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Thursday, February 15, 2007

God, my recruiting class is so swollen.
No, really. It's huge.
The SEC recruiting dominance is at least partially fictional. Frequent and frequently abrasive commenter Meechigan Dan has a fledgling blog of his own with an interesting look at Michigan's recruiting over the past six years. While I don't necessarily agree with some of the conclusions, the numbers are compelling.

The upshot: lost in the frequent discussion of the SEC's shirtless recruit lockdown are the numbers 28 and 20. The former is the average number of recruits signed by SEC teams not named "Vanderbilt" this year (it's 27 if the Commodores are included); the latter is the average number of recruits signed by Big Ten teams this year. This goes a long way towards explaining the SEC's happy numbers.

Orson and I got into a somewhat heated discussion about this and the Jim Delaney thing. He contended that the Big Ten's retention/graduation rate was only marginally higher than the SEC's -- using what data I don't exactly know -- but it's clear that when you give a scholarship to someone, someone else loses one. It's a zero-sum game. The SEC's willingness to sign anyone who will put pen to paper no matter how dire their academic situation or general level of what we'll term "Willie-itis" leads to stuff like this:
Georgia plummets from 2nd to 7th when you factor out number of recruits because they always seem to have large classes [29, 25, 21, 19, 28, 23; ave: 24] as compared to, say Michigan [22, 17, 22, 23, 19, 20; ave: 20.5]. What’s up with that? How can Georgia have 22 more scholarships used over the last six years?).
That's an entire extra class of recruits that bombed out somewhere along the way; many of those never saw the field because they didn't qualify or couldn't remain eligible long enough to be useful. But recruiting rankings don't take this into account, nor do they acknowledge the opportunity cost of a scholarship (i.e., any recruit no matter how marginal boosts your score, favoring large classes over small) and so things like the SEC's uniformly giant classes get rewarded. In reality, it's like Enzyte: you really wish it was bigger but it just ain't.

Does this fully explain the gap? No. The only Big Ten schools on Dan's revised star-average top 20 over the past six years are Michigan and Ohio State, though there is a suggestion that only the top 11 really matter. There's a cliff after Tennessee at #11 and twelve through twenty -- PSU, ND, Auburn, 'Bama, Nebraska, A&M, UCLA, UVA, Maryland -- were more Music City Bowl than BCS with the exception of Auburn.

(Aside: evidently, once you get past a certain assurance point recruiting rankings become extremely poor predictors of performance. There are two primary reasons for this, IMO:
  • The star system makes no distinction between the first four-star, a guy who's always one of the top 30 (Rivals) or 60 (Scout) recruits in the country, and the last, who usually hangs out somewhere around number 300. This despite the fact that the sites do have more detailed breakdowns of talent. Rivals ranks their four-stars from 5.9 to 5.7. I'd rather grab the #30 player in the country and a three-star than two low fours.
  • The weightings are all off. A player like Ryan Mallet or Jimmah Clausen, the surest things available at the most important position on the field, is worth fractionally more than the aforementioned low-four star when he should be an order of magnitude more important. Take a look at 12-20 above: every one of those teams has had poor quarterback play for a large portion of the window, and the one that didn't had four years of totally shirtless Jason Campbell. (Quinn as a freshman/soph == bad). Certain positions should be more important than others, probably along the same lines as NFL draft rating: QB, DT, DE, CB, RB, OT, WR, LB, TE, S, G/C, K, P, and recruting services should emphasize their relative proficiency at the top of the board instead of their nebulous middle.

This is the long way of saying that the much discussed SEC bitchslap delivered by Jim Delaney in this line...
I wish we had six teams among the top 10 recruiting classes every year, but winning our way requires some discipline and restraint with the recruitment process. just true. You cannot consistently sign 28 player classes without regularly discarding players before their time is up, and where do these guys go once you throw them overboard? I'm guessing the answer is not Harvard.

The fundamental issue is that the LOI provides no benefit to the kid. I don't understand why any top recruit would bother to sign one. If Pete Carroll takes the Chargers' job, all those recruits are locked into letters of intent they may not want to honor, but if one of those recruits fails to qualify the school can cut bait and move onto the next freaky stud freak. The school owes the player nothing; the player is an indentured servant of the university for at least two years. The solution: make that reciprocal. A signed letter of intent fills a scholarship slot for two years, no matter the recruit's playing status.

Or you can just keep throwing the rotten ones into the sea. You know, whatever, as long as you get to be the best conference in the history of the world.

For a summary of this post in stunning YouTube format with the SEC on the left and a prospective offensive lineman on the right: Don't click here.