National Signing Day is a weird phenomenon in our culture.
College football recruiting has become big business, which invites a fine line between the positive and the negative. The impact of social media on recruiting is huge — it can be a positive influence by getting recruits the visibility they crave. It can also be a negative when overzealous fans interact with recruits in ways they never would in “real life.”
The rise of college football recruiting has also created a day that is bigger than just about any other day in college football: National Signing Day. NSD has become something many fans mark their calendars for — they make sure they have the day off work. It’s also the time for young men to celebrate their hard work in high school, which has enabled them to pursue an opportunity in the next stage of their life. The celebrations come with love and adoration from the schools these athletes choose, but in many instances, they are accompanied by trolling and hate from rival schools that were spurned.
There are a lot of great things about National Signing Day, but there are also a lot of things that need to be changed. Enter Jim Harbaugh and Michigan.
In concert with The Players Tribune, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan set out to make this more than just a day — the Wolverines’ coach wanted NSD to become an event. Harbaugh brought in alumni such as Tom Brady and Desmond Howard. He brought in celebrities Derek Jeter and Ric Flair. He brought in football dignitaries Lou Holtz, John Harbaugh, Todd McShay and Mike Shanahan. He also brought in comedian Randy Sklar to host the ceremony.
The result was a really cool atmosphere that basically resembled something between a talk show and an awards show. Sklar and Harbaugh sat on the stage in comfortable couches with Holtz, McShay and Shanahan off to the side to provide commentary about the recruits when asked.
ESPN NFL analyst Adam Schefter got things kick-started by introducing quarterback Brandon Peters to the audience. The two showed a hype video for Peters, who came out and sat with Sklar and Harbaugh as he was interviewed. How cool would it be to be a recruit and get introduced by an NFL analyst?
Next up was Tom Brady, who spent time in front of the audience with Harbaugh and Sklar as they introduced more players.
Observing this from a neutral vantage point, I was extremely apprehensive about how this would play out. After watching it, this was a celebration of Michigan and the players. The studio event represented a way for the fans to have a positive experience on NSD.
Jim Harbaugh has come under fire for some of his recruiting tactics, but with this event he hit a home run.
Is this the future of National Signing Day? Most schools don’t have the resources Michigan does, so this simply can’t be replicated at every school. That being said, the event staged by the U of M was head and shoulders above any of the normal traditions of NSD.
This came off as a celebration of Michigan football and its players — past, present and future. Was there too much glitz and glamour? Probably, but there also wasn’t any negativity, and that’s worth the price of admission. One of the positive effects of this event I haven’t yet mentioned is that this event also raised money and awareness for the Chad Tough Foundation.
I applaud Michigan for its forward thinking with this event. It was a study in excessive celebration… but so is college football. In building a program and by potentially redefining NSD, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan might have just flipped the script for the rest of the sport.