This post is one of the more fascinating things I’ve read lately. It’s an examination of what leads recruits to the schools they choose.
College athletics provide a unique, albeit contentious, dynamic in which players base their college decisions on a radically different criteria than professional players, who often opt to play for whichever franchise will pay the most. Stadium size, uniforms (read our article Fashion Wars on the influences of uniforms and apparel companies in recruiting), program prestige, coach prestige, coach persona, location, media exposure, fan sentiment, playing style, and academics are only a handful of the endless factors that play a role in an athlete’s decision. The net sum of all these influences becomes the program’s brand, which is then evaluated by millions of high school athletes. Each athlete is sure to perceive each school uniquely, but the masses will come to a general sentiment on which school is better than the next. It is absolutely critical for a college football program’s brand to be perceived ahead of its competition by the majority of high school athletes—or at the very least, the majority of high school athletes in a desired segment of the high school athlete population. Jeremy Darlow spoke to us about this dynamic, and shared: “Few brands reach omnipresent levels in which they can be all things to all people, which plays into a team’s favor. If you can identify the brand space that is genuinely unique to your program, you are instantly #1 in the country for that idea.”
Two huge points there. One, what you or I may perceive as being critical to a program’s brand ain’t the same thing as what a recruit perceives. And since you or I aren’t the ones suiting up, it perhaps behooves us to keep our mouths shut about things like Oregon’s revolving wardrobe, which appears to resonate with high schoolers. The second point is that it’s a big deal for schools to find a unique aspect about themselves they in turn can market successfully to these kids.
The authors of the piece surveyed more than 200 recruits to get a picture of D-1 schools’ marketing success. Here’s what the top 85 results look like:
And here’s how that tracked with this year’s recruiting.
How do these brand rankings get translated to signing day results? Since the beginning of the recruiting service era (1999-2000), every national champion has had at least one recruiting class on its roster with multiple five star recruits. On average, there are only 7.7 teams—never less than five or more than nine—each year with multiple five star players. Only Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia, USC, Alabama, and Texas landed multiple five stars in this year’s 2018 class. The first five schools all reside in the top 5 of the brand rankings while Alabama and Texas still have two of the most notable brands in the country. Why is this significant? Because most of our respondents have never been recruited by these top-tier colleges. Yet, despite all the phone calls, letters, text messages, unofficial visits, or any other obscure recruiting tactics that coaches deploy to attract elite talent, the final recruiting rankings align precisely with the high school demographic’s perceived brand rankings. The actual act of recruiting, apparently, is one giant charade. Is it necessary? Sure. Will marginally better recruiting execution lead to better results? No.
This distribution leads us to identify different tiers of brands within the rankings. Each year, the top 7.7 teams are therefore the teams that recruit at the highest level and give their team a statistical chance to win the national championship over the next four years while that recruiting class is in college. We will call this ‘Tier One’, which is comprised of the brands that are capable of winning recruiting battles against any other brand in the country since five star recruits, more often than not, have offers from virtually every school. [Emphasis added.]
You can argue that there’s some overstatement there, as evidenced by some individual jockeying over key recruits, but the post isn’t about micro-level recruiting. I read all that and thought about the job Kirby’s done selling Georgia as a destination to kids and their parents, enhanced by the team’s recent meteoric rise to the CFP finals, and how that played into the class he just signed.
Read the whole thing and tell me what you think.