Rivals ranks Five-Star Challenge camper Steven Parker 123 spots higher than any other service.
Rivals released their updated 2014 Rivals100 today, and this would've gone without more than a passing mention if not for this tweet that accompanied the release:
— Rivals.com (@Rivals) August 19, 2013
Fans of recruiting often throw out unsubstantiated claims about bias in the player rankings; this "fun fact" from Rivals, though, is just begging for some investigation into potential issues with their rankings. Does Rivals favor recruits who show up to their camps?*
I decided to take a look at the players in the Rivals100 who are listed as participants in the Rivals Five-Star Challenge; they represent 51 of the top 100 prospects on Rivals. My rather unscientific method of looking for potential bias was to look at each Five-Star Challenge participant's ranking on Rivals and compare it to their highest ranking on any of the other three services; if there's consistent bias in the rankings, Rivals should be the high outlier for this specific set of prospects. You can pore over the full (chart?) chart here; below is a summary of what I found:
- 26 of the 51 Five-Star Challenge participants (50.9%) were ranked higher on Rivals than any of the other three recruiting services.
- 11 players from the group were ranked at least 20 spots higher on Rivals than elsewhere, compared to eight whose highest ranking was 20 or more spots above their placement on Rivals.
- Five FSC participants in the Rivals100 were ranked 50+ spots above their next-highest ranking, including significant outliers OK S Steven Parker (#46, 123 spots higher than Scout) and TX OL Demetriux Knox (#35, 92 higher than Scout). Only two such players — AZ OL Casey Tucker (#79 on Rivals, #27 on Scout) and FL LB Kain Daub (#86 Rivals, #24 Scout) — fit the opposite criteria.
- On average, the 51 FSC participants were ranked 5.3 spots higher on Rivals than they were anywhere else; that number would obviously be even higher if we were looking at the industry average instead of the next-highest rank.
Where the numbers get really interesting, however, is when we look at the relationship between Rivals, ESPN, and Under Armour. As of this year, Rivals's recruiting rankings are "presented by Under Armour." Meanwhile, ESPN and Under Armour are still partnered for the Under Armour All-American Game. When I mentioned this potential conflict on Twitter earlier today, our friend TomVH noted that both Rivals and ESPN have input into the Under Armour AA selections:
— Tom VanHaaren (@TomVH) August 19, 2013
Since Rivals and ESPN both have potential conflicts of interest regarding Under Armour All-American prospects, I revisited my chart and looked for prospects whose highest non-Rivals ranking came from ESPN. Of those prospects, six are committed to the UA game. These are those six players:
|Name||Rivals100 Rank||ESPN Rank||Delta||Highest Non-ESPN Rank||Non-ESPN Delta|
This is, to be sure, a limited sample, but I can't say I'm surprised to see that each player's highest ranking drops — significantly, in the case of the top three players on the chart — when the two services with ties to the Under Armour Game are removed. When running the numbers for the full set of 51 Five-Star Challenge participants and using the highest non-ESPN rank for Under Armour All-Americans, the gap between Rivals and the other services widens significantly — the prospects are ranked an average of 11.1 spots higher on Rivals than the other services.
Rivals received some immediate backlash when they published the tweet at the top of this post; they repeatedly replied to commenters with this explanation when pressed about potential bias in their rankings:
@travatrave It shows how many of the kids we were able to evaluate first hand and in person, no bias at all.
— Rivals.com (@Rivals) August 19, 2013
This isn't an illegitimate explanation; Rivals got the chance to see a large group of top prospects in a setting that no other recruiting outlet was allowed to attend, and that should rightfully lead to some disparity in player rankings — both to the positive and negative. The fact that the Five-Star Challenge participants skew to the positive, however, along with the trend of major outliers among Under Armour All-Americans, suggests that some bias is present when it comes to recruits who participate in a Rivals-sponsored event.
Recruiting rankings, as we well know, are by no means an exact science, and my methodology here is far from ideal. That said, the role of sponsors in recruiting rankings is worth watching with a critical eye.
*Notably, the Rivals Five-Star Challenge is only open to Rivals reporters. No other outlet is allowed to cover it.