Recruiting Rankings, Corporate Sponsors, And Potential Bias

Recruiting Rankings, Corporate Sponsors, And Potential Bias

Submitted by Ace on August 19th, 2013 at 4:57 PM

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:

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:

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
Alex Bars 36 52 16 172 136
Travis Rudolph 77 65 -12 152 75
Deshaun Watson 23 16 -7 67 44
Bo Scarbrough 31 20 -11 52 21
Jalen Tabor 20 17 -3 30 10
Da'Shawn Hand 1 4 3 6 5

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:

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.

Dear Diary is Michigan's Biggest Rival

Dear Diary is Michigan's Biggest Rival

Submitted by Seth on December 21st, 2012 at 9:38 AM


Programming Note: No Dear Diary next week unless you guys spend Christmas making diaries or something.

Trevor Miller of Hammer and Rails this week queried the bloggerati of ESDBS's boards to create a programming schedule for a fictional BTN2. Among shows like Hoarders: Jim Delaney Edition and a thing where Rutgers fans run around Manhattan trying to find someone who knows they exist, there was this idea:

11-midnight - "Why We’re Your Rival, Now." - Each school gets to explain why they are a Most Hated Rival of another.

I pointed out in the MGoBoard discussion that this would quickly turn into a Jerry Springer episode where Michigan's in the chair while they keep trotting out progressively more disgusting ladies who say they're our girlfriends.

That thread was perhaps was the impetus behind MGoSoftball embarking on a quest to ask every Big Ten (plus Notre Dame) blog to rank their rivalries. I'm excited for the results, though I don't think any fanbase is truly united on this front. For example Brian would put Notre Dame 2nd, while I think he needs to step outside of WTKA's signal for a day and see what's it like among the Sparties. One man's Michigan rivalric rundown:

  • Actual Rivals: Ohio State, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Minnesota.
  • One-way hate, them: Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, OHIO!, West Virginia, Princeton, Delaware, Rich Rodriguez, SEC, the Cleveland Indians
  • One-way hate, us: USC, Wherever Nick Saban is coaching, Lou Holtz, Duke, Notre Dame's president and athletic department.
  • Schools who aren't rivals but we have that one thing we'll never agree on to provide an infinite hate well: Nebraska ('97 N.C.), Tennessee ('97 Heisman), Penn State (JoePa, and because we each find each others' fans completely insufferable).
  • Rivals only in the sense that one can be rivals with a paraplegic neighbor who's always asking you to punch him in the face: Eastern Michigan
  • Hey, you forgetting someone? Like YOUR BIGGEST RIVAL who you got players suspended for and beat you that one time with a totally unsuspected onside kick???: …? On to the diaries. Where there were only three diaries, plus something I bumped from the boards, and they're all still on top. On to the rest of the board.

The Rest of the Board



The world did not end in fire or flood or the mountains caving in; it ended it matte. Futzing with the helmet is a sure sign of the end times, as if maize numbers with blue trim wasn't. Relive the freakout above, or join the mass hysteria in threads dedicated to changing the look of the end zones, or defending David Brandon.

On that last, a suggestion for those about to start threads they think will be unpopular: don't lead with "I know you're all going to neg me for this," or by telling everyone who disagrees with you that they're Brian Cook's sheeple. Make your points, address only the best possible form of the opposing argument, and then stand by to politely debate your assertions, being ready to modify, improve, or even back off your position if you get stumped. Cypress has a valid argument that maybe we've been too hard on Dave Brandon for turning our favorite amateur team into the 2nd biggest franchise in college athletics, since all of those nickels and dimes are building cathedrals for sports most schools can't afford to carry (and consequently giving M the inside track for the Directors Cup). But then the OP's presentation of that argument is overly contentious. It's exactly this kind of contempt for people with other opinions that makes the difference between a great debate thread and a messy flame war the moderators have to clean up.


