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Russell-shepard
LSU welcomed dual-threat quarterback Russell Shepard.
AP

In sports we often mock what we don't understand. Ignore what we don't like. Criticize what doesn't make sense to us.

If we don't like soccer, we can't simply say we don't follow the sport, we have to say, "Soccer sucks." If we don't enjoy hockey, we can't simply say it's not my thing, we have to brush it off by saying, "Who watches hockey?" If we like boxing but don't quite get MMA, we can't leave it at that without adding, "MMA is just a fad."

This popular approach to sports commentary always rears its ugly head come National Signing Day, when high school and college football fans follow the round-the-clock news provided by recruiting experts as high school football players from across the country reveal the school they plan to attend.

The fact that this day has become one of the biggest on the sports calendar and is treated as such by sports Web sites and television stations that cover it with the same vim and vigor as the NFL or NBA draft agitates those who have no idea who these high school players are and don't care to find out.

Since they don't get it, they of course must knock it. It isn't right to cover these kids and their annual press conferences and hat dances like we do professional athletes, they'll say.

These, of course, are the same people who had no problem with the NBA draft when it was littered with high school first-rounders such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. The same people that had no problem marveling at the way true freshman such as Maurice Clarett, Adrian Peterson and Tim Tebow changed the landscape of college football mere months after Signing Day. The same that don't mind (or don't know) that the MLB and NHL drafts are still filled with high school players.

So instead of praising high school athletes for skipping college and signing multi-million dollar deals with professional teams, we're showering them with attention for choosing to go to college for the next four years. Most of these kids will likely be in school for four years, as the NFL -- unlike the NBA -- requires all prospects to be out of high school for at least three years before being draft eligible.

Is it odd that SI and ESPN now cover the exploits of high school athletes that pick one school's hat over another and celebrate the biggest decision of their lives with friends and family over cake and apple cider? Maybe. But I'd rather see that than a high school athlete or college freshman decide to go pro with an agent and publicist on each side as he celebrates by driving off in a brand new BMW.

Knocking National Signing Day is like knocking a high school graduation party for being pointless and hokey. It might not be the same as graduating from college, but it's just as important at this stage of their lives. Signing Day is to college football what the draft is to the NFL, and if college football has become the second biggest sport in this country, why wouldn't it be covered similarly to the NFL draft?

Maybe everyone doesn't know who Manti Te'o, Russell Shepard and Dre Kirkpatrick are yet, but that doesn't mean their decisions to attend Notre Dame, LSU and Alabama, respectively, should be covered any less. Wednesday was a day when the future of many players and programs changed dramatically, whether or not those that don't follow recruiting care to admit it.

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