Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Big Tenvy | by Jeff

Jay's post below regarding Jim Delany's recent statements about the Big 10 versus the SEC got me thinking. Admittedly, I don't know much about Delany. I have read that he is a very influential conference commissioner, and perhaps the most powerful person in NCAA athletics. However, his writing struck me as quite defensive, and some of what he claimed seemed specious. So, I figured it was time to break out the spreadsheet and take a fact-based look at Delany's statements, two of which especially jumped out at me:

1) It seems premature for us to lower our admission standards or give up on the tremendous talent pool in the Midwest.
Delany's implication is that the midwest is strong enough in football talent that the Big 10 doesn't have to look elsewhere (nor, God forbid, "lower its standards" in doing so). On this point, Delany is simply wrong. While there certainly is talent in the Midwest, it would have been virtually impossible for a team to put together a top recruiting class without pulling in players from other areas of the country. As Rival’s Top 100 showes, the best talent in the country is in Texas, California, Florida, and the Southeastern states. (SEC states in blue, B10 states in red).

State Top 100 Players
Texas 13
Florida 12
California 11
Georgia 6
Alabama 5
Louisiana 5
South Carolina 5
North Carolina 4
IL, MI, MO, NJ, OH, OK, PA 3 each

No Midwestern state produced more than three players among the Rival’s Top 100, while five of the top eight states are from SEC country (and a 6th, North Carolina, is very close by). Of the top 100, 36 players came from states with an SEC team, while only 16 came from states with a Big Ten team. While this might be a bit of a down year for the Midwest at producing high school football talent, trying to formulate a top recruiting class out of 16% of the available talent does not seem like a wise strategy. If you want to put together a top flight team, you have to recruit in Texas, California, Florida, and the southeastern US. Gone are the days when a team made up exclusively of players from Ohio or Pennsylvania can dominate college football.

The second Delany point I have a quarrel with:
2) I love speed and the SEC has great speed, especially on the defensive line, but there are appropriate balances when mixing academics and athletics.
Delany is saying that the SEC's academic standards are inferior to the Big Ten's, and this is why the Big Ten doesn't have access to the same caliber of players. However, when looking at who was recruited, and where they ended up, that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, Big Ten schools offered many scholarships to players who were also offered by SEC schools -- and most of those players simply chose SEC schools. These players did not suddenly become poor academic performers or academically ineligible to attend a Big Ten school, they simply choose another program.

There were a total of 19 situations where a player was offered a scholarship from at least one Big Ten school and one SEC school (including five defensive linemen). In those head-to-head matchups, the players opted for the SEC at a 15-4 margin (almost 80% of the time).

Player Position Home State School Selected Competing Offers
Joseph Barksdale DT MI LSU Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Eric Berry DB GA Tennessee Ohio State
Eugene Clifford S OH Ohio State Florida
Sidell Corley DE AL LSU Illinois
Jeremy Finch S IN Florida Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan
Joe Haden Athlete MD Florida Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State
Aaron Hernandez TE CT Florida Iowa, Michigan
Gerald Jones Athlete OK Tennessee Michigan
Ryan Mallett QB TX Michigan Alabama, Arkansas
Ben Martin DE OH Tennessee Ohio State
Michael McNeil S AL Auburn Ohio State
Chaz Powell S PA Penn State Georgia
Chris Strong DE MS Mississippi Michigan, Ohio State
Deonte Thompson WR FL Florida Ohio State
Aron White TE MO Georgia Iowa
James Wilson OG FL Florida Ohio State
Martez Wilson DE IL Illinois Florida
Major Wright S FL Florida Ohio State
Lee Ziemba OT AR Auburn Michigan

Even adjusting for "home state advantage" doesn't explain the discrepancy. Of the nineteen players:
  • Eight were from SEC states. All eight chose to play for an SEC team.
  • Six were from Big Ten states. Four of these chose a Big Ten school, while two chose an SEC program.
  • Five were from "neutral" states (TX, MO, MD, CT, OK). Only one of these players chose a Big Ten school, while the other four opted for the SEC.
Most notable in the data is the number of times that Florida beat out Ohio State for recruits. This could be ascribed to the results of the BCS Championship game, but I'm sure there was a strong draw to Florida's weather, charismatic coaching staff, and of course, coeds. (This brings to mind a JUCO recruiting story from last year: Larry Grant. Originally from Georgia, Grant selected Florida but could not qualify academically. After completing some make-up work he then enrolled at, you guessed it, Ohio State. Tell me again which conference had the higher standards?)

Other programs were able to pull in athletes from outside of their traditional recruiting grounds. The Irish snagged Top 100 players from California, New Jersey, Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Illinois. Southern Cal was able to bring in talent from Louisiana and Michigan in addition to their natural California and Arizona pools. Recruiting outside of your "home territory" can be done, but the Big Ten just did a poor job of it this year.

Despite recruiting and the BCS bowls, the Big Ten had a very good football season in 2006. Why Delany chose to spout off on the conference's failure to recruit is beyond me, but the numbers don't lie. The SEC, with its recent national championship and high-profile coaches simply out-performed the Big Ten in recruiting. If Delany wants to advertise the academic superiority of Big Ten schools, he's free to do so. In fact a quick check of the top undergraduate programs shows a clear edge for the Big Ten over the SEC. But pretending that academic restrictions handcuffed Big Ten recruiting is simply foolish.