Mathieu is ultimately responsible for his actions that led to this, charges the college recruiting world with partial responsibility for the downfall of the Honey Badger.
But when we, the adults, take the time to really examine why someone with so much talent, so much promise, would choose to risk losing it all, it takes us to a most uncomfortable conclusion:
To some extent we're all guilty for the fall of Tyrann Mathieu.
• When we offer a 14-year old kid a scholarship, we're guilty.
• When we put four or five stars by a kid's name and hang on his every word until he signs on the dotted line, we're guilty.
• When we hold press conferences in high schools for kids to VERBALLY announce where they are going to school, we're guilty.
• When we hold press conferences on national signing day where kids play with hats, signs, dogs and the media turns out in full force and gives the process legitimacy, we're guilty.
• When college coaches tell teenage children anything and everything they (and their parents) want to hear in order to get them to sign because careers and millions of dollars hang in the balance, we're guilty.
• When the sense of entitlement created in high school is allowed to continue in college because winning (and making money) is all that matters, we're guilty.
• When we allow the primary (and sometimes only) goal of these kids to become holding up a jersey with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on a Thursday night in New York City, we're guilty.
• When we in the media go along with the process because we're trying to satisfy the public's insatiable appetite for college football, we're guilty.
I'm certainly no defender of the hype of college recruiting. I think it's the worst development in college athletics today. It warps fan perceptions, and as Barnhart points out, it warps the perceptions of young student athletes. But in the case of Mathieu, it's ultimately up to the player to control his own actions. Neither recruitniks, or the evaluators from Rivals/Scout/247 for that matter, forced Mathieu to do whatever he did wrong. They didn't directly cause Mathieu to this. Mathieu is fully responsible for his own actions.
But setting that point aside, Barnhart is absolutely right in his assessment of the toxic environment that recruiting geeks have created. That's right: toxic environment. It's toxic, because frankly, nothing productive comes out of it. Some people get their kicks out of it, much like some people enjoy watching "Real Housewives" or Charlie Sheen...but at what price?
Sure, many prospects seem to handle the hype, but frankly, what benefit is there to it, other than enriching the pockets of recruiting services? At Nebraska, certainly Harrison Beck didn't benefit from the hype. Marlon Lucky ended up in the emergency room when he couldn't handle the hype. Look last week at the Tyler Moore and Ryan Klachko situations; could these players have had a sense of entitlement - an expectation that they would move straight into prominence, even though other players are working harder and performing better? (That's speculation, of course. Nobody outside of the coaches and players really know the truth to the situation.)
Make no bones about it, Mathieu is ultimately responsible for what he did. But people who obsess about recruiting need to recognize that their infatuation is, in fact, toxic to the sport that they profess to love.