If National Signing Day Happened Overseas

Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

What if National Signing Day was something from a foreign country? Here is how American journalists would cover it if it was.

Slate.com does a feature called "If It Happened There" in which it describes events in the US using the same manner that US journalists use to describe events in foreign countries (example). I am ripping it off to describe National Signing Day.

WAUKEGAN, Illinois, United States -- An annual tradition in United States youth sports is happening today as high school students make public choices about which universities they will attend in order to continue playing American football while ostensibly engaging in academic study on the side.

The observances of this tradition vary a great deal from region to region, but a common custom everywhere is the elevation of the fax machine to near idol-like stature. It is odd for a country that is a fount of modern gadgets to be so obsessed over obsolete technology, but the body that governs sports on the university level, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), has not developed a suitable replacement. Though citizens of the US can pay their taxes and some can even vote without the use of paper, these athletes must declare their intentions by filling out forms by hand. For that reason, the occasion is known as "National Signing Day", a reference to the signature at the bottom of the required form.

The day goes by seemingly unnoticed in most of the country's largest cities, but it is akin to a holiday in many of its smaller villages that often have little economic activity separate from the universities themselves. Elements of celebration include filming of the fax machines, the singing of college-related folks songs, and the presence of female students wearing brightly colored costumes who shout chants to no one in particular.

While it might seem on the surface that National Signing Day is a singular event, it is in fact the culmination of a years-long process. That process is steeped in ritual from start to finish, beginning when the NCAA's rules first allow the football coaches to contact the young athletes in their third year of high school.

Between then and National Signing Day, the footballers are subject to intense pressure from the coaches who encourage them to choose to go to their schools. This process is known as "recruiting", and intricate NCAA rules govern the practice. Coaches may not offer the athletes money or similar enticements thanks to a century-old custom known as "amateurism". It forbids the players from receiving compensation other than housing, basic nourishment, and medical care from the institution.

Some players elect to "commit" to a school. At one point in the distant past, such commitments signified deep loyalty, but they increasingly carry little weight. Players often perform commitment ceremonies involving garments festooned with competing schools' logos (usually, but not always and not exclusively, hats), and sometimes these ceremonies include elements of deception. Once a player finally chooses a garment with a particular school's logo, he is said to be "verbally committed" to that school. He may later change his mind at any point for any reason until he signs a form on or after National Signing Day, a fact that makes such "hat ceremonies" largely moot.

All throughout the process, independent organizations rate the athletes and sell access to information them. Some citizens of the country are uneasy about grown adults obsessively following and communicating with minors with whom they have no prior relationship, but the custom has been around long enough that it is unlikely to draw a legal challenge.

It is easy to recreate National Signing Day rituals for those who have never tried it before. The simplest way is to repeatedly play a video of a fax machine (such as this one), shirk your responsibilities at work for a day, and alternately cheer or curse male names once every 20 minutes. You can use a random name generator to assist in the final element of the tradition. Optionally, you may complete the experience by using the Internet to tell high school seniors that they either are brilliantly smart or fools deserving of death.

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