With just a week left until the biggest off the field day in college football, National Signing Day, things have really ramped up on the recruiting end of things. This is when the multimillion dollar business that is college football recruiting makes their money as their predictions, stars and rankings take center-stage for the moment.
Friend of In The Bleachers Lauren Goddard has written a solid article denoting things that every recruiting enthusiast should keep in mind when they're agonizing ove the decisions of these 17 and 18 year old guys. Another ITB buddy Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, a twitter must follow, also had some wise words in a tweet:
People who follow recruiting so closely are just setting themselves up for anger. 17-18 year old males are fickle. Waste of time and energy.
While I'm not going to bash the recruiting-nicks, it is big business for a reason and since I'm not rolling in dough who am I to discount what others take interest in. I follow recruiting a bit, stick to the fringes and like every other fan out there I get a little smile when my team gets a kid that might make a legitimate impact.
That being said as Rucker and Goddard both pointed out, the kids are fickle. A kid who might be committed to a program for the summer before signing day can easily be swayed after a couple official or unofficial visits to another campus. There are plenty of reasons for these swaps, ego plays a tremendous role, players love to fawned over and of course plenty of fans will mention the illegal happenings angle that I'm not one to harp on unsubstantiated claims.
There are truly three angles that play a varying degree of importance in each recruits decision to pack up and head to a university. Each of these has multiple facets to them so we'll do our job here at ITB and break down how location, university itself and the scheme play a role in a recruits decision.
Read more for what goes into recruiting...
Before we get into each of the aspects we'll do what every coach has to be able to gauge early on; who is the decider. For a few recruits it is their ego, they think of themselves and what will make them happiest in terms of girls, parties and the like. However, generally, there's another person helping fuel the decision. Girlfriends, Mothers, Fathers, Grandparents, Uncles or high school coaches are the likely choice. When a coach gets a bead on who is making the decisions he can then proceed to look for what is the most important to the kid and to his "decider."
Location & University
Working Together to Secure Recruits
We'll hit on these first two together as they often go hand in hand.
The most obvious facet of location's role in decision making is a player's desire to play within a close proximity to his home. If the player wants to play in front of his hometown supporters, sick grandmother or his surrate family then a cross country school will likely be out of the question. We've seen kids transfer back home because of these reasons and so proximity is a serious issue when looking at a school.
On the flipside of this coin are kids that want to OR don't mind getting away. Guys from Florida that go to Ohio State or kids from California that come east to play. It takes a strong kid to pack up his goods, ship out from Arizona and enroll at Georgia. There's a different way of life, a different set of rules and no mothers or fathers there to keep you grounded and on the straight and narrow.
Wrapping up location we'll see how the location and university itself go into a recruits decision; enjoyment of the locale. Weather, co-eds, campus, bars, parties and the overall fun all come into play here. Kids from the south aren't gung-ho to head up north, play in snow and wear parkas. Kids from the west aren't lining up to head down to the swamps of the south and suffocate in the humidity. Beach goers aren't falling in love with programs that are landlocked.
While it might just be sweater weather or "football weather" to the fans these kids have to practice in it everyday, when a kid hates the cold spending 8 months out of the year in snow and wind is a depressing hell.
Yes, make all the Kiffin jokes you'd like; girls do matter. When guys go on their official visits they meet women, not set up by the university, rather girls met at parties et cetera. Hotter, more interesting girls, means another way to entice a 17 year old kid into becoming a part of your class. No folks don't want to discuss it and there isn't much more to go into; its not all like "He Got Game" but the idea that having gorgeous, entertaining co-eds mean nothing is a fallacy.
There are 120 schools playing FBS level football for the time being and if location has narrowed your choice down quite a bit then what step comes next? Clearly looking at the academics and the university should play a fairly significant role. Rare is the case that a football player enrolls at a college without ever experiencing the campus life. Here location and the university do a delegate dance where the institution's atmosphere combine with the location to have a synergistic effect on recruits.
However, universities aren't just about campus life when it comes to decision time; they're also about school. Two schools of thought here; can a recruit get into a certain school and does the recruit have a certain academic desire. The NCAA has a sliding scale for admissions, this means the higher your high school GPA the lower your required SAT/ACT score is to be greenlit play. This scale works with the NCAA course requirements to justify an athlete passing through the NCAA Clearinghouse.
