I'm thinking in particular here about football, where people sometimes bemoan the fact that players leave the team when they don't get the playing time they expect. For example, in the past year, both Tim Washington and Antonio Robinson announced that they would be leaving the team. Washington is a defensive end who found himself behind the likes of Tyson Jackson, Rahim Alem, Tremaine Johnson, and Ricky Jean-Francois on the depth charts. He also saw the incoming freshman class and realized that he was never going to break through the depth chart and into the lineup. He is currently shopping around for a new school. Robinson is a running back who saw himself fall to seventh on the depth chart in Fall camp last year after redshirting the previous year, behind 3 other freshmen. He decided to pull up stakes and go to Northwestern State.
Both of these players are doing LSU a favor. How is it helpful to lose athletes, even ones who are far down the depth chart? I touched on it once before. It's called the "85/25" rule. As I explained,
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.Think about that. You can add as many as 25 new scholarships in any one year, but can have no more than 85 players on scholarship at one time.
Let's do some Math. Let's say that you want to sign 25 people every year. Year 1, you have 25 people on scholarship. Year 2, you have 50. Year 3, you have 75. Year 4, you have 100. Uh oh. In year 4, you can't sign 25 people because it will put you over the 85 person limit. After all, those 25 people you recruited in year 1 will be entering their senior years. Every four years, you have to recruit a smaller class. Much smaller. With recruiting being uncertain at best, you're probably going to have to pass up a lot of good players you'd otherwise want to take.
And don't even get into the problems that could be caused by redshirting, which adds a 5th year of eligibility, and a fifth year of occupying a scholarship. Let's just say that if you sign the most you can sign, and if you redshirt half the people you sign, and if everyone stays as long as they can, in your 5th year you will not be doing any recruiting at all. Over a two year period, you will add ten players to your team. You can't start recruiting again until those big classes you signed in years 1, 2, and 3 start graduating... or leaving for other reasons.
Aha! "Leaving for other reasons"? See what I mean now? There are a few ways someone can leave a program with eligibility remaining. He can a) be really really good and declare himself professional after 3 years, or b) he can simply give up his scholarship and leave.
You would prefer not to have a) happen if you avoid it, but b) sounds really promising doesn't it? The key is to get the right players to leave. Fortunately, most of the time it works out very logically. People who don't play want to leave to go somewhere they will play. Occasionally, I suppose, a solid contributor will leave a program because he doesn't like the coaches, or because of personal problems, or some other non-performance reason. Most of the time, however, a key contributor will be happy and will stick with the program while a guy riding the pine will be unhappy.
But, you ask, why recruit a guy who won't contribute, only for the sake of getting him to leave later? Well, they don't recruit guys knowing they won't contribute. Recruiting is way more uncertain than that. A team instead will recruit, say, 4 running backs over a two year period, all of whom have the potential to be good. Let's call them RB-A, RB-B, RB-C, and RB-D. They will expect, however, that one or two of them will fail to reach their potential (or that the coaches will have misjudged the players' potential) and will not really emerge as solid players. However, from the outset, the coaches will not have any idea which of the 4 will make it and which will not. Each one is a risk, and they recruit enough quantity that they expect they will get enough quality after the players develop.
Let's say that RB-A and RB-D emerge as really good running backs. RB-C ends up OK, but clearly behind A and D, and RB-B proves to be lazy, constantly out of shape, and/or an attitude problem. RB-A and RB-D put together a lot of highlights. RB-C plays in spot situations at the end of blowouts, and RB-B never sees the field.
Hopefully, RB-B transfers out of the program quickly. Also, hopefully, RB-C will see the handwriting on the wall and realize he will never pass up A or D and will leave after a couple years of trying to break through. This will open up two scholarship slots for two other running backs to come in (RB-E and RB-F), with a full four years of eligibility, who will be there when those other running backs graduate. If those other guys had stayed, you wouldn't have been able to recruit E and F.
RB-E and RB-F will then compete against each other and whoever else is recruited the following years to see who will be the best running backs on later teams.
And it is like this at EVERY POSITION. Every coach recruits more than he needs, expecting some not to meet their potential, but not knowing who will and who won't beforehand. Every year, some players see the handwriting on the wall and leave. As a result, LSU does not have to have years with only 5 or 10 recruits.
Even with this mechanism in place, however, every program will have the occasional year where they simply can't add 25 new players. Rumor has it that LSU is entering one of those years in 2008. If you listen to the talk about this, LSU will only be able to sign about 20 people this year. I don't buy it. I think more people are going to end up leaving, as they see the incoming freshmen pass them on the depth charts, and we will be recruiting the standard 25 again in 2008.