While I am a relative neophyte when it comes to understanding how recruiting works, the one aspect that has really interested me is how the concentration of D-1 prospects breaks down amongst the states. Anecdotally, states like Florida, California, and Texas always seemed to create top-notch prospects, but that kind of made sense - those are three of the four most populous states in America. I always presumed, erroneously at it turns out, that fast, strong kids exist everywhere, and that the percentage of the population which embodied these desirable characteristics was pretty constant across the board. Thus, the reason the Big 3 fielded more D-1 football recruits than, say, Utah was more the result of population and "math" than something in the drinking water or the focus certain states place on football. Of course, there also seemed to be two glaring holes with this logic - the fact that many states in the Southeast (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, etc.) produce an inordinate number of recruits compared to their populations, and the fact that relatively populous states in the Northeast (New York and Massachusetts) produce far fewer recruits than their populations predicted. But was this really true, or did these two anomalies exist more as a figment of recruiting services and media hype than reality.
Now, I was going to do all of this research myself, but then I was luckily able to stumble upon this page that broke down each state by number of recruits, population, and ratio of people to recruits for 2004-2008. I then wondered how this translated to the NFL - in other words, were the states that produced a large number of D-1 prospects also sending kids to the NFL. So after some more scouring of the interwebs, I came upon this page, which provided a really awesome user-friendly chart. After some more finagling and Excel-assisted sorting, I came upon this chart:
Big Chart of recruits/NFL players home states 2004-2008
||State Citizens/Per Recruit
||State Citizens/Per Pro
|District of Columbia
So that really wasn't that surprising. Presuming that the distribution of football players was constant across the population (i.e. for every x people, y recruits exist), the ratio should be 1:40,380 - in other words, the population at large holds about 1 D-1 recruit per 40,000 people. Similarly, of those kids who went to the pros, the number was truly astronomical - 1:241,575, an astounding number considering that some of those positions are held by international players that were not listed on my chart. And yes, this statistic is not perfect, since the actual number of high school boys every year who could become D-1 athletes, and thus future NFL players, is far less than the population at large, people move in and out of states, etc. But for illustrative purposes I think it still supports my points, and I don't have the time or inclination to peruse government population numbers for a more true number. Plus, I doubt the ratios would be so greatly skewed as to dramatically alter the clear trends present.
So these results alone somewhat shocked me, but it has more to do with the illogical hopes so many kids even becoming D-1 college recruits, let alone professional football players. To put this into perspective, there are about 3 people sitting in the stands during a Michigan home game, on average, who have or will become D-1 recruits in their lifetimes. In another way, my hometown of Royal Oak has a little over 60,000 people in it, or about 1.5 D-1 football recruits per year if the model holds true. As for those who go on to play in the NFL, the entire state of Vermont, if my model held true, would produce 3 NFL-quality players per year - and that really isn't even true over the 2004-2008 span (0 players over that span).
But clearly, football talent is not evenly distributed across the country. While some more populated states come pretty close to the proposed distribution, such as California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, outliers exist in the expected regions of plenty (Southeast) and barren (NY, MA). Both Michigan and Illinois also seemed to produce far fewer recruits than their populations suggest while places like Hawaii and D.C. seem more fertile than expected, but not to an extreme degree that you see with some other states. And in Hawaii's case, a large percentage of those recruits are taken by University of Hawaii, so that situation is clearly atypical.
So what does this mean? - college
For one thing, some traditional "hotbeds" of talent may actually "under"perform their expected ratio of recruits given a linear distribution - I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania and California. At the same time, maybe some people are underselling certain areas, such as Virginia and Oklahoma/Kansas, who have decent-to-great in-state programs that recruit nationally but also seem to have pretty fertile backyards to pick from as well. But the real focus, though, must fall on the Southeast, where states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia continually churn out top-notch kids at a far greater rate than their populations suggest.
Despite what some Freep "columnists" opine as RR's apparent idiocy in not recruiting in-home talent at MSU's rate, it clearly makes sense to focus more of the staff's efforts on Florida and the Southeast compared to other regions in America. Sure, California and Texas are hotbeds that should be scoured, but the Southeast is where the money tends to be. Michigan produces a decent amount of recruits, but it is clear that outside of Ohio, the rustbelt just isn't a fount of top-notch talent the way some envision it. I'm sure there are a millions reasons why this may be, and I'll leave it to people in the comments to hash them out. My guess is that high school/college football has always been a more communal activity in areas of the South compared to the North, especially considering how few professional teams used to be located below the Mason-Dixon line compared to the population. Simply put, people "care" more about football down there, and that fervor translates to the youngest of children. They see football as a way to make a living, as a way to succeed and be a "god" in the community, and their environments seemed geared around making this dream a reality.
I don't think it has that much to do with the weather - sure, it helps to be able to play and practice outside more than in the north, but receivers can still catch balls, RBs can still squat and run wind sprints, and linemen can still work on their techniques indoors just as easily as outdoors. Plus, warm-weather states like New Mexico and Arizona produce recruits at a lower rate than expected, while some cold-weather states are able relative factories. To put it bluntly, I think kids in the Southeast "care" more about football than kids in the North. Now, that doesn't mean high school boys in Michigan and New York don't work hard or lack a will to win, but by and large I don't think the community rewards kids in the North as much for the success they experience on the football field as they do in places like Mississippi and Florida. I'm sure there are some socio-economic undertones to it, and some will say that kids in the Southeast see football as a way to escape the communities they are "trapped" in - see the Pahokee (?) pipeline as an example for crushing poverty pushing kids toward sports. But irrespective of the cause, it is clear that if you want the biggest payoff for your recruiting efforts, learning to whistle Dixie might as well become a requirement for major college recruiters. Now, that might not seem like a revelation to some, but it is interesting to see that anecdote play out in the numbers. I'm interested, though, to see how others feel.
So what does this mean? - NFL
As I mentioned above, I think a big reason more D-1 recruits emerge from the Southeast and Texas has to do with the relative importance the community places on football as a means to succeed. For better or for worse, a ticket to a D-1 school is viewed as a stepping-stone to playing in the NFL, and all the millions of dollars and notoriety that entails. So it shouldn't come as any surprise that the states which produce the most D-1 recruits per person also generate the most NFL players per person as well. Louisiana leads the way, with approximately every 82,000 residents producing an NFL player - a ratio about 3X greater than the expected! The same held true for most of the Southeast, with those states sending far more to pros than they have any business doing so. By comparison, Michigan is pretty average - it may be a little low on the D-1 recruits, but those who do emerge have a pretty average shot of making it to the NFL. So kudos to the Wolverine state.
By comparison, a pair of Ks - Kentucky and Kansas - seem to be the biggest "frauds" of the group in terms of overvaluing its D-1 recruits - both have pretty average or above-average number of D-1 recruits per population, but about half as many of those recruits wind up making it to the NFL as expected. So once again, Kentucky and Kansas underwhelm. As for New York and Massachusetts, they might as well focus on baseball - they just don't know how to create top-notch football talent.
But overall, this analysis proved what I expected - the Southeast produces a disproportionate number of D-1 recruits, and an inordinate number of these recruits are high-caliber enough to break into the NFL. Again, I have no scientific proof for the cause of this inequity, but I have stated my guesses. I am intrigued to see what other people believe is the cause, and I welcome anyone with more statistical knowledge than my one 400-level probability and statistics course to prove me wrong/drill down deeper.
What I'd like to do in the future:
* Breakdown for each state by high-school-aged boys, not the state population as a whole.