Recruiting For Beginners Part IV: Ending Some Of The Myths

C.W. O'BrienCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2009

Even though a lot has been covered, there is still quite a bit that hasn't been.  That is just the way that it goes sometimes. 

There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding recruit-tracking and recruiting in general.  People take these misconceptions and accept them as truth, regardless of whether they are. These fallacies turn people away from recruit-tracking. 

Like most stereotypes, these misconceptions are hard to crack. 

Here are few myths surrounding recruiting and some answers to clarify:

1.  Recruiting services boost a players ranking just because a high profile team is recruiting/signed him.

This is a big one.  Most people hear it and just accept it as fact.  They use it as a way to explain why the USC's, Florida's, Texas' and LSU's of the world always seem to have classes loaded with four and five star recruits. 

The reality of things is that most recruiting services update prospect evaluations fairly frequently (Rivals: weekly; Scout: monthly; ESPN: as needed).  When a mid-range player is being recruited by big-name school's, it sends up red-flags to evaluators. 

Those prospects tend to get re-evaluated. The services want to make their evaluations as accurate as possible. Being accurate is the only way that they will be able to sell their product. They re-evaluate to see if they missed something that those school's saw. 

Sometimes they increase a players ranking on the re-evaluation, but most of the time they don't. The recruiting services know that they miss stuff, that they might not have the best tape on a prospect, that they may have witnessed a player on an off-night.  They re-evaluate to ensure their accuracy as evaluators. 

The opposite is also true. If they have a recruit ranked very high, but that prospect is only being recruited by non-BCS also-rans, they may choose to re-evaluate. 

I can think of two examples from just this year.  The players and teams will remain nameless.

- In one case a two star prospect was labeled as a defensive end.  He was undersized (height/weight) for a defensive end, but had good speed.  He was being recruited by several brand-name schools. When they re-evaluated him further, they realized that he played a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position (similar to a 3-4 linebacker) and was being recruited by those schools to play outside linebacker.  They adjusted his position and re-evaluated him as a linebacker.  When they did that, he was awarded an additional star.

- In another case a 3-Star OT was ranked fairly high at his position. He had a good initial burst and great measureables, but big-time schools that had offered him were actually pulling their offers after summer camps. Both Rivals and Scout gathered more tape and re-evaluated the prospect.  Upon further review, they discovered that the OT had put the best 30 blocks of his career on his tape...and that true quality blocks only happened about twice per game. The rest of the time he had poor body movement, poor footwork, and he didn't use his hands. He lost a star and his position rank dropped drastically after the new evaluation. 

So, yes some prospects do get re-evaluated based on who is (or isn't) recruiting them.  However, they aren't just automatically given stars and ranking boosts just because they are being recruited by name-brand schools. 

If stars were handed out to big-time programs, USC, Texas, OU, LSU, and Florida would never sign a prospect that had anything less than four stars.  That just isn't the case.  USC has two, two-star recruits this year.  Texas has seven three-star recruits. 

2.  Rankings don't matter because any school can win with poorly ranked players and any school can lose with high ranking players. 

This is true, to a point.  The largest reason for this is the coaching, not the recruits.  A good coach can develop available talent and get the most out of it.  A coach that can't win with talented players is probably skills in player development and/or game planning. 

Opponents of recruit-tracking point to Urban Meyer as evidence of why recruiting rankings mean nothing. He was undefeated at Utah in 2004, and then continued to win when he took over at Florida. 

While at Utah, his recruiting classes ranked 90th (2003), and ranked 61st (2004) nationally. However, they classes were in the top five of the Mountain West.  Urban Meyer is a gifted coach and developed his team well in a short span. QB Alex Smith blossomed into a Heisman Trophy finalist and NFL first round draft pick under Meyer. 

Utah was able to defeat Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl 35-7. On paper it sounded like an improbable upset. Upon further inspection of both team's recruiting averages from 2002-2004, it wasn't as big an upset as it appeared. Pitt's recruits averaged 2.54 stars and Utah's averaged 2.27 stars. That is a minuscule difference.

