College Recruits are Committing…With Baby Gators, Fake Trees and Small Children - Rolling Stone
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Baby Gators, Bulldogs and Ballcaps: College Commitments Get Bizarre

Today’s top college recruits are seizing the spotlight…and using props with aplomb

Isaiah Crowell, puppyIsaiah Crowell, puppy

Isaiah Crowell

Mike Haskey/AP.

Technically, it wasn’t an alligator. It was a dwarf caiman, which is a smaller, less-likely-to-consume-a-human crocodilian. But that’s beside the point; what’s important is that a high school student had the foresight and creativity to use a teacup reptile as a prop while announcing where he would attend college the following year.

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With three hats resting comfortably on the table – Florida, Alabama and Kentucky – George Brown Jr., a highly regarded offensive lineman from Ohio, could have gone the traditional route. Instead, he made his commitment to the Gators official by lifting the dwarf caiman to the sky as if it were Simba.

You might be wondering: “Why didn’t he hold up a real gator?” Good question. Turns out, owning or possessing an alligator is actually illegal in the state of Ohio. With such limitations in place, Brown had to improvise, contacting Cool Critters Outreach, a local company that specializes in providing small animals for various social functions. Thankfully, they had a caiman at the ready.

Brown’s alligator-esque handful of joy instantly became a sensation, one of the most unique ways to announce a commitment in recent college football history. Was it necessary? Of course not. Was it a bit much? Without question.

Will that deter the next high-profile recruit from following a similar path, enlisting, say, a full-grown buffalo or elephant (ROLL TIDE) to announce his school of choice? Goodness no, and if you have a problem with young people stretching out every nanosecond in the limelight – using props with snapping jaws along the way – well, just wait. Given the way these things tend to escalate, it won’t be long until some prized player gets the idea to have 500 dwarf caimans parachuting into a room wearing teeny Florida football helmets. It’s cool, PETA. I’m sure he’ll have the proper permits.

But how did we get to this point? Well, considering that covering recruiting has become a cottage industry – one that operates 24/7, 365 – we suppose it was inevitable. If the spotlight’s there, someone’s going to snag it; and in recent years, a few enterprising student athletes have done just that.

The process of gathering the media, laying out three hats – sometimes more, sometimes less – and selecting the winning school by throwing on the appropriate cap (which is required to be ill-fitting and will be returned 45 minutes later) is the oldest and purest form of recruiting theater. Is has been around for ages, and it’s still common practice now. But in recent years, we’ve seen variations of this practice.

Cliff Alexander, one of the top basketball recruits in the country, celebrated his commitment by picking up an Illinois hat, only to use it as a decoy. He then threw on a Kansas lid, prompting Illinois fans to light their televisions on fire in unison.

And Solomon Thomas, one of the top defensive ends in the class of 2014, chose not use any hats to announce his college football destination. Instead, as the recruiting world waited, Thomas lifted a small evergreen tree out from under the table – Stanford’s unofficial mascot, which often times comes across as an art project gone awry. And to celebrate the fine academic reputation of the school, he even threw on signature Revenge of the Nerds glasses. Taped, of course.

Along the way, there have been other noteworthy attempts: haircuts, T-shirts and even babies have been used as props in the past. Yes, babies:  In January, prized safety Jamal Adams committed to LSU (or, as he put it, “the university of LSU”) by holding up an adorable little girl decked out in a Tigers’ dress.

When did things start getting so ridiculous? Most scholars point to 2011, the year the game changed.

Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s top running back, looked to be on his way to a run-of-the-mill hat pickup. Then, shortly after he announced he would be taking his immense talents to Georgia, he hoisted up a roly-poly bulldog pup wearing a Georgia jersey. If small, cute animals could kill, we’d all be dead.

Although Crowell was dismissed from Georgia after one successful season – one of approximately 3,467 players to be dismissed over the past few seasons at the school, give or take a few hundred – his public pledge has served as the gold standard for creative commitments. George Brown Jr. came close last week when he presented the faux gator. But a small animal will no longer suffice; the next logical step in the weird commitment world is to up the ante in two criteria: Size and danger.

Full-grown tigers, bears, rhinos, birds of prey, raptors; this is where the recruiting world is headed, with no caution for speed limits or stop signs. Until a 2,000-pound buffalo saunters around a school gymnasium, knocking over podiums and dodge ball containers, we won’t truly take that next step. On that note, it’s time to step up the recruiting, Colorado.

Some will say it doesn’t matter. Some will call it sophomoric. Some will say these acts are selfish. They are all probably correct. But if you can’t find joy in watching 300-pound teenagers hoist miniature lizards before a group of jubilant adults, there’s no helping you.

You left the “fun” hat on the table long ago.

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