Does School Promotion of Its Athletes Play a Part in Recruiting?

Lisa Horne@LisaHornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterMarch 8, 2013

Dec 14, 2011; Waco, TX, USA;  Baylor Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III walks off with the Heisman trophy after being honored at halftime of the game  between the Baylor Bears and the Bethune-Cookman at the Ferrell Center.  Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of fuss was made over the fact that Notre Dame didn't aggressively promote Manti Te'o's Heisman campaign last year—turns out that was probably a wise decision. But for a school which was famous for promoting Joe Theismann's Heisman campaign, it seemed odd.

ESPN's Melissa Isaacson may have shed some light on Notre Dame's hesitancy in marketing Te'o when she interviewed former quarterback Joe Theismann, whose name is pronounced Thees-man but was changed to Thighs-man in his freshman year at Notre Dame. 

Theismann says now that while it was exciting to be in the middle of a Heisman race and that he still opens speeches with the story, the attention attached to "Theismann as in Heisman" may have been a negative.

"I think the campaign to try to win the trophy probably hurt me from a balloting standpoint," he said. "Of course we didn't know that at the time. It created notoriety, but voters basically said, 'We're not going to have a campaign dictate who's going to win the Heisman Trophy.'

"The reason I say that is that I vividly remember [Oregon quarterback] Joey Harrington with a 12-foot high banner [in 2001] and I remember the promotion behind it, and I can't recall a campaign that has resulted in the Heisman Trophy."

The Heisman Trophy is a huge recruiting advantage in landing wide-eyed prospects who tour a school's campus. The trophy signifies, among other things, that the school recognizes great talent and showcased that talent at the highest level.

But are recruits really affected by a school's promotion of its athletes?

Robert Griffin III won Baylor's first-ever Heisman Trophy in 2011. In the nine years prior to Griffin's winning of the trophy, the school's highest ranked* recruiting class was in 2009 with Baylor only cracking the Top 50 class rankings three times: 2003 (No. 47), 2009 (No.44) and 2011 (No.50).

And after Griffin won the Heisman in 2011? A very respectable No. 30 ranking.

It could be a coincidence. Everybody loves a winner; for a small private school in Texas to produce a Heisman winner in a conference that has produced four in the previous 12 years is remarkable because those winners attended football-powerhouse schools like Oklahoma, Texas and Nebraska.

Baylor, for what it's worth, sent Heisman voters promotional items in the form of trading cards, showcasing Griffin's accomplishments during the 2011 season.

Did it work? He did win the Heisman.

But Kansas State also promoted Collin Klein last year, and he didn't win despite an ingenious marketing plan showing the quarterback's toughness. One promotion sent to voters was a tri-fold picture of Klein held together by an adhesive bandage. Another promotional package was a metal tin with purple-themed, school-logo'd bandages inside. 

Klein finished third behind Johnny Manziel and Manti Te'o. Kansas State did a great job of focusing on Klein's strength, and it may have kept his name in front of Heisman voters who don't have unlimited access to Big 12 football games. The media did write extensively about Klein until "Johnny Football Fever" infected the nation—that's important because when media members start narrowing their attention on Heisman candidates, prospects pay attention. 

Kids, for the most part, love the spotlight, and student-athletes are no different. National signing day is a yearly foray into hat tricks, puppies, strip teases and long-winded, over-the-top tributes to family and friends all for the sake of a kid announcing which school will be blessed to get his signature on financial forms. 

If these kids love the attention and praise lavished on them, wouldn't a school that actively promotes its Heisman candidate be attractive to a prospect?

Better question: Doesn't technology—especially social media—really replace the need for a Heisman campaign? 

Most voters don't need stat sheets to shape their opinions on Heisman candidates—voters either bore witness to a candidate's Heisman moment or went on YouTube to watch some highlight videos. The Internet is now a Heisman candidate's resume. 

And social media is his promotional vehicle.

Twitter's growth has exploded, and it has somewhere around 75 million users. Getting a verified check mark on Twitter or having a high-number of Twitter followers is instant credibility in football nation. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has both a verified account and an incredible 315,000-plus followers. 

Manziel is the Big Man On Campus—everybody knows who he is due to prominent exposure via ESPN and CBS Sports. While his performance against Alabama propelled him to New York last December, Manziel's off-the-field antics played out in the blogosphere, and that solidified his cult hero-like status. Playing football at a school like Texas A&M didn't hurt him, and playing in the SEC certainly helped him, but having the persona of the stereotypical frat boy made him an instant legend with football non-believers.

Manziel, ostensibly, became the hero of every fan who didn't identify with 2007 Heisman winner Tim Tebow. Manziel's celebrity status also helped Texas A&M reel in a Top 10 class of 2013—the last time the Aggies cracked the Top 10 was in 2003

In the end, schools that don't garner a lot of national publicity should probably continue to promote their Heisman candidates. Louisville, and specifically Teddy Bridgewater, I'm looking at you—it can only help your recruiting. 

But for the big boys like Alabama, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Ohio State and yes, now Texas A&M, let Twitter and network coverage continue to enhance your recruiting.


*based on Scout's rankings


Follow Lisa Horne on twitter at @LisaHorne