What role does tradition play in college football recruiting in 2013 and beyond?
There was a time where tradition was almost just as important as the ability to win in the here and now, and one could argue that it was even more important. Traditional powerhouses were able to attract top-level recruits based on their history of, well, being a traditional powerhouse.
Times have changed though and, naturally, recruiting has changed right along with them. Tradition doesn't have as much of an impact in the world of college football recruiting anymore.
Or does it?
As with any good argument, there are two sides.
Have you ever wondered why the same programs seem to be on top of the college football world on a yearly basis? Parity is often times a value in sports, but it's something that college football doesn't have a lot of, and you can point to tradition as one of the major reasons why.
Schools like USC, Florida, Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma and Michigan are established college football powers, and unlike the NFL, where there is a draft, recruiting is all about being able to sell a player on your program.
Successful programs can point to what they've done in the past and use their tradition as a selling point.
For instance, Michigan has Bo Schembechler, Lloyd Carr—two very prominent former coaches—and even former Heisman winner Desmond Howard to sell to recruits. Tradition is very important to the Michigan program.
Recruits often talk about the winged helmets, traditional uniforms and the prestige of playing at the Big House, or being a "Michigan Man."
Michigan's traditional rivalry with Ohio State is also a huge draw for many recruits, as it's known as one of the best rivalries in sports.
Florida can talk about the national championships won under Tim Tebow and pitch a quarterback the fact that he can be the "the next Tim Tebow" for the Gators. Being "the next guy" in a long list of great players is often times a selling point for elite recruits.
Notre Dame may be the school that has benefited from tradition the most, especially during its down years. The Fighting Irish are a program steeped in tradition.
Whether it be the allure of their campus, the players that have come through the school or even the story of Rudy—however you feel about its accuracy—those are all things that cause young football players to grow up wanting to play for Notre Dame.
There's also team specific traditions that players really love.
Whether it be singing a fight song, winning back a trophy in a rivalry game or slapping the "Play Like A Champion Today" sign at Notre Dame, all of these are ways tradition still impacts the world of college football recruiting.
Still, its importance has drastically decreased.
Today, everything is about instant gratification, including sports. Recruits are starting to care less and less about how traditionally great a program is and worry more about how good they are now.
It's all about "what have you done for me lately?," and we've seen that permeate in just about every aspect of college football.
The spread offense has become extremely popular as much for its effectiveness as its excitement factor. Coaches can sell recruits on the fact that their offense can put up 50-plus points a game, get on SportsCenter and draw a big crowd—traditional or not.
Programs are doing anything they can to get attention in the recruiting world, and frankly, tradition doesn't garner the type of attention that it used to.
Kids nowadays want flashy, they want things that are new and they want to be talked about.
Look at how successful Chip Kelly has been at Oregon.
Much of his success can be attributed to the exciting "new age" offense that he runs and the Ducks' plethora of different, and often times eccentric, Nike uniforms.
Oregon's tradition has nothing to do with why they've been so successful in the here and now.
For a more radical example just look at what Maryland did with their jerseys.
Many people think that they are extremely ugly. Others find them to be unique. Either way, people are talking about the football program because of them, and in my opinion that was the intended purpose.
Slowly but surely, tradition is becoming less of a draw in modern college football recruiting.
Let's look back at Michigan and all of their traditions. Coach Brady Hoke can talk about the Wolverines tradition and being a "Michigan Man" all he wants, but it's not going to attract top-level recruits unless he's winning the games that matter.
A "Michigan Man" that doesn't beat MSU, Ohio State or win big Bowl Games won't be a "Michigan Man" for long.
Nick Saban on the other hand is a great example of the "what have you done for me lately?" theory. There's almost nothing about Saban that screams tradition.
He has coached at two rival schools in the same conference in LSU and Alabama, jumped to the NFL, came back to college football and he can still recruit the best players in the nation.
Why is that?
He wins today.
He wins now.
There's always going to be a role for tradition in college football, it's part of why we love the sport so much. One would be naïve if they couldn't see that role dramatically decreasing in the realm of recruiting though.
Much like fashion, offensive schemes and hairdos, I do think tradition will eventually come back, as programs establish newer and flashier ways of doing things.
The tradition of winning will always be a selling point as well.
For now though, the impact of tradition has greatly diminished in recruiting.