Channeling my inner Forrest Gump to talk about BYU football, BYU football fans, and recruiting
I spent last weekend in Southeastern Utah. I spent some time in Moab on the off-road trails, made my way to Monument Valley and then over to Four Corners. (Four Corners is an absolute scam of a hell-hole tourist attraction. If you've never gone, consider yourself lucky.)
When driving up to Monument Valley we, of course, had to talk about Forrest Gump. Upon my return home, I told my wife that we were at the place where Forrest stopped running and she said she had never seen the movie.
"It's about that dude who lives in a swamp, right?" she asked.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I turned on Netflix and forced her to watch the show. Aside from the bad CGI that is kind of endearing when Forrest is talking to various Presidents of the United States, she loved the show. And I loved watching the show again.
The character of Forrest Gump is spectacular. He's a low-IQ'd man (in today's world, it's clear that he has some sort of mental illness but in the movie, they say he's not smart) who leads a spectacular life. He tells his story to strangers on a bench and is uninterested in who his audience is - he just tells his story. From Alabama football to Bubba Gump Shrimp, Forrest Gump tells it all. It's fun. It's sad. And, like most things, it's deeper than it seems on the surface.
There are a ton of things to learn from the movie from empathy to an understanding that intelligence does not make a person, but rather, people make people.
My favorite tone of the movie is how directly honest Forrest is throughout it all. It's done in a kitschy sort of way that makes it feel like an ill-advised shot at his intelligence, but I choose to believe that Forrest is just honest because honesty is what he's all about. An example: When he reminds Lieutenant Dan that he has no longs, as if the legless man in a wheelchair doesn't already know that.
Forrest is honest, direct, and has the biggest heart in the whole world - especially when it comes to those that he loves.
I love BYU football and BYU football fans. And today, I'm channeling my inner-Forrest.
BYU's NIL strategy is going to be tested, recruited against, and difficult to maintain - even if it's the right strategy
BYU caught early NIL headlines when they announced that Built Bar would be sponsoring every player on the team and ensuring that walk-ons make enough from their Built duties that their tuition is covered. Some believed it was fast and loose, but the rest of the college football world and humanity agreed that it was an incredibly awesome program that encapsulated the true essence of what NIL could do.
We would be remiss if we didn't recognize that it also benefited BYU the program too. Aside from the positive publicity, the deal allowed BYU to unofficially get around scholarship counts by covering the tuition of non-scholarship players. There are still aspects of being on scholarship that a $3000 check from Built won't cover, to be sure, but the program did enable BYU to get creative.
The foundation of the Built deal is representative of how Kalani Sitake views NIL. It's a tool that will allow players at the top of the game to capitalize, but it's a weapon that lifts the floor for players. He believes that the NIL program should lift every player on the team, not just the individuals who are famous and catching headlines on Saturdays.
He has no issues with players at the top getting their own deals and pulling in every penny that they can, but Sitake believes that the investment should be in the team and if the individual gets something on their own, great.
That is probably the right call.
That is not at all how NIL is working.
Until (unless?) the NCAA steps in and makes some firmer ground rules, NIL will continue to be a pay-for-play tool that allows schools with deep pockets to throw large sums of money at players. It won't self-regulate. It won't stop. It will continue on this path.
Think about a school like the University of Texas. Their boosters have reportedly shelled out seven-figures to lure quarterback Quin Ewers into the program. He's never taken a snap of D1 ball. He might be terrible and he would still pocket all the money.
"But businesses will see after a few flops that they need to get a better ROI on NIL deals and the money won't be so crazy."
It's a good thought, and it's probably an accurate thought if these deals were truly coming from businesses. But they aren't. They are coming from boosters. And Texas boosters are currently paying something like $40 million so that Tom Herman doesn't coach the Horns.
Boosters are in the college football business. If Ewers doesn't pan out and they don't get a return, they just write the next check out to a player who they hope will pan out.
More and more are doing it. Some of BYU's biggest targets on the recruiting trail have had six-figure opportunities presented to them by schools that are heavily recruiting them. This is just what college football is right now, whether you like it or not.
BYU's Built deal and Sitake's belief in the team getting paid is not the way the rest of the world is working. And if BYU leaves it unaddressed, it will be something that will continue to be a negative when schools are recruiting against BYU.