When Meyer got to Florida, the program finally had direction.  Former Florida coach Ron Zook was a master recruiter, but couldn't get his players to produce.  Meyer took those same recruits and won a national championship. 

While opponents point to Meyer as an example of why recruit tracking doesn't work, I point to him as an example of why it does work.

It is important to note that in Meyer's years at Utah, both Scout and Rivals were just starting to get into the swing of recruiting evaluation. At the time, they didn't have the resources to scout nearly as many prospects as they do today. 

For the Class of 2005, was able to evaluate 940 high school prospects. They had that many prospects evaluated for the Class of 2009 by late May, 2008 and had evaluated over two thousand by July 2008.  Many two and three-star recruits would have been properly evaluated and their rankings would likely have been higher. 

Meyer is an amazing coach.  Meyer last Utah team was undefeated.  In the years following his departure, Utah went 7-5, 8-5, and 9-4.  The 2005 team returned only nine starters, but they returned most of their two-deep depth chart.  The talent level hadn't changed, only their coaching staff had. Utah played to it's talent level after Meyer left.

Florida's recruiting classes under Ron Zook annually ranked in the Top 20 nationally, but he was never able to win with that talent.  Meyer gave that talent direction and purpose and was able to win a national title in his second year.  Fifteen starters from the 2006 national championship team were already on the roster when Meyer took over. 

Before Meyer arrived at Florida, they had not played to their talent level.  When a coach came in that would push them to hit their level, they won a national title. It is no coincidence. 

Ironically, Ron Zook is still able to recruit talent to the University of Illinois, each of his recruiting classes has ranked in the top half of the Big Ten.  He has not been able to find much success with that talent yet. 

3.  Recruits that don't qualify academically are bound by their original letter of intent when they do qualify.

Recruits that don't qualify usually go to a prep-school or junior college to improve their grades and test scores. 

If a recruit fails to qualify, they are no longer bound by their letter of intent.  They are completely recruitable all over again and can sign with whatever program they want to.  The school that they originally committed to can pursue that prospect again, but they are not obligated to do so.  They are also not obligated to hold a roster slot open for that player. 

If you are every around Chatham, VA in time to catch a prep football game (post-graduate), you should jump at the chance.  Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham is the de facto boarding house for unqualified SEC/ACC football recruits.  The talent on the field is is a smorgasbord of future FBS stand-outs.  Fifteen players on current NFL rosters are Hargrave alumni.  In 2007, 43 members of the Hargrave post-graduate team signed LOI's to play for 4-year schools. 

4.  The recruiting services never admit when they are wrong.

What most people don't realize is that most recruit-tracking services produce three final class rankings. 

The first comes out shorly after National Signing Day.  This class ranking reflects the prospects that were signed.  The average person probably only looks for this ranking. 

The second ranking comes out in August before the season starts.  This ranking reflects the recruits that actually made it to school and are therfore a little bit more accurate.  It can actually be shocking to see exactly how many recruits don't make it to school.  A total of 47 signed recruits from teams listed in the Spring Top 25 never stepped foot on campus as a student.  That is almost nine percent of signed recruits, and that is just from the teams listed in the Top 25. 

The third set of rankings comes out after the bulk of a particular recruiting class has exhausted it's eligibility.  This set of rankings reflects how recruiting classes actually performed.  It takes into account transfers, injuries, and recruiting busts.  While there are usually three to five teams that were originally ranked outside of the top thirty that sneak into the rankings, most of the original top twenty are still there.  Seldom are the rankings identical, but most of the time they are within five to seven spots of their original ranking. 


Recruit tracking gets a bad reputation for a lot of reasons that just don't exist.  The reasons start out as rumor and then are accepted as fact long before they can actually be judged. 

Sometimes, this is just the way of the world.  No, the system isn't perfect. No system is.  Until people start to actually look at the way recruit-tracking actually works and how things are done, it will always have more than its fair share of nay-sayers. 

Remember, the world was flat once.



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