Yep, social media makes you easier to reach than ever before and it opens up the entire world to your purview, but it also means that information is coming from so many different directions at the same time it can make your head spin.
Eventually my wife turned to me and said, "Are you working during Big Love?"
The answer was yes; I needed a hit of recruiting news as we entered the final, frenzied push to the finish line. Even an hour was too much time to be away from the action.
I can trace the path of my addiction pretty easily, and chances are your pathway to college football recruiting is similar. First, came the Internet. Back in 1997, away at college as a freshman, I discovered sports message boards. Prior to 1997, I'd never had a computer, an e-mail address, or spent much time on the Internet. In fact, and this seems almost impossible today, we didn't have the Internet at my house until after I went away to college.
Sports message boards were then in their infancy. Remember when people would actually type entire articles from the newspaper into message posts? I'm not talking about cutting and pasting, which is illegal and drives people like me who write for a living crazy, I'm talking about typing the actual articles from newspapers. People did that because many newspapers weren't yet online.
Well, I was consuming sports news then to keep up with my teams.
Even then, however, I kept my distance. Reading about my team required a commitment, leave the dorm room, wait for an open computer, endure the interminable wait as your computer connected. If you were using the Internet on a college campus in 1997, you get my drift. So relying on instantaneous computer updates for recruits was impossible.
I was a big fan, but, at best, I knew the names of recruits after they'd signed with my teams. I knew nothing of the delicate minuet between a coach and a team in pursuit of a commitment. And I had no idea how fickle the mind of a 17- and 18-year-old boy could be. Aside from, you know, the fact that I was an 18- or 19-year-old boy myself.
Of course there were people who were up-to-date on the latest news. Some poor bastards like my friend Alex Haught -- and I wasn't there yet -- called 900 phone lines for the latest details. Listening to a man you didn't know whisper details about 17- and 18-year-old boys was incredibly soul-defeating. It's a theory of mine that paying a dollar a minute for anything makes you reexamine your entire life.
Next came my first computer, a laptop, in 2001. Suddenly my obsession was portable. But plugging in the cord to the phone line was still tedious, dialing up to the internet a complicated affair. I was more plugged into recruiting, but there was still a limit to my obsession.
Then came WiFi.
Suddenly, find a hotspot and news was yours for the taking. At least news was there if you had your laptop with you. How do you know you're addicted?
One year for signing day, Comcast went down (We'll pause to allow you to soak in the shock of Comcast not working properly... Comcastic!) in my neighborhood and I took my laptop in my car, drove to a new neighborhood, and sought out unprotected wireless signals so I could follow the arriving signings.
All while sitting by myself in a parked car.
I halfway expected for a police officer to show up at my window.
Officer: "Sir, do you live in this neighborhood?"
Officer: "What are you looking at, we've had reports of suspicious activity."
Me: "I'm just hitting refresh every 10 seconds to keep up with the arrival of faxes. It's signing day. Honest."
Then I'd hold up my computer and the police officer would see eight different Web sites all running constantly on my computer screen lest I miss the news by more than a few seconds.
All of these advances in telecommunications, the Internet, the laptop, and WiFi paled in comparison to how much my life would change when I started work as a lawyer and got my first BlackBerry. It's a little known fact that lawyers have BlackBerrys not to work, but to aggressively follow their favorite sports teams. Suddenly, I was a recruiting guru, aware of every waffle, every tinge of uncertainty among any of my team's commits. And not just that, oh no, I was a walking encyclopedia of team rankings, of top commits for other schools.
My healthy interest had became an obsession.
But not quite an addiction.
Nope that would require the crown jewel for recruiting junkies ...
Which brings us back to Sunday, two days ago, as signing day approached. Sitting on my couch, incapable of being more than 10 feet from my iPhone at any moment, managing six different social network connections, a General on the Internet recruiting field of battle.
