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Can Tennessee Vols Bridge Gap In SEC East on ESPN's Dime?

tre wellsCorrespondent IAugust 14, 2009

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 26:  ESPN College GameDay announcers (l to r) Chris Fowler, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit comment during the NCAA football game between Notre Dame and Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 26, 2002 in Tallahassee, Florida.  The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Florida State Seminoles 34-24.  (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)

Lane Kiffin has impeccable timing.

There has never been a better time to be the first-year coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. This is especially true when one of your main goals is to infuse top-notch talent into the program previously considered unreachable.

Kiffin has already knocked at the doorstep of this goal with such signings as RB Bryce Brown, considered by many to be the nation's No. 1 overall recruit.

Brown was headed to Miami until he was courted by Kiffin and his staff.

As great of a recruiter as Phillip Fulmer was, there were just some apples that he didn’t even try to pick off the tree.

The problem is, for every victory Tennessee has in recruiting (i.e. a five star or top-10 rank by position) Florida and Georgia have four or five a piece. Kiffin can recruit until his ears fall off but it won’t mean the Gators and ‘Dawgs will have any less success.

The idea then is to bridge the gap.

Enter the mother ship herself, ESPN.

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In August of last year, the Southeastern Conference and ESPN signed a 15-year, $2.25 billion contract that will essentially provide the 12 teams in the SEC unprecedented exposure.

Every game will be broadcast on ESPN or an affiliate. This is the equivalent of high school drama students being told their plays are going to be produced by 20th Century Fox.

This deal without a doubt will be advantageous for the entire conference. Every school can expect that the exposure will pay dividends where it counts the most—recruiting.

But for the teams that expect to contend atop the SEC East, could it possibly benefit Tennessee more than it will Georgia and Florida?

Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated recently wrote an article which broke down The State of Recruiting. In it, he charts and dissects what Tennessee fans have known for years.

While the Georgias and the Floridas of the world can recruit top talent right from their back yard, Tennessee has to recruit nationally.

 

Florida is so rich with blue chippers and cream-of-the-crop players, Urban Meyer can basically throw a bucket of water from his front porch and get three or four of them wet.

Don’t get me wrong, Urban still works for what he gets, because he has to battle the perennial in-state powerhouses of Miami and Florida State for these players.

Georgia isn’t hurting either in that aspect. There is a ton of homegrown talent in the Peach State and they don’t have to fight as many Division I (FBS) schools for their pick of the litter.

In fact, according to Andy Staples’ article, 62.3 percent of the University of Florida’s recruits and 63.6 percent of the University of Georgia’s recruits came from their home states.

This is certainly not the case in Tennessee, where the talent pool is not near as deep, and to a lesser extent as rich, as its rival states.

Tennessee’s recruiting classes managed a mere 30.4 percent from their home state.

They simply have to recruit nationally.

So while the national exposure of the new deal with ESPN will certainly bolster the recruiting efforts of all schools in the SEC, for a team like Tennessee that is so dependent on national recruiting, the rewards could multiply exponentially.

And that just might start to bridge the gap.  

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