February 01, 2010
Part one of an annual defense of the recruiting industrial complex.
The holy hour of the vast, seedy recruiting underworld, national signing day, is two days away, which is also the signal for legions of recruiting skeptics to sound their annual, anecdotal chants of "Ryan Perrilloux!" and "Notre Dame!" and snake oil!" And occasionally, they make a persuasive case. On All-Americans, for example: If you were to go back and review the projections for last year's All-Americans - or any year's All-Americans -- when they were but mere recruits, you'll probably notice that the results, relative to the hallowed rankings, seem virtually random.
It's true: As many of the nation's top players were rated two or three-star mediocrities out of high school as were rated four-star mustangs, and more lower-rated prospects are on the All-America teams than former five-stars. Of the 93 different players (excluding kickers and punters) who were voted in some capacity to one of the five NCAA-recognized All-America teams last year, only 13 came into college as five-star, can't-miss blue chips, the cream of the crop. By contrast, more than four times as many of those All-Americans -- 50, to be exact, more than half of the total -- were rated three stars or lower. The top three or four recruiting powers in the country should each have more talented rosters than that by themselves, according to the gurus.
If you didn't know any better, you'd think all those recruiting stars everyone gets worked up about every winter didn't correspond to future success at all, a theme you might become familiar with over the next week or so.
Fortunately, because we've been bestowed by the American education system with the magic of basic arithmetic, we do know better. If you look more closely at the relationship between initial expectations and eventual production, there's a very good reason for the heavy distribution of lower-ranked players among the nation's best, beginning with the distribution of stars at the beginning of the process, according to Rivals' extensive database of signees to I-A schools over the last five years:
I would hope that two and three-star players could acquit themselves well enough to produce a large number of big names, since they account for almost 90 percent of all players nationally. Again, using the rosters of the five NCAA-recognized All-America teams -- as voted by the AFCA, the Associated Press, the Football Writers of America, the Sporting News and the Walter Camp Foundation -- the situation changes dramatically when you look at the All-America numbers in light of those ratios:
Maybe a raw ratio of 1-in-15 -- or even 1-in-12, or 1-in-10, or whatever it is after accounting for the early departures, injuries and academics that these numbers make no attempt to reflect -- isn't all that impressive by itself. After all, that means far more elite recruits are falling short of their star-studded birthright than are reaching it. Across the board, failure is the norm.
Still, if you look at those odds ...
... and then consider that the exact same trend applies to players who are eventually drafted by the NFL, it must be very tough to go on portraying them as a crapshoot.