Why am I addicted to recruiting? Because I'm addicted to the stories of recruiting and to the tantalizing potential that if I work hard enough paying attention to the players added to each class, I can divine the future. That's why, on the eve of National Signing Day, I've set down the attributes of my addiction, the things I most love about the day that should be a holiday: the mid-winter event when high school seniors fax in their letters of intent to coaches.
Please don't judge me.
1. It makes the season seem closer
Even if the season is still seven months away, signing day offers hope that a new day will come. That winter's long chill will give way to spring and then summer and then once more our football rivalries will be renewed.
Ultimately the obsession with college football recruiting is every fan's way to mourn the shortness of the college football season.
2. Plot twists
The best recruiting stories are like the best mystery novels, filled with vivid and potentially shady characters whose motivations are always suspect. Where do the true loyalties lie? Who is being honest?
It's been said that sports are soap operas for men. If that's true then college football recruiting is the most extreme version of soap operas, telenovelas come to life. While the players are interesting, the associates of the top players are also fascinating. The high school coach, the grandmother, the older brother, everyone has conflicting loyalties, no one can be trusted.
I love the duplicity.
3. Signing Day crystallizes your hate
Do you know how hard it is to hate another team or another coach only by nursing the anger from 60 minutes of football?
I'll tell you, it's almost impossible.
Football hate is like a fire, it needs an occasional infusion of fresh logs to keep the blaze burning. Otherwise, the hate wanes during the verdant spring or the long summer. No matter how big of a fan you are, you just can't marshal the fury.
No, we need signing day, the pitched off-field battles with foes over the players who will one day win or lose the pitched on-field battle with foes.
Recruiting fortifies us during the long fallow offseason, convinces us that our team is right and that our team's foes are pure evil.
4. Watching message boards turn on recruits who change their mind quicker than a jilted lover turns on an ex
The moment any recruit decides he doesn't want to go to your school, the venom is unbelievable. Where once a quarterback was the second coming of Peyton Manning, suddenly he turns into a poor man's Craig Krenzel. The next Herschel Walker is, after much consideration, probably likely to be moved to defensive end because he lacks ideal speed.
There is nothing like a decommitment in the world of sports. The decommit is a personal affront, a football break-up. Grown men, and occasionally a lone woman or two, come undone on message boards. The geysers of molten hate rain forth like an Internet Vesuvius.
All until, guess what, the recruit has second thoughts and reconsiders your school once more.
Then the praises ring forth anew.
It's uncanny how raw and artificial we fans are. The twists and turns of recruiting offer a window into the sometimes dark soul of all fans.
5. The fact that everyone is an investigator, reading the tea leaves to divine motivation on how a relationship will end
We all turn into Columbo, piecing together different narrative threads to fit our own preconceived notions of where the story is headed. All of those stories, inevitably, have the same goal: Leading us to believe that a top recruit will choose us over our hated rivals.
In this season of Curb Your Enthusisam, Larry said he hated couple stories because he always knew how they ended: the couple got together. Effectively every recruiting story is like a couple story, the twists, turns, sturm and drang, that leads to an ultimate union, solidified via a signature on a sheet of paper. Only, unlike Larry, I find these stories to be compelling theater, the most vivid relationship stories on earth.
6. The word decommit
How many people use this word outside the field of recruiting? You can't even use this word in most documents without it being redlined as a word that doesn't exist.
The best is when you use it in everyday, non-sports related talk.
Husband: "Yeah, I'm going to decommit from Valentine's dinner."
Wife: "You're what?"
7. How angry grown men get at 17- and 18-year-olds over not honoring their verbal commitments
The older you get the more angry you become over the decisions of recruits. Because anyone with a brain can remember how fraught the college decision is for anyone. I changed my mind about 15 different times. In fact, after I returned my letter of acceptance to George Washington University, two months later I tried to rescind my acceptance and take the University of Virginia's offer instead.
And neither school even wanted me that badly, it's not like they recruited me for months or put the full-court press on me to come to their school.
