ATLANTA — On the TV news, young men in coats and ties solemnly proclaim where they've decided to play football and, incidentally, attend college. On the front page of the newspaper, there they are again, standing with their parents and coaches. Inside the newspaper, there are less prominent stories about the growing trade deficit, failing schools, and how poor knowledge of international issues hurts the US diplomatically and militarily.
I start daydreaming about a time in the future when national recruiting day will go something like this:
Across the country, there's excitement, anticipation, and speculation. It's national signing day - when the most sought-after high school stars announce which colleges are worthy of their presence.
TV news crews pour into high schools, jostling for the best camera angle. Faculty, parents, and students are besieged with questions from the media. The students dress for the occasion, knowing they might well be on tomorrow's front page, or tonight's evening news. Reporters come armed with statistics on each youngster and notes on how each high-profile student could boost a college's prestige ranking. Websites list the prized students and their accomplishments.
At the universities, school officials and students wait nervously for the outcome. "Will we be fortunate enough to have them choose us?" they wonder as they wait for fax machines to churn out letters of intent.
Finally, the process begins. The first student chooses State University. Immediately, word spreads across campus, and high-fives are exchanged all around. "She's a fine young woman," exclaims a top university official. "And what stats! A 1520 on the SAT. A 4.0 GPA, including several advanced placement courses. She will boost the status of our chemistry department in a way that no one has for years!"
At the crosstown rival, they're stunned. "We did all we could to recruit her," says a professor, who asks not to be identified. "We flew her in on a private jet. Took her to the finest restaurants. You can't win 'em all."
Next to sign is another blue-chip prospect. Not just someone with the usual high GPA and SAT score. This one also has had six years of Arabic and an internship in the Middle East.
"We got him!" cries the chief recruiter for a top Ivy League school as soon as the student states his intentions. "This one will help strengthen our Middle East studies program. And maybe someday he'll turn pro and help our country's foreign relations."
The education department chairman at a small Midwestern college knows the competition is tough, so she can't hide her glee when the next decision is announced. "Our chief prospect has signed a letter of intent to join our student body," she gushes. "Ever since he was a little boy he's dreamed of teaching, and we're pleased he's chosen our school as the place to prepare for that important profession."
The next student makes a decision that is so stunning it will be talked about for years. Recruiters from top schools had tried to woo her since her junior year. She could've gone to any big-name university, but she chooses one so obscure that many reporters don't know how to spell it.
"I guess I want to be a big fish in a small pond," she says. "I studied Japanese since first grade, worked on Junior Achievement projects, and took business courses. When I make it to the Big Leagues I'll try to help our nation win the trade war."
On and on, the announcements come. Reporters scramble for quotes from family members. The sought-after students make brief remarks on how difficult their choices were.
Meanwhile, high school athletes go to after-school workouts as usual, dreaming, naively, that the public and media will one day place as much importance on throwing a football as on the skills that made these other students the center of attention.
• Mike Revzin is a journalist in Atlanta.