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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hilarity in ESPN's Ratings of Top Recruiting Classes

This one almost takes the cake.

Yes, I subscribe to ESPN's Insider because it's good stuff, almost all of the time. But, as Bob Knight once cautioned, there are two words in the English language that you should not use -- always and never. That's right, I think we've found a hole in the normally good system that ESPN has to produce top-flight reporting and analysis. Note that I used "normally good" as the modifier instead of "always."

You've probably read by now that among the top 5 schools in recruiting are Florida, USC and Texas, and that should not come as a suprise to you, because it's a case of the rich getting richer and maxing out on the popularity of their football trademarks. Or, translated into sports English, everyone loves a winner, and HS kids are more attracted to a winning program than a losing one. Especially the top-notch players.

I don't think many will quibble with the argument that those three schools had good recruiting years. But what will come next will shock you.

Princeton University, a Division 1-AA school, is on their board as having had the fourteenth best recruiting year in the country. (All this from a school that doesn't give athletic scholarships (grants are based on need), doesn't honor the national letter of intent system (no Ivies do, precisely because they don't give athletic scholarships) and doesn't publicize its list of recruits until well after they've gotten their commitments). How did this happen, you ask?

Well, the way the rating system works on ESPN: The Insider, each recruit gets a grade. Myron Rolle, the DB from New Jersey who now is enrolled at Florida State, was among the highest rated at 8.4. Anything above an 8 is super-rarified air, and if you're above a 7 you're doing well. Many players who are recruited and who weren't actively scouted get what I'd call the "field" grade of a 3. That's not to say that they're not any good, but it is to say that for whatever reason they didn't make the splash that the elite kids did. That's the grading system for players.

The grading system for teams is based upon the average grade that your recruits have. So, for example, if you're USC and you have 25 players whose scores aggregate 175, then you're grade is a 7.0 because 175 divided by 25 is 7. The rating system doesn't have a minimum number of recruits and doesn't take into account the allocation of the grades within the aggregate number. Again, put into sports English, it's possible that your team did fine by getting eight kids whose grades averaged 7.5 and ten whose grades averaged 4.0 than a team whose overall average at 6.2 is higher than your 5.5 because the former team might have landed four true stars and then a bunch of above-average to average players. And ridiculously, it doesn't establish a minimum number of recruits as a requirement to being placed on the list in order to avoid unfair or absurd results.

Such as Princeton's appearing at #14 and both William & Mary and University of New Hampshire, also Division 1-AA schools, appearing in the top 26, all ahead of the likes of Clemson, Miami (FL), LSU, Alabama, California and Arizona. As if, to use teenage slang, any of Princeton, William & Mary and New Hampshire could beat any of the schools they allegedly had better recruiting years than.

As if not.

You probably can guess what happened. Each of Princeton, William & Mary and UNH had one kid whose told them he's coming with a particularly good grade. That's great for those schools, but to suggest that Princeton had a better recruiting year than Miami because they got one kid with a rating of 6.1 and Miami's composite is less than that is ludicrous.

One kid does not a recruiting class make in football. College football teams require sychronized, symphonic movements of dozens of players who contribute to the final outcome. Not one-man bands.

I mean, I love my alma mater and hope that some day soon they'll win the Ivy League title outright (that's how are dreams are quantified in the egghead world), but to give them a kudo on the national stage for outrecruiting schools that would flatten their squad like a pancake in a game just doesn't make any sense.

Sorry, ESPN The Insider, but while I'm a big fan I can't agree with everything you do or take it for granted. It might have been the case that in the 1920's Princeton had top-10 recruiting classes in football, but not today. Thanks, though, for buttressing my hopes that they might have found the next Jay McCareins and for giving me something to smile about given that the men's hoops team, normally a subject of great pride, is 3-12.

But #14 nationally in football recruiting sounded too good to be true.

It is, perhaps, the only time that the Princeton Tigers will beat the Miami Hurricanes, LSU Tigers or Alabama Crimson Tide in football for a very long time.

And to paraphrase Bill Murray from Caddyshack, "At least they got that going for them."


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