Certainly, no attractive woman ever showed me around campus.
Can you imagine if I pulled this as a recruit? Do I have any doubt that I would have?
Of course not.
Yet based on the reactions on the Internet it's like a football recruit burned the American flag while performing an abortion on the center of your campus.
8. Thinking about things that would make the Internet implode. For instance, what happens if a recruit signs with more than one school?
Then you'd have to look at the timestamp on the letter of intent, right? But how long would that situation take to rectify? And what would happen if it was a top recruit and the pitched battle was between two top programs, which it inevitably would be?
Would the Governor of Georgia invade Florida if a recruit came down to the Gators or the Bulldogs and all that mattered was the timestamp?
What if there are different time zones involved?
You might be shaking your head, but this is going to happen.
Just wait, it's inevitable.
9. The nuanced language that signing day obsessives share with one another.
I've already mentioned the creation of the word decommit, but to outsiders it's like two high-school dropouts trying to read Mandarin Chinese.
Consider two men, a hypothetical conversation.
Fan 1: He's a soft verbal right now, but once his ACT is firmer, we're hoping he won't take any officials to any other schools. We're worried about the decommit now that Rivals is supposedly looking at giving him a fourth star.
Fan 2: I heard you were slow-playing him to see if the five-star from Georgia qualified. I didn't know about the new star, he's a three-star now? I know you've got a firm verbal from three kids, a wavering solid verbal from four kids, and another kid who may decommit if his official goes well.
Fan 1: The kid from Georgia? Yeah, he's a high three-star, close to the top 250. I think we're going to grey-shirt him. He's solid, but he only runs a 5.1 40 and he played in a pro-style offense that made his arm look stronger than it was.
Fan 2: You're not going to place him at a Hargrave for a year?
Fan 1: Nah, I think he'll be able to grey-shirt, maybe enroll in the spring. Shoot, right now he says he's a firm verbal, but I'm thinking it's more like a soft verbal.
10. The importance of fax machines
There is no piece of technology I hate more than the fax machine.
It's archaic, unpredictable, and solidly rooted in the 1980s.
How often do these things mess up? Is there a special, like $50,000 version, that schools unveil for signing day? How obsessive must the coaches be about the machines? Like, how many times do you think Urban Meyer checks to make sure his fax machine is working perfectly the night before the big day?
And what happens if the fax machine gets clogged up?
Is there a special fax machine doctor always on stand-by?
I'd like to do an entire story on the fax machine when it comes to signing day.
11. Can I start a new phrase, the soft verbal with benefits.
This is when a recruit commits to your school, but insists on taking visits to other schools. It's increasingly common, and the only real parallel is the friends with benefits rubric.
Yeah, you're together, but it's not going to prevent you from a little side-action if the opportunity arises.
12. How everyone has a "source" on where a recruit is going.
Back in the 1970s, Deep Throat brought down the Nixon White House. Now all our attention has switched to the Internet, where every day an elaborate game of telephone is played. Remember in Ferris Bueller when "My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend," knew about Ferris' illness?
Well, now the same person knows the exact destination of the most sought after recruit in America, the five-star of all five-stars.
13. There's a definite end to each recruiting cycle.
Unlike basketball, where there are two signing periods, one week in November and one in mid-April through mid-May, national signing day in college football is the perfect finish line, a time to calibrate and recalibrate all the hits and misses.
Now, forevermore, you'll regret the recruit who got away and went on to star at your rival school. And, for better or worse, you've got a new collection of talent to live and die with over the next three football seasons.
14. The illusion of the future.
That's why we all really care so much deep down. Because signing day offers us a tantalizing vision into the future of our team and program.
Five-star talent is going to bring us a national championship! I can feel it!
Even if, you know, the five-stars from Rivals class of 2005 were more likely to be arrested than drafted in the first round.
Signing day is less than 24 hours away now, and if you'll pardon me I've got 20 Web sites to review. It's what my addiction demands.