Your diarist of the week is Asgardian for picking through the last four classes worth of Rivals rankings to find positional trends in who gets the higher stars. For some reason Midwest offensive linemen are getting proportionally higher rankings. It could just be the biases of recruiting analysts who think skill players have to come from the Southeast (imagine the difference in Toussaint hype if he was from Florida instead of Ohio) or it could be they're sick of Iowa and Wisconsin consistently pumping out NFL linemen from guys they rated a 2 or 3, and are making an adjustment. I'd like to see the sample extended back to 2002.

[After the jump, NCAA may be letting Oregon off the hook or taking the first steps towards finally nailing Ohio State for the stuff everyone knows about, and I seriously consider buying something Brian is totally going to make fun of me for.]

The History of Michigan Swimming

The History of Michigan Swimming

Submitted by Sandler For 3 on August 23rd, 2009 at 9:04 AM


Michigan Men’s Swimming: A History

After going on a rampage last month and writing ridiculously long posts about swimming related topics, Brian has asked me to try and raise some awareness for the Swim Team through weekly posts. And so I begin on this journey, hoping to foster interest in the sport and create a rabid fan base that packs 110,000 into Canham Natatorium (knowing full well that the fire marshal will be called).

Unbeknownst to many, the Michigan Men’s swimming and diving program is one of the most respected and prestigious varsity sports that the University has to offer. Since it’s inception in 1921, the program has racked up an astonishing 18 National Titles, while only employing 9 different coaches. The 86 seasons of Men’s swimming have produced many outstanding and unparalleled accomplishments, from NCAA individual and team championships to Olympic medalists and world record holders. Of the 9 coaches that have been employed by the University, 6 have coached for less than 5 years. While those 6 briefly tenured coaches certainly did leave their mark on the program, there were 3 coaches who oversaw 75 years of Michigan Swimming History. The fact that those 3 coaches succeeded at such a prominent level for an average of 25 years each, is simply astounding. Now, I don’t want to go too much in detail on the coaches here for hopes of keeping this post a respectable length however, for those interested, expect a full post on Michigan Swimming’s Coaching History to be out soon.

While success at Michigan is synonymous with the storied football program, Michigan swimming is the epitome of domination, never finishing less than fourth in the conference (excluding the first year of “conferences” when Michigan finished 6th). Over its history, the Men’s team has achieved a record of 613-118-6 for an 83.6% winning percentage. In addition to this overall record, Michigan has gone 404-57-4 in Conference for an 87.3% clip. Now take a second to comprehend that. Michigan has won more than 80% of its meets. If you had bet money on Michigan winning the conference every year, you would have been right nearly 40% of the time, an astounding number especially given the consummate depth of the Big Ten. Michigan has, on average, won a national championship every five years, although most of this success was achieved during the Matt Mann coaching era (this includes unofficial national titles which Michigan won prior to the inception of the NCAA Championship Meet), resulting in 18 national titles, a record that no other varsity sport can claim. (Note: In addition, Michigan is the only school that can boast three coaches who have won NCAA championships in Swimming)

In an era where rankings mean everything, to both player and fans alike, the swim team’s unmatched success has gone unnoticed by the majority of the alumni, except for the brief moments during which the team walks across the football field to honor their accomplishments (a tradition that I was able to take part in before the Illinois game). The swim team’s worst NCAA performance was 25th with the second worst performance being 17th. The team has finished in the top 5 an astounding 48 times. Now all you football fans out there, think about that. How excited would you be if the worst the football program ever finished was 25th? What if that was a year that they went 9-0 overall and won the Big Ten? That is how successful Michigan swimming is; success that unfortunately and unrightfully goes all but unnoticed, buried beneath a magnanimous group of high-profile, high-revenue programs.


