Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Recruiting 101 - Part 2

Considering I have been spending all day in the hospital, once again I'm reaching into my archive of completed-yet-unposted content. This is the second part in my continuing series that explains the vagaries of college football recruiting to the uninitiated. See the first part here. The reason I'm doing this is because I have never seen, in one place, the rules and conventions of recruiting posted in one place. To learn about it, you normally just have to follow it for a long time and glean how it works. Since major newspapers only cover recruiting sparingly (I'll explain why that is in a later post), this can be kind of difficult and many of your sources for information can be very unreliable. Anyway, questions and answers commence.

You said last time that most kids keep a verbal commitment but why do people sometimes change their minds?

Lots of reasons. I would say the most common reasons are:
  • A coaching change at the school where he had committed, or at the the new school.
  • A broken promise not to recruit other players in the position the player plays.
  • Social pressure to commit to the local school, rather than a far-away school.
While most verbal commitments stick to their commitment, the ones who change their minds make recruiting really exciting. Last year, LSU had one player de-commit (Luther Davis), and had another player de-commit from another school and sign with LSU (Sidell Corley). Not coincidentally, those two players play the same position, and it is believed that Corley took the spot that had been reserved for Davis until his de-commitment. Corley had been committed to Florida, but changed his mind, depending on who you believe, either because he saw that Florida was running a defensive scheme that did not suit his particular skills, or because Florida brought in several other highly regarded players at his position and he concluded that he would not get any playing time.

While I list three potential reasons, I think if the question was multiple choice, the most common reason to de-commit would be "None of the Above". You have to remember, these are teenage boys we're talking about. Who knows why they do what they do?

Why would someone verbally commit now, almost a year before he can actually sign?

This is a good question, and honestly I don't have a very good answer. The answers probably vary greatly, depending on the recruit. One possibility is that a player may believe that if he does not take the offer to commit now, he may not have an offer later.

This requires a short explanation of another rule of recruiting. The 85/25 rule. It's not just a rule of recruiting. It is probably the single most important rule in all of college football, save perhaps for the rule that you can't pay your players. Put simply, a football team may add no more than 25 new scholarship players in any one calendar year, and may have no more than 85 players on scholarship at any one time.

This rule impacts many things about college football. Some say it is responsible for increased parity in college football, because in the past big programs could sign whoever they wanted, as long as they had enough money to fund their scholarships. You could sign 40 guys every year, and keep them all on scholarship for 5 years if you wanted. Supposedly, small schools suffered from this because the big schools were signing more people than they could ever play. Big schools had guys sitting on their benches for 5 years who would have been starters somewhere else.

But for now, let's just look at how the 85/25 Rule may impact a recruit such as to make him want to commit early, thereby foregoing the free trips and attention that comes with recruiting. With only 25 scholarships to give out every year (less in some years because of the "85" portion of the rule), coaches have to be careful who they sign. A coach would have a lot of explaining to do if he took early commitments from a lot of mid-level prospects, then ended up having to turn away a stud later in the recruiting season because he doesn't have a scholarship to give.

Also, a coach has to be careful of not overloading at one position, because if you have 20 wide receivers on scholarship, you can only have 65 on scholarship at all the other positions, and a wide receiver can't be converted to an offensive lineman or defensive tackle. Every coach should have a good idea of how he's going to spend his allotted scholarships for the year. He needs to look at his roster and say, "Ok, I need x number of running backs, y wide receivers, z offensive linemen, q defensive linemen," et cetera. It won't be rigid, because the coach will build in some flexibility so that he can sign a really good prospect who makes himself available, even if it is not at a position where he needs an additional recruit.

Alright, why does this make a commit early? Well, let's say the recruit plays linebacker. Let's say also that the coach wants to sign between 2 and 4 linebackers that year. Let's say further that he is looking at 10 linebackers, from which he expects to get 2 and hopes to get more later in the season. He will go and tell his favorites of the 10, "I want you to commit to me right now, but if you don't, I'm going to be offering other linebackers a scholarship. If they commit now, I may not have a scholarship for you." So, a recruit may hear this and think, "If I want to commit to my beloved LSU Fightin' Tigers, I have to do it now."

Then he commits, and the coach does not go and offer some of those other guys.

I use the example of the linebacker, and that certainly applies, but if you pay attention, you will notice that the most common early commitment is at the quarterback position. A team needs a certain number of quarterbacks, but can't afford to over-sign because it's hard to convert a QB to another position. Teams can't afford to wait for their QBs to commit, because they may end up without a QB if they do. For this reason, even a really good QB will likely be committed to his team by about October, and it's very rare to see good QBs who aren't verbally committed somewhere by New Year's Day.

But then why do some recruits wait until the last day?

This one is easier. A really really good recruit can afford to wait as long as he wants, because he knows that every school looking at him will hold a scholarship available for him for as long as he wants to wait. He can play it out until National Signing Day. Recruiting can be a lot of fun for the top recruits, as they get to take trips all around the country, go to football or basketball games as guests of the school, get the attention of pretty girls, get write-ups in the newspaper or even national magazines, commit on national television, etc.

But aren't some of the early commitments really good players who could wait as long as they want?

Yes. Some early commits don't really need to commit early, as they would have scholarships later. Why do they do this? Well, my best answer to this is that some guys probably don't like all the attention that recruiting brings, and would rather get it done early. Of course, other coaches can still call him if they want, and it's not like he can't change his mind.

He might also have a deep and abiding love of his particular school and want to do everything he can to help them.

Recruiting is a little different for everyone, and I can't say I am inside any of these guys' heads to know what they're thinking. It's also important to realize that they are 16, 17, 18 years old. They don't necessarily know why they do the things they do.

Adios for now.

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