published Sunday, January 29th, 2012

ESPNU feeding signing day ‘animal’

ESPN and its family of networks has increased the coverage of college football in recent years, and it hasn’t been limited to the field.

This Wednesday, ESPNU will dedicate 10 hours to national signing day, beginning at 9 a.m. The show will contain several player announcements, coverage from at least 10 college campuses and more than 30 interviews of college coaches.

“It is true, election-style coverage,” ESPN national analyst Tom Luginbill said. “What I believe it’s meant to do is service the fan, because it’s the college football fans and their passion that drives this recruiting animal, and I don’t use that term loosely. This thing has turned into an animal, and in many ways it’s positive and probably in some ways it’s not so positive.

“This has become a bit of a Christmas morning type of day for college football fans, and it’s the culmination of a high school career for many of these high-profile prospects nationwide.”

ESPNU is a 24-hour college sports network that began airing in March 2005 and now is in more than 73 million households. Its signing day special began in 2006 as a six-hour production.

Dorial Green-Beckham, the No. 1 receiver nationally according to ESPN, will make his announcement Wednesday along with No. 1 defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, No. 1 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons and No. 1 cornerback Tracy Howard. There will be others deciding, though it is not known whether any will provide the same theatrics as tailback Isaiah Crowell, who last February committed to Georgia as he held up an English Bulldog.

In addition to the announcements on ESPNU, there will be commentary throughout the day provided by former college coaches such as Mike Bellotti, Butch Davis, Houston Nutt and Randy Shannon.

“We’re going to start diving into things throughout the course of these 10 hours that really matter in recruiting, not just who’s a four-star or a five-star,” Luginbill said. “If you are in a coach’s world, what is really being said and done? It’s certainly something we take a lot of pride in, because we’re not just running a ticker on where these kids are ranked.

“We’re going to talk about the ins and outs of what is really taking place if you’re on a coaching staff in college football, and I think that’s something of significant value that we can provide.”

Luginbill was the starting quarterback at Georgia Tech in 1994 and Eastern Kentucky in ’95, when recruiting was very different.

The latter half of January was then the most exciting time for players making choices, but now it’s among the bigger voids. Touted prospects either choose to get the process over with early, commit at an all-star venue in early January or wait until signing day.

“Ten or 15 years ago, you would get some letters in the spring of your junior year, and you would work out with your high school team all summer,” Luginbill said. “Then you would play your senior year, and you might take a couple of official visits in December and January, make a decision and that was it.

“Those days are long gone, and with most of the action occurring in January and February for underclassmen and going a full calendar year in terms of their recruiting process, this is how it is now.”

Luginbill is glad to be on the evaluating end of recruiting and not calling recruits night after night, or the “rumor-mill circuit” as he put it. And though much has changed in the coverage of recruiting the last few years, he believes the needs have remained the same.

“The quarterbacks go fast because there are so few roster spots and so few of them out there,” Luginbill said. “There is a constant battle for offensive and defensive linemen amongst the premier teams in college football, because that’s what separates the good from the great. I could throw a rock out in the parking lot and hit a running back or a receiver, but defensive linemen, quarterbacks and tackles aren’t grown on trees or standing out on every street corner.”

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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