“Star-system” losing value; Percentage of talent-pool recruited is shrinking

Submitted by NOLA Blue on January 21st, 2010 at 8:54 AM

As we approach national signing day...

Two trends have been colliding over the last 20 years to create a scenario of increased parity across college football, and diminished value of the “star”-based recruiting rankings.  A look at the “participation” statistics provided by the NCAA, as well as those provided by the NFHS and US Census Bureau reveals a trend of growth at both the NCAA division 1A/FBS level and the high school level.  But, while the number of athletes participating at the FBS level of college football has increased by 11.0% over the 20 year span between 1988 and 2007, high school football participation has increased by approximately 31.6%.  (Note:  I say “approximately” because I was only able to obtain 9 high school data points and used the massively-brainy regression power of MS Excel to extrapolate the missing values… However, it was reported by the NFHS that participation in high-school sports has increased every year for the last 20 years; if anyone is a member of NFHS and would like to share the participation numbers in football from 1988-96, then we could have a more exact look at the growth on a year to year basis.)  Also, a larger impact is the fairly stagnant number of scholarships available, rolling back and forth between 9 and 10 thousand over the last 20 years.

A selection of years (spanning the time-frame:)

NCAA Football                                           High School Football
Year        1A Teams      1A Ath  1A Schol.     Year        Athletes                Yearly

1988        105                12,726    9,975         1988           841,900*            0.30%
1991        106                12,513  10,070         1991           882,685*            0.29%
1994        107                11,963    9,095         1994           923,470*            0.25%
1997        111                12,643    9,435         1997           971,335             0.24%
2000        114                13,190    9,690         2000        1 005,040*            0.24%
2003        117                13,711    9,945         2002        1 032,682             0.24%
2006        119                13,984   10,115        2006        1 104,548             0.23%
2007        119                14,131   10,115        2007        1 108,286             0.23%

*extrapolated value

What this suggests is that the portion of the bell-curve from which college coaches are recruiting talent is shrinking.  In 1988, the players selected for scholarships across all of Division 1A football would have approximately represented the top 0.30% of all high-school football players (note: 11-player leagues; yes, I know that Nebraska and Iowa have both had some great success with 9-player league players, etc.  I’m just trying to keep this somewhat simple.)  In 2007, we’re talking the top 0.23% of high-school talent.  Of course, keep in mind that the coaches are restricted to taking only graduating seniors.  Would physical and mental maturation suggest that in any given year, 70-90% of the most-elite high school players are seniors?  Tough argument to back up with numbers…

I suppose we would all agree that there probably exists the equivalent of prodigies within the realm of football talent… I don’t know what percentile you would want to attach to that status.  I would assume that the 99.9th percentile would suffice as the level of being the cream of the crop.  Among all players in 2008/9 this would correlate with the top 1113 high school players; I’m guessing (based on the aforementioned 70-90% conjecture) between 780 and 1002 of them were seniors and part of the 2009 recruiting class.  That is enough players to fill somewhere between 31 and 40 FULL recruiting classes of 25 players.  In other words, if the top 30-40 teams were the sole benefactors of the top 780-1000 players; then all of them would have teams made solely of players from the top 0.1% of high-school talent. 

That's right... that "2 star" athlete that you are sometimes tempted to speak negatively of is most definitely from the 99.5th percentile of high-school football athletes.  Among "academics" that correlates to a performance of 2320 or above on the 2007 SAT; 40 and above on the 2008 MCAT; 175 and above on the 2005-2008 LSAT exams; and somewhere around 780 and above on the GMAT.  If you scored less than that on any of those exams, your performance would mean you are less than a 2-star among your academic peers... ouch.  That's a pretty high-level of expectations.

I should also point out that the impact of this glance at the numbers is based on football talent adhering to a simple bell-curve.  But, what I have not taken into account is the growth of high-school players’ exposure to better coaching:  college summer camps, professional trainers, etc.  If the overall access to such expertise has increased over the last 20 years (as a percentage of high-school players receiving such tutelage) then the bell curve could actually be expected to skew to the right over time (compared to its original shape;) meaning it would be even harder to differentiate between the talent in the “right tail.”

