Behind The Scenes Of Decision Day

“Decision Day” has become quite the spectacle in collegiate athletic recruiting. Oftentimes, high schools will set up large ceremonies intended to celebrate a student’s athletic and academic achievement in front of family, faculty, and friends. 

The media coverage of such events can create misconceptions about these events and place unnecessary pressure on student-athletes to make up their minds by a certain time.

Because of the nature of these grand, publicized events, athletic departments may be accidentally encouraging their students to rush their decisions or jump into something they may not be fully decided on. Or they may believe that what has transpired on these “decision days” are binding, real commitments. 

In reality, the days where you see athletes pick up a hat and “choose their school,” isn’t real. Sure, athletes can announce their intentions on where they plan on signing, but they are not actually completing that act. Not understanding this can lead young, uninformed athletes to make rash decisions or stick with a school that they may not want to be attached to. 

Just ask Roquan Smith, NFL All-Pro and former Georgia Bulldog

Today, The Wire will analyze Smith’s decision day and discuss the implications of exactly what “decision day” means and how to properly navigate it as a recruit.

Roquan Smith’s “Decision Day”

Rewind to the year 2015. The setting: Mason County High School where senior linebacker Roquan Smith is front and center in the gymnasium. He’s with family, coaches, mentors, peers, and many other community members who are eagerly anticipating his decision on where he will attend school and play football for the next four years. 

It is supposedly a once-in-a-lifetime moment where years of hard work and dedication in high school are all about to pay off. Everyone is all smiles. Plenty of compliments and pats-on-the-back are in order. Eventually, the suspense would end with Smith picking up a UCLA Bruin’s hat and proudly announcing his intentions to move out to California.

Roquan Smith at his decision day

Jason Vorhees/The Macon Telegraph, via Associated Press

In reality, this action meant nothing. But not everyone knows the logistics and timeline of the recruiting process. Use this resource as an example of when “signing” is actually considered binding. And understand that it is only by signing a National Letter of Intent that a prospects recruitment ends. 

As it turns out, at the same time of Smith’s decision day, the coach who had recruited him to UCLA was being offered an NFL job. The coach wound up accepting the position soon after. 

Years later, we now know what Smith was actually thinking that day.

Apparently, he woke up the morning of the ceremony, widely reported to be his “decision day,” still entirely undecided. He went through with the ceremony only because the event had been meticulously planned and because of the sheer turnout of community members who had shown up to support him. 

He felt pressured. 

“I wasn’t feeling real good about where I was going; then I found out about him leaving,” Smith said. “Stuff happens; things come up in recruiting.”

Todd Wofford, a football coach in Georgia, said that many recruits don’t understand that these events are ceremonially in nature and don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of recruiting. This confusion can lead to issues of premature signing and eventual buyer’s remorse. 

“The other reason they end up signing is that their families are really excited about signing day and the celebration and they just sign and go about it,” said Wofford.

On the advice of his high school football coach, Larry Harold, Smith found out that he wasn’t actually bound to UCLA in any real way other than the media perception that had begun spreading. He hadn’t signed a NLI – he was as available as every other recruit who hadn’t participated in a decision day.

After the news of the coach leaving UCLA broke, Smith was able to quickly evaluate his options again, and he wound up deciding to commit to Georgia instead. Good decision. 

Implications of Smith’s Decision Day

What this comes down to is education. For whatever reason, Smith was initially unaware that he hadn’t committed himself to UCLA. Were it not for the adept advice of his high school coach, Smith might’ve believed that he was tethered to the Bruins for good, even though he didn’t want to attend the school after the coach that recruited him left. He could’ve had an entirely different career trajectory. 

This is not to bash decision days. Decision days are a fun, inclusive event that allows everybody who helped recruits get to a certain point to be a part of the story. They are not doing anything actually related to the recruiting process, though. That is the major takeaway here. 

Athletes should understand this moving forward. If you choose a school on decision day, the media will call it a done deal and say that the recruitment is over. But recruits have every right to continue on prospecting schools. 

So, if you are willing to take on the media storm of actually committing to a school different from the one you “chose” on decision day, that is all fine and dandy. But if you’re not prepared to legitimately stick with a school, or deal with media scrutiny after changing your mind, then skip it. You don’t need to do it.

(Photo by Jane Tyska/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News)

Leave a comment