Foster is an inside linebacker, originally from Georgia, who's considered one of the Top 20 recruits in the country by experts in such matters. Two years ago, he committed to the University of Alabama, then this past June decided he liked Auburn University, where he now lives with his family, including a young daughter.
Such fickleness is not unusual in college football recruiting. Up until National Signing Day, which is tomorrow, recruits regularly "commit" to one school then take visits to others. Coaches tend to whine about these flimsy pledges, but they have no problem pursuing kids who've already picked other schools.
Foster, however, wanted to show his commitment to that official commitment, so after pledging his fidelity to Auburn, he got a substantial Auburn tattoo on his bicep. Not a good choice: On Monday night, he recommitted to Alabama at a televised news conference.
Each year brings stories like these - minus the tattoo - along with dozens of news conferences in which teens participate in corny theatrical suspense (sometimes including puppies!) before declaring their team, er, school of choice. It's silly. It's self-aggrandizing. And it's also, for most, the last moment before they step into a college football machine that too often exploits their talents, cashes in on their names, and delivers a free but substandard education. So, good for them.
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera writes today about one such case that's familiar to Carolinians. Michael McAdoo played football for the University of North Carolina for two years before being declared ineligible by the NCAA because in 2008, a tutor gave him too much help on a class paper. McAdoo, now with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, sued the NCAA and UNC but lost.
McAdoo tells Nocera that he feels betrayed by UNC. As a high schooler, he wanted to major in criminal justice, but was told after he arrived at UNC that the school didn't have a criminal justice major. Instead, he says, a counselor picked his major - African-American studies - because it wouldn't interfere with his football commitments.
Among the first classes he was “assigned” (as he phrases it) was a Swahili course, an “independent studies” class taught by the department chairman, Julius Nyang’oro. “There wasn’t any class,” McAdoo recalled. “It never met. You sign up for the class. You write the paper. You get credit. I had never seen anything like it.”
Most of us know the rest of the UNC story - 216 courses like the one McAdoo described. More than 500 grade changes. A shabby investigation by Gov. Jim Martin that concludes that because regular students were also in those classes, it doesn't matter that athletes were steered to them.
It's all part of our grand enabling of big-time college sports. Schools, along with the NCAA, go through extraordinary contortions to further the notion that these athletes are actually students who happen to play sports. We lap it up - or at least ignore it enough so that we can put on the school colors on fall Saturdays. Then we smirk at the Reuben Fosters this week, and we frown at indecisive 18-year-olds, and we wonder, piously, whatever happened to integrity?
Peter St. Onge