What does this all mean?  Well I take a couple of points from it.  First, if people can truly differentiate between the top couple of hundred players in the nation (let alone the top 40 at each position,) without seeing said players side by side and in the same context, then I greatly admire them and place them in the savant category of Gregory House M.D., one of U of M's greatest fictional graduates.  However, I am a bit cynical as to such an amazing ability existing.  Second, given that there are 119 schools divvying up the top 0.23% of talent each year, I am experiencing a renewed sense of importance regarding coaches and facilities.  These players are all starting from nearly identical positions, where one year of intense studying, conditioning, and skill-building is more than enough to erase any gap between them and their peers (meaning today’s "number 1" can very easily become tomorrow’s bust, and vice versa.)  This points to the third take-home message: chemistry and motivation.  A “chip on the shoulder” of anyone from the top 0.1% of their profession can very quickly become a strong motivator of perfection… there are probably 900 of the top 1000 players who have this “chip.”  Harness this source of motivation with the appropriate team-chemistry... anything is possible.

Coaching… check.  Facilities… check.  “Chip”… check.  I like where our class stands.

Data taken from:



January 21st, 2010 at 9:06 AM ^

I don't think I've ever seen someone give real analytical legs to the old adage that recruiting stars aren't that big of a deal, but you pull it off exceedingly well. It's easy to view recruiting from the prizm that we're used to and not consider that the decreasing value of the star system is why programs like Iowa, Boise State and Wisconsin can consistently produce good to excellent squads while getting relatively few four-five star recruits. So in your opinion, would an ideal program focus more on depth and "fit" (i.e. whether a certain player has traits that make him more desirable to their specific program) than simply trying to stockpile highly recruited players (a la Ron Zook)?

Thanks again for this analysis, really great work, I feel alot better about our class after reading that. And if you live in NOLA (which I would assume you do) we should get a beer sometime as I live work in New Orleans as well. Cheers.


January 21st, 2010 at 11:09 AM ^

I definitely believe that team chemistry and the strategic piecing together of a team to fit coaching schemes is more important than the potential rank of a player. I really think it is impossible to differentiate between LB #3 and LB #17.

I assume that height, weight and speed are all important (and measurable) elements of a players current potential. However, in my opinion, intelligence, work ethic, and future growth are just as important and impossible to blend into a sure-footed ranking. I can agree that there are probably those extreme outliers that may truly have an insurmountable natural edge on their peers... but who belongs on this list? Someone who is a consensus top 9 recruit according to all sites? Consensus top 14? And I chose weird numbers for a reason... because when someone is trying to fit people into a nice and evenly rounded number (say Top 10, Top 50 or Top 100) that is more evidence of their human need for order than it is of natural truths. The truth is that there might be only 1 outlier in the national class of 2010, there may be 4. Who knows? But what I do know, is that the remainder of the 2500 people who will be recruited this year are starting with every tool necessary to be a stud among peers.

Edit: Forgot one very important item... yes I am from NOLA. I am currently living in Moldova until July, when I will return to that fabulous city of the South. At that point, a beer shared with a fan of college football's greatest team sounds delightful! :^)


January 21st, 2010 at 9:37 AM ^

since your first 3 data points are extrapolated, I would focus on the 10 year span of 1997 to 2007, where you have actual data points. The ratio decreased from 0.24% to 0.23%, or 0.01%. Is that even significant?

Also, I would think that the increased popularity of non-traditional sports (skateboarding, BMX, X-Games stuff...) would take some good athletes away from football and there isn't really a foreign football payer (well, except Samoans) like in basketball to increase the pool.


January 21st, 2010 at 10:54 AM ^

I agree that the first three data points are not concrete; but we do have two facts in hand: participation in high school sports increased through all 20 years (technically football may have not, although it did follow the trend through the 9 data points which spanned 11 years...) and the number of scholarships available to NCAA Div. 1A schools stayed relatively constant throughout the 20 years (due to the reduction from 95 to 85 in 1992, negating the full impact of the expansion from 106 to 119 schools over a 15 year period.) The end result is that 105 schools were allowed to recruit approx. 0.3% of high school athletes in 1988; now 119 schools are allowed to recruit 0.23% of high school athletes. So, yes, the difference between 111 schools divvying up 0.24% and 119 schools sharing 0.23% is significant (a proportional difference of almost 12% per school.)

I also agree with your mention of the impact of other sports taking a chunk of athleticism. The top 0.1% of football players are not the top 0.1% of all athletes. However, football is disproportionate in size relative to other sports (HS track and basketball have the 2nd and 3rd most participants, a combined 1.113 million athletes to football's 1.112 million... of course, many football players participate in these sports as well as wrestling, etc.) This, in conjunction with the number of samples (1.112 million athletes) suggests that "talent-level" across all football players probably adheres to a (skewed) bell-curve. Whether some athletes are drawn to other sports, or not, does not make differentiating between the top 0.1% of football players any easier.


