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The Times They Are A Changin'

As noted over in the diaries, Nederland linebacker Dravannti Johnson decommitted from Texas A&M and switched to Texas. The 6-2, 220 pounder will play linebacker his senior season, but most believe he's going to be a defensive end at the collegiate level.

There are a lot of interesting threads in the aforementioned diary, one of which I want to comment on. I'm not necessarily sure this applies to anyone here, but there seems to be a misperception among some Texas fans that Mack Brown is "settling" a litle bit (talent-wise) by focusing so strongly on high-character athletes. I actually think that's backwards, and I'll explain why.

Mack Brown has made his name by being out in front of everyone else in the recruiting game - so much so, that he's almost a little bit like Oakland Athletics' general manager Billy Beane of Moneyball fame. Admittedly, that may seem like a stretch, but there's truth in the comparison.

It's not so much that Mack Brown's strength is an ability to capitalize on inefficiencies in the recruiting market (though there's some of that, too), it's that he's consistently ahead of the learning curve in these matters. Getting early commitments from Texas football players didn't start until Mack Brown took advantage of that. His competitors have scrambled to catch up, but they've largely played second fiddle.

Now Mack is making a new adjustment, and it's an interesting one. The decision to completely shut out recruits who the program's evaluators have red flagged as potential problems is not a reflection of some greater moral character of Texas' coaches. This decision has far less to do with idealism than pragmatism. The fact is that the sports media environment has changed dramatically over the last five to ten years. Bad publicity is more destructive in 2007 than it was in 1997. The explosion of 24/7/365 sports coverage - both on the television and internet - have changed the way fans take in their sports.

That change in the media landscape is having an effect on sports leagues across the board. The NBA commissioner issues dress codes for his league's players. The new NFL commissioner's "top priority" is cleaning up the league's criminal image. To that end, players like Pacman Jones are being suspended for a year. Baseball has finally gotten around to dealing with performance-enhancing substances. The timing of all these maneuvers is not coincidental.

Things are undeniably changing. And they have, are, and will continue to change at the NCAA level, too. It's going to become more and more difficult to hide problem players in a program. Baby slaps on the wrist - the norm just a decade ago - are now hyper-scrutinized by journalists and bloggers. The NCAA, like every other sports governing body, is making changes. There are already scholarships on the line, and I'd argue that the momentum is moving toward more sanctioning in the coming years - not less.

Bringing it back to Mack Brown, I think he's right on top of this development and is moving quickly to get out in front of the storm. It's not only inherently nice to have high character guys representing your university, but it's becoming increasingly practical. Mack's not "settling" for high character players; he's avoiding the penalties that can and do accompany problem players.

It's not only smart - it will prove effective.