Much of the allure of the more high-profile sports (football, basketball, hockey) has been generated through the emergence of hated rivals. The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry pushed both programs into the main stream, with the rivalry growing to be arguably the best in all of sports. The Swimming program is not without its own notable adversaries. Unlike many of the traditional varsity sports, though, Michigan’s main rival has been Indiana, who we have managed a respectable 41-29-2 (58.3%) record against. Another of our main rivals, one you might recognize, is Ohio State, who finished 2nd in the NCAA Championships five of the eleven times Michigan won. Despite their reputable history, the record that they compiled while competing against Michigan was anything but illustrious. To date, Michigan has compiled a 63-11-2 (84.2%) record against Ohio State. While they may have been good, we were better.

As for the rest of our big ten rivals:

Illinois:16-0-0 (100%)*

Indiana: 41-29-2 (58.3%)

Iowa: 28-2-0 (93.3%)

Minnesota: 36-2-0 (94.7%)

Northwestern: 38-4-0 (90.5%)

Ohio State: 63-11-2 (84.2%)

Penn State: 6-0-0 (100%)

Purdue: 54-0-0 (100%)

Wisconsin: 43-4-0 (91.5%)

*(Our last meet against Illinois was in 1989 before their team was cut from the budget)

Now those are some good numbers, against quality opponents. I say this only because I intentionally left out Michigan State until this point. If you’re a Sparty you might want to look away, you probably won’t take kindly to this part:

Michigan State: 79-5-0 (94%)

The first meet between the two instate rivals was held during Michigan’s inaugural year and from that point on Michigan achieved a dominance that Mike Hart would have been proud of. In doing research on State’s swim team (I wanted to have stats to back up my statement of their ineptitude) I was unable to locate a team history. I think that is a statement in and of itself that MSU hadn’t even compiled a history for a team that has been competing since 1922. The following is slightly biased and is targeted towards a very recent timeframe (due to my affiliation with Michigan sports and my age), however, Michigan State swimming has managed to flounder, despite the popularity of swimming in the Midwest. To put it simply, despite a lot of fast swimmers coming out of Michigan, there have only been handfuls that have attended State… over 86 years. Some of this is due to inferior facilities which can severely damper a recruits interest, although Michigan’s doesn’t rival the modern aspect that some, such as Tennessee have recently achieved. More importantly, if you are a fast swimmer you go to Michigan. It’s as simple as that.

Now that I’ve gone on my Sparty rant, I have realized how long this post is getting. For that reason I will cut it short, with a few ideas fresh in my mind for future posts (Coaches, Olympic tradition/famous swimmers & divers, Recruiting, and a Current update of the swim team). If there’s anything in particular you guys want me to write about just let me know. I understand that Swimming and Diving is not one of the sports that everyone follows, however I hope that by sharing my enthusiasm for the sport and our program in my continued posts, I may be able make fans out of you.

Unverified Voracity AAAAAAH

Unverified Voracity AAAAAAH

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2006 at 4:46 PM

Sort of like "Your Next." Apparently there's a geeky trash-talking tradition in the Michigan and Ohio State library systems: during the week of the game when they send books to each other smack is included. Michigan's contribution: a neatly typewritten letter pointing out various things about Ohio State -- like fire and electricity and indoor plumbing, though the latter seems to be suffering a slow adoption rate -- that they would not have without Michigan.

Ohio State's response?

There you have it folks: these people work for the library system. They're the ones who can read. Presumably. They might have hired a homeless man and dictated.



SMQB caught in the crossfire. One article detailing the relative strengths and weaknesses of Ohio State == instant reply from a Buckeye fan LOLing at any suggestion Ohio State has anything resembling a weakness. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

Radio killed the blogger star. the MZone guys are doing a radio show tonight about the game. Will Leitch! Some guy from the OZone and those Geico commercials with cavemen! Details!

Etc.: USA Today on past games; Big Ten announcers are surveyed about stuff; they're still pissed about 1973; Wojo (DetNews) on Carr; The House Rock Built advises you to stay out of the killzone; will NBCSports get banned from NDNation for posting this article about a father-son Michigan-Ohio State rivalry?