January 21st, 2010 at 10:12 AM ^

I think this is a very interesting analysis. I do wonder how strong of a conclusion we can really make from this data, but it is interesting anyway.

If your theory is true and that the high school talent pool is larger and possibly even shifted from a normal distribution, there's another circumstantial piece of evidence. We've heard a lot of people say that recruiting rankings are generally accurate because the 5-stars mostly succeed and populate NFL rosters.

Well, the recruiting services are very stingy with their 5th stars. They only give them out to a small number of kids. Your data suggests that maybe all high school players are getting better with coaching, camps, conditioning, etc. Additionally there are more of them. Yet the 5-stars represent an extremely small percentage. You estimated that the top 0.1% of high school players equates to about 900 kids. So the 5-star kids are actually like the top 0.01% of kids and the 3-stars are still in the top 500 or so.

When you think about it that way it isn't hard to realize why 5-stars are so successful and it also isn't hard to see why there are plenty of 3-star recruits who end up doing just fine.

I really like our class a lot, regardless of star ranking. I like the depth at positions of need and I like that most of the recruits have played their natural position in high school and will continue to do that in college. I think that is especially critical for LB and S - two things we're desperate for.

Sextus Empiricus

January 21st, 2010 at 10:12 AM ^

I would like to see more HS data, but this answers the Rivals/Scout (5 star talent equals NC contender) contention - which still has legs IMO. What you lay out here though does give more cred to 2 and 3 star players wrt recent years.

When did the star system start? I think only since the late 70's?? Injury and Junior day camping are huge factors in relative star power as well, besides supposed regional bias. Historically Paterno started the early recruiting game, I've always heard, but I would like to know when junior day camps / combine type player to player comparisons started to play a larger role.

There are clearly .05% of kids out there who excel in the Rivals / combine type system. I don't think there are sub 4.5 kids out there going unnoticed - at least not as a trend. With internet video and IT in general - there is more data just less analysis. There may indeed by more and better 2-3 star talent out there.

Ultimately a great team of good players beats a good team with excellent players. I'll still take the Shawn Crable and Gholston type talent, but there is more to it than Rivals alone. Thanks for this.


January 21st, 2010 at 10:32 AM ^

Very interesting account of the recruiting pool and having some numbers to back it up. The star system does have its flaws, and this analysis actually puts into perspective how close it is between a 2- and a 5-star prospect. Well done.


January 21st, 2010 at 10:55 AM ^

the fact that competition levels in high school football are very uneven. Evaluators have gotten somewhat better at adjusting for competition in recent years, but it is still a fact that while it's possible to identify the better players within a given competition level, comparing anyone but the very best players between levels is pretty much a crapshoot.

You're right to point out the increased role of college and other summer football camps/programs/combines -- they help to overcome such disparities.


January 21st, 2010 at 10:39 AM ^

As someone who got paid to cover recruiting (almost 20 years ago) for a little while, it's my opinion that the star-system largely sucks. First of all, it's a scale of 2-5. What the hell is that?

The five-star kids are easy to pick out. It takes absolutely no talent whatsoever to spot them. And it's pretty rare for those guys to fail at the college level ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD. The ones who disappear are usually victims of injury, get in trouble off the field, or fail academically. It's unusual for a five-star kid to just not be very good.

About half of your four-star kids are easy too. When you go to a Nike Combine, it won't take you long to pick them out. The front seven guys on defense are larger than everyone else and move like track guys. The skill position guys explode when they go all out.

Once you've gotten beyond those guys, it's just this big, foggy grey mass. You can tell who deserves a D1 scholarship and who doesn't. But the idea that any of the guys working for Rivals can tell you the difference between the #38 OLB in the country and the #39 OLB is simply absurd.

Everyone also knows that there's also an enormous amount of post-hoc revisionism that goes on. Over the last two years, for example, Tom O'Brien (who has always had a great reputation for spotting unknown talent - Mathias Kiawanuke, being a good example) has found, recruited and landed two linemen in South Carolina (Denzelle Goode and Thomas Teal) that no one knew about, evaluated, rated or even listed. After they committed, folks from Scout and Rivals went down and both came away openly wondering how they missed these guys.

