Friday, June 09, 2006

Unseemly | by Jay

The flipside to the creepy glorification of high schoolers by those who follow recruiting is the even creepier need to trash high school kids for ulterior purposes. Take Rainer Sabin in the Northwest Arkansas Times this morning as an example.

Under the headline "Clausen Arrogance Knows No Bounds", the article is ostensibly about Jimmy Clausen and his commitment to Notre Dame. Let's slice it up:

He announced his decision to commit to Notre Dame at the College Football Hall of Fame last April. He arrived there in a stretch limousine with a large entourage. When introducing himself to other high school players and Fighting Irish recruits, he makes sure he points out he is one of the top quarterbacks in California. Last week, he was profiled in the New York Times.
All true. This "entourage", however, was his parents, his brothers, his brothers' girlfriends, and Marc Tyler, who lives with the Clausens. I know; I was standing next to them. Not exactly a night on the town with the Snoop Dogg posse. They were followed by ESPN's cameras; more on this later.

Sabin doesn't waste any time getting to his point:
His name is Jimmy Clausen, and he has quickly emerged as one of the more unlikable characters in all of sports.

The problem is Clausen is only entering his senior season at Oaks Christian School at Westlake Village, Calif., where he has distinguished himself on the field and put up some gaudy numbers. Last year, Clausen threw for 2,778 yards and broke California’s high school record of 132 career touchdown passes. That’s great. But it doesn’t excuse the fact he is a prima donna at the age of 18.
Wow. Okay, I'm ready to hear the evidence for Clausen being an "unlikable prima donna". Hit me.
What’s even worse is that his family has aided and abetted this arrogance. They sent out press releases to the national media before Clausen announced his decision to pledge his services to Notre Dame. They helped make the kid a new target of angry prep linebackers and defensive ends who would like nothing but to drive his spike-haired head into the ground this coming season.
He's a prima donna for sending out a press release to announce his decision? Rainer, you don't follow recruiting much, do you? Press releases for top-ranked recruits are de rigueur in this day and age; when a kid commits, often on live TV (ESPN or otherwise), he's sitting in front of a bank of microphones at his high school, or at an ESPN Zone. How do you think the press got there to cover the event in the first place? If this is your standard for being a prima donna, why single out Clausen? I hope you've got more than this.
Clausen’s parents should have known better, especially after watching their two other sons play college football at big-name programs. Clausen’s brothers, Casey and Rick, both ended up at Tennessee.

Casey was the better of the two. In four seasons, he put together a decent career, throwing for 9,707 yards and 75 touchdown passes. Rick, on the other hand, landed in Knoxville only after transferring from LSU, where he couldn’t win the starting job. After leading the Volunteers to a Cotton Bowl win in 2004, Rick helped preside over one of the worst seasons the Volunteers have had in recent memory. Tennessee went 5-6 last fall and did not play in a bowl for the first time in 16 years. It’s safe to say the city of Knoxville is not about to name a road after him, like it did for one of Tennessee’s more celebrated quarterbacks, Tee Martin.

Brother Jimmy, on the other hand, apparently is already thinking about being enshrined. Why else would he pick the College Football Hall of Fame as the site of his coming-out party?
So let me get this straight: Clausen should keep a low profile because his brothers sucked. Plato (and perhaps Mike Maddux's brother Greg) would call this fallacy guilt by association, or more specifically, bullshit. We don't know how good Jimmy's going to be. What we do know is that unlike his brothers, Jimmy's the premier pick in this class of quarterbacks, and he had offers from all the top schools. Trashing him based on his brother's records is silly and unfair.

I'll grant Sabin this: using the HOF could be construed as precocious grandstanding. A few of my ND friends thought it was over-the-top as well. I thought it was pretty funny, actually, and felt like Clausen and his family were having fun with it; who knows, maybe being there in person gave me a different viewpoint. But consider:

• Sabin doesn't mention that Clausen was in town for the Notre Dame Blue-Gold game, later that day. He didn't make a special trip to South Bend just to use the HOF.
• Jimmy has been working hard to sway other recruits to the Irish (see the NY Times article); he no doubt wanted to make his announcement on the day of the Blue-Gold game, where there would be dozens of recruits in attendance, and where his announcement would make a greater impact.
• Use of any Notre Dame facility for his announcement would have been a recruiting violation by the school. I suppose he could have used St. Joe High, or maybe set something up at C.J.'s. But that really defeats the purpose of creating some heat, doesn't it?

Up to this point I was struggling to understand why a sportswriter for a small Arkansas paper would take the time to write a Clausen article. Then Sabin shows his cards:
But instead of proclaiming to the world how great he is, what Clausen really needs to do is take a few lessons from last year’s top quarterback prospect and fellow recruit of Notre Dame — Mitch Mustain.

Mustain, who would eventually sign with Arkansas, maintained a low profile last fall as he concentrated on leading the Springdale Bulldogs to a 14-0 record and a state championship. Mustain committed to the Razorbacks Aug. 15 at a press conference at his high school before re-opening his recruitment in December and sending Arkansas fans into an uproar.

At the time, he took a hard look at Notre Dame, which offered scholarships to three quarterbacks last fall. But he eventually decided to remain committed to the Razorbacks, and that decision perhaps had something to do with Fighting Irish coach Charlie Weis’ aggressive pursuit of Clausen, who seems to love the attention he is getting as one of the nation’s top prep players.

Mustain, meanwhile, appeared to shy away from the hoopla. He refused to believe his own hype. He wasn’t cocky and he certainly didn’t act like he was already a professional athlete. He just went about his business like any other high school athlete does. It’s too bad Clausen can’t do the same, because when it comes down to it he is still living with his parents.
I get it: let's use the Clausen story to build up our own prospect, Mitch Mustain. And by trashing Clausen, we can highlight all the good traits of the guy who picked us. Slick.

I think criticism of Clausen boils down to three aspects of the story.

1) Use of a limo. Big deal.
2) Use of the College HOF. Might have been an issue, but seen in the context of the Blue-Gold game and Jimmy's self-proclaimed role as avalanche starter makes a little more sense. Still ballsy, though.
3) Coverage of the proceedings on ESPN. Unfortunately, this is the crux of the problem. Most people who caught the story in passing probably saw one of the short ESPN loops they ran ad nauseam that weekend: Jimmy steps out of the limo, Jimmy announces at the HOF, Jimmy flashes his state champ rings. If that's all you know about the kid - a three minute clip -- maybe you can jump to the conclusion that he's an "unlikable prima donna". But other recruits seem to love the guy (again, see the NY Times article), and with recruiting heating up that's all that really matters.

Rainer, if you want to write a positive story on Mitch Mustain, that's your prerogative. If you're strung out on Cush-lash and want to write something like "I'm sick of hearing about Jimmy Clausen", have at it. That's fair, too. But that's your problem, not his. We'll know soon enough if he's going to live up to his billing; in the meantime, quit trashing the kid for your own selfish reasons.

"One of the more unlikable characters in all of sports..." Geesh.

(By the way, don't bother emailing this guy, as that's what he wants you to do anyway.)