Some schools; Stanford, Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Duke for example, take this sliding scale as a "suggestion" before erecting their own, substantially more stringent baseline for the admission of football players. The biggest thing to remember here is every school plays by the NCAA standards, there is no avoiding those, but each school is free to enforce tougher acceptance requirements.
The problem here lies with figuring out if a kid can get through admissions. While every school is not as strict as the Stanford's of the world schools such as Florida, Oklahoma and USC do have their limits. At this point the decision becomes prep school in an attempt to reach an acceptable standard, or enrolling in a lesser institution. Not to name names but schools in the Big East, C-USA and the MAC have shown a propensity for scooping up academic risks that other universities passed over.
Academic struggles are a well documented mess but there is a positive, a flipside to the kids clawing their way into school; the guys picking a school for their academic programs. Whether it is an aspiring engineer defensive tackle who picks the Ramblin' Wreck, an aspiring journalist quarterback who opts for UNC or a business school wide receiver who opts for Northwestern; these guys are the largely undervalued recruits. A kid who chooses a school not just because they like the institution but because they have a purpose for attending beyond "getting a degree" and playing football.
You're a Football Player
Regardless of academics, university life, weather or co-eds in the end these guys are still football players and often times the bottom line for their decisions is the football itself. Everyone speaks on the relationship between a player and their recruiting coach. Folks know names like Eddie Gran and Ed Orgeron; not because of their coaching prowess but because of they're ability to woo recruits. There's no doubt that a school's persistence comes into play but scheme is more than just getting along with or liking a coach; scheme fueled decisions fall into two categories: playing time and the system.
Playing time is a very recent phenomena as the days of whole classes redshirting and players emerging as juniors and seniors is long gone thanks to the influence of ESPN and the 85 scholarship rules. More games on TV coupled with less scholarships to give means good players are looking to go places where they can "get their shine on" as early as possible. Its tough for schools to stockpile talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Today's players want to play, play immediately and when the choice is playing special teams and as a back up for two seasons at Oklahoma vs playing the opener at their position at Oklahoma State often times the Cowboys will win out.
While the playing time battle is a recent occurence and has lead to the influx of "promised" freshman spots on special teams, the system plays a much larger role in determining what a player decides. The first round battle in the system decision comes from the position.
What position will the player be asked to play at School X vs School Y?
High school linebackers don't always want to become defensive ends. Quarterbacks don't want to move to corner. Tight Ends don't want to be Tackles. The most blatant example of this is the 2004 signing day swap of Pat White. White was committed to LSU as a wide receiver, however he flopped on LSU for Rich Rodriguez's spread attack in Morgantown and now is one of the greatest option quarterbacks of the last decade. The opposite was true for current South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Coming out of South Pointe High Gilmore was a dynamic high school quarterback but without any BCS level offers to play qb he opted for the Gamecocks' where he started at cornerback in 2009.
Position changes aren't the only problems with scheme as the actual playing philosophy must be taken into account. Spread options don't work for pro styled quarterbacks. Flexbone attacks don't fit big time wide receiver attacks. 3-3-5 defenses don't fit pass rush defensive ends. A player must decide which system is the right one for them, their playing style and their skillset.
Most recruits get this portion right from the beginning. Pro styled guys head to places like Alabama, USC, Georgia and Ohio State while spread styled recruits opt for Florida, Texas and Oregon. However, we've seen coaching changes affect scheme in a big way this season with two big name SEC performers coming to the conference after spending their early seasons outside of the league.
Ryan Mallett spent his first season filling in for Chad Henne in Lloyd Carr's pro styled offense. Enter Rich Rodriguez's spread and exit Mallett for the passing stylings of Bobby Petrino at Arkansas. Colin Peek, from a Georgia Tech legacy family, enrolled in Atlanta to play under Chan Gailey and his pro styled philosophy. Enter Paul Johnson's flexbone and exit Peek for the pro styled scheme brought on by Nick Saban's staff.
There you have it, the In The Bleachers in depth look at the most common factors associated with a recruits decision. In certain, specific cases, there are family legacies and traditions, a burning passion for an institution or other aspects that influence a recruits decision. However, this represents the most common players in a recruits decision. While everyone may not agree with weather, girls, playing time or parties playing a role in the decision the fact is THEY DO.