Goode went to the Shrine Bowl last year and completely shut down Donte Moss (one of the top DEs in the nation). Thomas Teal went to the Shrine Bowl this year and everyone came away talking about how dominant he was.

Do you trust your coaching staff's ability to spot talent? If you do, you should worry more about getting the guys THEY want rather than where that guy is rated. For instance, if you missed on the first two DB targets and THEN took the unknown guy from Louisiana, that tells you something important. But if the two DB targets are still on the board and you take the kid from Louisiana early in the process...that tells you something completely different.


January 21st, 2010 at 11:16 AM ^

I wonder about how they decide who to target -- surely they have to be realistic about who might be interested in coming to Michigan?

As far as my trusting Rodriguez and staff's ability to spot talent, if that unknown from Louisiana (Carvin Johnson) succeeds, it will go a long way toward establishing that trust with me. I still wonder how they found him, so far away and right under the nose of LSU...


January 21st, 2010 at 1:52 PM ^

I recall reading an article that said one of the assistant coaches at UM played against Carvin's high school coach years ago when they were both at rival high schools. They became friends and have always kept in touch since.


January 21st, 2010 at 11:36 AM ^

Most schools (I won't say "all" because I don't know) use recruiting services for their baseline information. They give you a database of several thousand names. From that database, a school will send post cards or literature to several hundred kids (maybe 1,000 at some school). It basically says, "We know about you."

A slightly smaller percentage will then get a letter that asks if the kids has ANY interest in the school whatsoever. If they reply that they do, they get moved to another list. If they don't reply and the kid is a good enough prospect, they might still get mail. If they DO reply and say "no," then usually, a school will move on. It's not the end of the road, but you can see it from here.

Then you start sending things like media guides and establishing contacts with high school coaches. Now we're down to maybe 300-500. From that, you build your recruiting board. I'm sure this is done on a computer spreadsheet now...but the boards I saw in the early 90s actually were big whiteboards. They were broken down by position and they had a wishlist by position. As the recruiting season moved along, guys would move up and down based on performance, response to recruiting, feedback, etc.

From that list of 300-500, not all will get offers. It all depends on how well recruiting goes. I think I saw somewhere earlier that Michigan has offered something like 180 kids this year. That sounds about average. The single greatest recruiting effort I ever heard of was the class at Notre Dame that had Jerome Bettis in it. They offered a grand total of 35 kids and got commitments from 24 of them. That's such an outlier, it's only worth mentioning as a statistical oddity.

When Rivals and Scout first popped up, coaches loved them. It gave them a chance to get feedback from the kids that was relatively neutral. Your big WR target just got back from a visit to Penn State. Did he like it? What did he like? Where does he rank you now?

The problem is that recruiting services call these kids so much that the players are used to it. They just give the same answers to everyone now. To let you know how far things have changed, I covered David Garrard (Jax Jaguars)'s first game as a varsity player. He threw for about 300 yards in a half at the JV game and they moved him up to varsity at S. Durham High School. A friend tipped me off so I went to see him. He blew me away (as a freshman, he was probably the best QB in the state. He struggled in the years after that when his Chron's Disease kicked in). I went down and talked to him afterwards and told him I was working with a recruiting magazine and he had no idea what I was talking about. He'd never heard of such a thing.

That's a very rudimentary outline of how it gets done and it's probably no surprise to most people. I'm just replying to Rasmus' question.

Coaches have networks that they listen to. One of the best things about the clinics that college coaches run is that it allows them to meet all of these guys that then act as their eyes and ears for players. The first thing most coaches do when they get hired is spend their first offseason going around to the high schools in the state and pressing palms and introducing themselves. You DONT want to make any enemies. Every coach has a guy in his corner that steers players towards him.

Those guys will also tip coaches off about players they might have, underclassmen to keep an eye on, and players at competing schools that they saw and liked.

It's entirely possible that the Michigan staff found Johnson that way.


January 21st, 2010 at 12:02 PM ^

I should also point out that the impact of this glance at the numbers is based on football talent adhering to a simple bell-curve.

Though you mention it (quoted), I think a normal distribution is a huge distortion. That is, unless you're assuming 100% of high school football players intend to play in college, on scholarship. You should revise this to have a double peak with a very large spike at talent level "0."

Following your analogy on the LSAT, you could assume that all college graduates are in the pool for being accepted to law school. For 2006: 48,171 LSAT takers with 1,485,242 total college grads -- about 3% of college graduates took the test. If your sensitivity is to the full range, it's obvious you wouldn't be able to differentiate between those at the top 3% (assume -- probably incorrectly -- that they're at or near the top). If you look at just the top 3% (pool of students getting 2-5 stars) there are absolutely going to be differences between the best and the worst.


