Signing day is more than a signature

Thousands of young people throughout the country will experience one of the greatest moments of their lives today.

By inscribing their signatures on a piece of paper, their dreams of receiving an athletic scholarship from a college or university will have been realized. It’s what makes National Signing Day such a unique moment for student-athletes who have been blessed with a skill to play a sport at a level higher than many of their contemporaries.

Today just isn’t about where Ohio State’s recruiting class ranks among the other universities in the country, although ESPN will spend hours of programming grading the haul brought in by each program. It’s about the countless other athletic programs at smaller institutions of higher learning and the athletes they recruit.

Those athletes won’t be playing in front of 80,000-plus fans on Saturday afternoon in the fall. Some will play before crowds that might be termed a small gathering. There won’t be the sound of a victory bell after a winning performance, nor will the streets overflow with revelers.

The most enduring reward of receiving an athletic scholarship is the opportunity to set out a lifetime path through the power of education. Most high school graduates don’t play a sport well enough to earn a scholarship. Once the last buzzer sounds on their athletic careers, college becomes a financial hurdle that is often too high to scale for some families.

Having a scholarship in hand is truly priceless. If taken advantage of, a college degree can take a student-athlete to places that will cement their contributions to society.

Apparently that isn’t enough for some of the football players at Northwestern University. They’re in the formative stages of inquiring to the National Labor Relations Board about the feasibility of starting a union, an idea that would turn college athletics on its head.

There are so many details to consider before anything official could happen. Would the union represent all athletes or just those in the big-money sports of NCAA football and NCAA men’s basketball? Would financial compensation through collective bargaining be the same across the board or would the starting quarterback earn more than the backup tackle?

The idea seems a little dirty at first. Since the time when Rutgers and Princeton played a remote version of American-style football in the 1860s, there’s always been a purity to college sports that separated it from the pay-for-play versions of professional sports. Contract holdouts never clutter up the offseason in a way that takes away from the game.

No one argues the point that college football, in particular, is a money-making machine. A lot of people who don’t suit up on Saturday other than to tie a Windsor knot make a ton of money directly from athletes who ostensibly don’t Don’t feel sorry for those athletes. If they actually go to classes and seriously study, they’ll have the power of a diploma in their hands. That’s valuable for the vast majority of athletes – big-time football players included – who will never get rich in the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.

If and when college athletes begin to get paid, the clock will begin ticking on a time bomb that will eventually reshape the face of all college sports. No one wants to see how it will all look years from now.

We shouldn’t worry about things of that nature on National Signing day. Somewhere near you, young men and young women are making their parents very proud, while completing a trek that began when the basketball they may have carried was larger than them. That’s the unfiltered meaning of what today is all about.

Best of luck to all those athletes who are taking big steps in their lives today.