Imagine, if you can, coming home from high school football practice after a long day in class and pads. All you want to do is to rehydrate some more and relax on the couch before your mom comes in to tell you to finish your homework. There’s dad in his recliner, and as you plop down onto the sofa, you pray that he won’t ask if you’ve considered going to his alma mater. He looks in your direction and holds up a thin envelope with a handwritten address. It’s from State U, the defending national champs.
You jump up and tear into the envelope and yank out the contents. The heavy paper combined with the deep black of the ink draw your attention. As you read each sentence twice, just to make sure that you don’t miss anything, your heart leaps in your chest. You’ve been offered a scholarship to State U to play football. The message is simple, but clear. “We’d like you to come play football for us.”
That’s it. The recruitment process culminating in the offer in the form of a handwritten missive to the prospect. No flashy parades, no tours around campus, no hostesses. Just a simple expression of their evaluation of your talent and desire to see you in their colors on Saturdays. No constant phone calls or 52 letters in one day, each one packed with Technicolor posters, photoshopped to put you in their uniform in game action.
The passive recruiting process has changed significantly in recent years, going more towards the total entertainment experience during the process. It is little wonder why today’s highly ranked high school players enjoy the recruiting process as much as they do. The process has helped create the prima donna just as much as the prima donna has predicated the process itself. Each time that a prospect plays into the process, it gives validation to the coaches that the tactics work, so they ratchet them up a notch each successive time.
This should be cause for concern on multiple fronts, but the teams and the players continue to revel in the process. So it should come as no surprise when programs commit violations hand over fist as they try to stay relevant and forward facing. With so many recruits scattered about the country, coupled with coaches who recruit from afar, you are bound to have violations such as OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith and Alumni Coordinator Archie Griffin did when they videotaped a message to Ezekiel Elliott and called him by name in the video.
Yes, that’s an NCAA violation. Let that soak in. You can create a recruiting tape for a specific recruit, but you cannot refer to that recruit by name.
The video is but one sliver of the power of propaganda that programs now employ. Schools like Ohio State designate a whole team of professional artists and marketers to create and distribute recruiting propaganda. Most all of it is absolutely visually stunning, such as the amazing work of Ohio State’s own Michael Bower. Bower’s work for the football program took the fans by storm with pointed content and unique artistry.
Now imagine getting one of those posters, postcards, or videos in the mail as a recruit, knowing that it was created and sent with you specifically in mind. Now tell me that you wouldn’t be at least a little swayed by it, even if you had never considered Ohio State in the first place.
Such is the power of propaganda. The tactic has been used countless times throughout recorded history for one reason or another. Some of it became so pervasive and state sponsored that the word has come to take on a negative connotation. Yet every desired result is the same; to sway opinion of an individual or group of people to your side. You can couch the activity in terms that are easier to stomach like “recruiting materials” or “visual aids,” but at the end of the day, these materials are sent out to a targeted group of individuals in order to attempt to sway their opinion towards a school and program.
Every indication shows that it works, at least in part. Some of the results may be negative, such as when a prospect dismisses your offering out of hand and incinerates the product, but for the most part, these athletes love getting this kind of stuff in the mail. It shows that the program is still interested in the athlete, sometimes regardless of whether or not they are committed elsewhere. This may be, in certain circumstances, the push that someone needs to reconsider their decision to University of X and think about taking a trip to State College Y.
Simply put, propaganda works, and has for centuries. College football is not immune.
P.S. Don’t be this guy: