Commitment is Hard These Days: Roquan Smith and the Danger of Not Signing
For nearly two weeks, Roquan Smith of Montezuma, GA has been in the spotlight of the recruiting world. Not for being a 4-star linebacker, but for being the first big time recruit to refuse to sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI).
On February 4th (National Signing Day), Smith appeared on ESPNU holding a pair of UCLA gloves to announce to the country he would take his talents to the Bruins. It was no secret that one of the main reasons the Bruins were able to get the Peach State native to the West Coast was because of his relationship with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. However, a day after NSD, Ulbrich announced he would be joining the Atlanta Falcons to be their linebackers’ coach. While some may call it luck, perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but Smith had yet to sign his NLI with UCLA, thus allowing him to keep his recruitment open.
10 or so days later, Smith announced he would remain in his home state to play with the Georgia Bulldogs, leaving the Bruins program behind. Smith has been called “revolutionary”, a “hero”, even as far as the “Rosa Parks of college football recruits.” While he is bold, I’m not sure I would put Smith in the same category as the legendary Ms. Parks. If anything, I believe Smith showed the many flaws in college football recruiting.
If you’re a Bulldog fan, of course you’re happy to see another four-star added to your recruiting class. If you’re a coach at UGA, it’s easy to say you agree with Smith’s decision. But what if it were the other way around? What if you were the program banking on this 6’2, 207 lb. stud athlete to join your program, only to find out AFTER Signing Day you were missing a big hole in your defense?
Shouldn’t it scare UGA a little bit, no matter how unlikely, that Smith could pack his bags and head to Texas A&M, Michigan, or even UCLA before summer classes start? Perhaps, college football fans and coaches should think the big picture before encouraging all Top-100 football recruits to not sign the NLI.
As with most things within the NCAA, the NLI can improve in some areas. For example, one of the rules being that once a kid signs his NLI with a program, if he doesn’t enroll with that school; he loses a year of eligibility. Knocking off one of his four years of playing time. It’s even possible a school could release a player on their own between the time of Signing Day and preseason camp, robbing the kid of his scholarship. This is one of the gray areas that could use some changing. The NLI should make reasoning that if under certain circumstances, a player can keep all four years of his eligibility if he feels it’s necessary to transfer.
Smith’s reasoning for not signing with the Bruins was because of the departure of Ulbrich. But what if every recruit in the 2015 class left their school of choice due to a coaching change? Where does that leave these football programs? How can a program prepare for the following season if recruits are not bound to anything and allowed to leave with whichever way the wind blows? It’s the cold hard truth but that is life. Things don’t always go the way we want. Sometimes coaching staffs are fired, sometimes a coach retires, and sometimes coaches take better jobs.
Who is to tell Smith that Mark Richt won’t retire next year if Richt does or doesn’t win a championship? Relationships are an important key in the college football-recruiting world, which has been proven time and time again. As a 17-year-old recruit, perhaps building a relationship with that school, the town, their fan base, should be just as important as the one built with the coaching staff.
Another flaw showcased in the Smith ordeal, is the deception some coaches give players. It appears Smith was completely blind-sided by the job change. Had Ulbrich been upfront about the possibility of leaving, Smith could’ve weighed his options more without all the national publicity. Institutions should make it an option to conceal coaching staff’s contracts before NSD.
Perhaps the real flaw with college football recruiting is that there is too much of a selfish mentality and not enough honesty, from both sides.