Indulge me for a minute (ed.: a minute?), as I attempt to tie today's National Signing Day in college football to something more of us can relate to.
When I was a freshman in college, I participated in the fraternity rush process. At Northwestern, rush week was the first week of the winter term, in January, so that meant you could look around in the fall -- it also meant that, unofficially, fraternities could put on the full-court press starting the first week of school in September.
Now, the houses weren't supposed to do this, but they did it anyway, for obvious reasons: A strong (usually big) class would ensure the fraternity's vitality for at least a few more years, would impact subsequent years' "recruiting" efforts, enhance its stature in the school's social system, etc. And, not unlike college football, some fraternities were really good at the unofficial rush process.
I'm not ashamed to say -- although maybe I should be, a little -- that I really enjoyed this unofficial recruiting season. I'm not saying I showed up for free steaks at houses that I had no interest in joining, but for the ones I did want to join, I really liked the attention they paid.
And who wouldn't? You're a new freshman. These older students are hanging out with you. You'd like to think they were being sincere, but if they were kissing your ass a bit, what's the harm? (Nevermind that the payback from "rushee" to "pledge" is typically taken out harshly, with usurious interest.)
The process made you feel really good about yourself -- frankly, I look back at my attitude that first fall semester and am in retrospective awe/embarrassment of my own opinion of myself. If 36-year-old me met 18-year-old me, I'd either throttle myself... or try to bottle it to bring it back with me.
So I spent the majority of my time in the fall hanging out with folks -- both freshmen and upperclassmen -- of one particular house. Terrific guys. In college football recruiting terms, I think they counted me as a "solid." That said: I did not commit to anything. I got an official offer to join the house within minutes of the opening of regulation "rush week." I think they were surprised -- even shocked -- when I didn't immediately accept. All of the other guys I hung out with the previous fall had all accepted on the spot. It was awkward. I felt awkward. But I wasn't sure.
With the bid in hand -- and feeling weird about what was increasingly becoming a hard sell -- I started spending time at another house where I knew and liked some of the guys. In fact, I spent the majority of my rush week there. The long-time favorite was getting nervous. The underdog got more confident that they could flip my would-be commitment. I was torn -- extremely torn. (Again: Looking back, it seems silly, but at the time it felt like one of these "your life, long-term, will be impacted by this decision." Maybe it was one of those rare instances.)
I was not unlike some of these college football recruits who waited until today -- National Signing Day -- to declare their allegiance. And I wasn't milking it -- I was really confused. After creating these relationships, I didn't want to let one of the groups down.
I was down to the last day of rush week, and I had offers from both houses. I yanked myself out of the process and hung out with a bunch of seniors I was rowing with (the crew team was its own quasi-fraternity, but that's another story). They weren't particularly pro-fraternity, but they appreciated my interest in it and tried to give me some perspective, which turned out to be helpful in making my decision.
I ended up turning down the fraternity I had spent most of the fall with. At the time, it was a tough conversation -- but once I made the decision, I knew it was the right one. And it's not unlike picking a school or two competing jobs: Everyone understands that's how the business goes. (And, later in my college life, I was on the other end of the process, when great freshmen I was hoping would join my house went another way. If nothing else, I could relate.)
I'm not saying that rushing and joining a college fraternity is exactly like committing to a school to play football -- but I think anyone who has gone through a rush-style process, whether it's for a fraternity/sorority or a job or any kind of club, have at least some accessibility to what these kids are going through today.
Obviously, it's a bigger deal -- picking a fraternity isn't nearly as big as picking a college, particularly when the college you pick might materially influence your ability to develop yourself for a professional career. This is among the biggest choices these players have ever made -- and might ever make.
You'd like to think that they could end up at plenty of places and still succeed -- I doubt my college experience would have suffered had I joined the other house. It would have been different, no doubt, but would it really have been worse?
But, more than that, you hope that after these months and months of consideration, they make their decision and can put it behind them.
Here's the lesson I took away from the rush process: You make the best choice you can, based on whatever factors are important to you, then you move on to the next challenge. The worst thing you can do is say, "I wish I chose differently" or "What if..."
It's not a bad attitude for fans to have if/when certain recruits spurn their program for someone else.
Check out today's SN column here, featuring more on NSD, Super Bowl Media Day, John Wall, Michigan State, South Carolina football, Joe Mauer, McDonald's Super Bowl ads, The Blind Side and more.