I think Sitake is right. I think that's what NIL should be about. But, honestly and candidly like Forrest Gump would do it, if the current strategy is the strategy BYU employs for the long term, the Cougars will quickly fall behind.
"Do we have a chance with? What's the latest on? Who is the leader for?"
I'm going to say this as a reporter(ish) who cashes checks based on people being interested in recruiting: Those questions are complete nonsense. Allow me to explain.
The comparison to college football recruiting and any-random-sales job is overblown and, frankly, not accurate. There are some elements to it that are true, but I think the more accurate comparison of what recruiting is all about is my mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Madagascar.
A mission in Madagascar (especially 15 years ago) is not like a mission in other places of the world. The Church is generally an unknown and missionaries are generally appreciated by the average Malagasy person. The average Malagasy person doesn't have a huge opinion on the work that missionaries are doing in Madagascar, but they sure love the fact that an American took time to learn their language and live with their people. That is impressive for most people.
As such, finding people to teach as a missionary was simply not hard.
There is a city in Madagascar called Mahajanga. There was a group of 10 or so members who met on their own, but there had never been full time missionaries or a full-time presence of the Chruch in the area. I was the first full-time missionary to live in Mahajanga. I lived in the building we used as a Church, I was the initial branch president of the branch that was eventually created, and my primary job was to teach how to be a branch, not to grow the branch.
Relative to the other areas I had served in, I had very little time to find investigators during my few months in Mahajanga. We had to find a real church building, a house to actually live in, and train leadership within our newly formed branch.
And yet we had a very full slate of investigators. Why? Because my companion and I were white Americans who spoke Malagasy and that was cool, so EVERYONE let us in.
In fact, there was one path that I remember walking down one day. We counted 18 houses on the path and said we would tract down that trail for the day. By the time we got to the end of the path, we had taught 16 lessons to 16 different homes. One of the homes we didn't teach in, unbeknownst to us, was the home of a member. The other home didn't answer the door, but he heard from his neighbors that the 'vazaha' had knocked on his door. He found us the next day and we taught him.
17 out of 17 possible homes got lessons.
Now, if you served in the United States or Europe, you're thinking that this was a dream.
However, none of those 17 homes (some families, some individuals) ever actually had any interest in the Church. They were REALLY interested in having a white dude in their house, but they didn't care about what the white dude had to say.
Our challenge as missionaries was weeding through all of the "interest" and finding the "INTEREST."
Such is life on the recruiting trail. BYU doles out scholarships all the time. Before I reach out to players, I can probably tell you what they will say when I eventually interview them. I can probably tell you who will visit BYU, who will officially visit BYU, and who will actually considering coming to BYU.
I'm not 100% accurate, but I would bet that I can predict with 80-90% accuracy before I ever talk to a recruit.
But those recruits will all sound interested when I'm talking to them. And there will always be confidence coming from BYU (or any other school) until all of a sudden the communication stops altogether. It's on rare, rare occasion that I talk to a player who tells me that they aren't interested in BYU at all, but were glad they got the offer.
That's just not how it works.
When it comes to 'leaders' in the process, that's kind of a mythical thing too. The number of recruits who have ever said, "these are my top five schools in order" is probably zero. If a recruit has a leader, they usually just commit.
Instead, recruits filter through and find the handful of schools that they like the most. That's when they release a top seven or something.
Then they focus in on the top five, and that's who they officially visit.
Then they really start to focus in on those five and pick the one they like. But prior to those visits, if a kid is uncommitted, then there isn't a leader. There is just a few schools that they like more than the rest of everyone else in the country.
And such is the recruiting game. Everyone has 'interest' but it's about finding 'INTEREST.' And that is not typically something you're going to hear about in an article after a player gets an offer or right after an official visit.
(Sidenote: Yes, I will continue to get the quotes and do the work here. But opening up the curtain a little bit isn't a bad thing. And ultimately, when the audience understands the plot, the story is a lot more interesting. My goal is to help everyone understand the recruiting plot so the story is more entertaining, not to just focus on the end of the story and hope you follow along before then.)
Finally, Justin Anderson was a home run. I will continue to say it until everyone believes it.
Anderson has been in Provo for like three weeks and still doesn't have a full-time Recruiting Director to help him out. But look at what Anderson (and Brandon Bradley who deserves a ton of credit) did with the visit this past week.
Home run hire, folks. Absolutely a home run.