January 21st, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

Your response took me down an interesting road of numbers. First, I didn’t realize that 3% of high school football players were evaluated and given 2-5 stars… that is 33,360 players across all four grades in a given year. That is quite plausible. Second, I had no idea that there were so many law students in the US. In 2005, according to the American Bar Association, there were 148,273 law students. Assuming that 1/4 of that number has to be replenished each year (note: I’m not taking into account the proportion of students enrolled in full-time 3 yr vs. part-time 4 yr programs, nor the attrition across the years) that’s approximately 37,100 students admitted to law school each year (or approx. 77% of everyone taking the LSAT.) Using your pool of 1.485 million annual graduates, 2.5% of all college graduates are admitted to law school each year. Compare that to the high school football players given scholarships each year: 0.23%. I agree that you can differentiate among a group spanning the top 2.5 percentiles. But, consider that there is probably not that much difference among the lawyers who finish in the top 10% of their class… this select group of over-achievers represent 0.25% of all college graduates. Add in that law school does not have unfettered access to the top-graduates (medical schools, business schools etc. are also pulling out top students.) So, the top 10% of all lawyers represents a slice of their undergraduate peers larger than that represented by scholarship football players among their high school football-playing peers. I understand that there are those geniuses of academics and athletics alike; we all know that greatness when we see it (Charles Woodson and Vince Young come to mind.) I presume there may even be a few in every year’s recruiting cycle… but now we are talking outliers, the presence of which does not make it easier to distinguish between the remaining “cream of the crop.”

Finally, I didn’t think that 0.23% of a sample would require it’s own “peak”… I think you are right in that the distribution could be bimodal, I guess it depends on how much weight you would give the opportunities that some of the population has access to (summer camps, trainers, etc.) If “football ability” were actually a measureable trait, then we would see how far the data is skewed.


January 21st, 2010 at 12:05 PM ^

I think where your piece really hits home is like Noahdb when you start looking at the 3 stars and such.

However, if you look at the top teams in college football they are the teams that clean up in recruiting - Florida, Texas, OU, OSU, USC, LSU and recently now Alabama. Starting with the 2003 BCS title game, these are the only teams to have participated in the BCS title game.

Ohio St has won 5 straight Big Ten titles. Starting with the 2002 season either OU or Texas has won the Big 12 every year except once (Kasnsas St - don't remember the year). This was the first year USC didn't win the Pac-10 title since 2002. Since 1999 I believe either LSU/Florida or Alabama have won the SEC title every year except once (Auburn). These teams aren't pulling in a bunch of 3 stars and coaching them up. They pull a few 5 stars, a good amount of 4 stars and fill out their classes with 3 stars.

Just because you have really good recruiting classes doesn't mean you're going to dominate on saturdays. Tennessee is good example of that. You need to have a decent coach too.

Iowa and Wisconsin are good examples of teams that aren't dominate in recruiting but usually put good products on the field. However, I believe the last time Iowa won a big ten title was 2004, and the last time Wisky won a big ten title was 1999.


January 21st, 2010 at 2:38 PM ^

With Sam Webb:


Worth reading all the way through, but here's the relevant comments:

"The regional guys get together and come up with the rankings. ... in practice, I don’t think there’s a big difference between a three and a four star. It is all opinion and some of it politically influenced. Some networks are more SEC conference based. Some analysts are more tied to particular schools, so their recruits are rated more favorably. Notre Dame has benefitted from that. Michigan has benefitted from that in the past, not as much anymore [laughs]. There’s a lot in play when it comes to the rankings. I tell people to not take the rankings, or recruiting in general, so seriously. It’s a guide and it gives you a picture of what things look like and it gives you a glimpse at what kind of athlete a guy may be. But a recruiting analyst is never going to have as much information on kids as coaches, so what you have to do when it comes to recruiting classes is trust the scouting ability of your coaches and wait to see if they prove worthy of that trust. You’ll see that eventually on the field."


January 21st, 2010 at 3:22 PM ^

His comments are pretty much in line with my opinions, FWIW. I remember someone from Auburn saying once that there are three seasons in the state of Alabama: Football season, football recruiting season and the spring game.

"Bragging rights" is exactly right. People want to be able to talk smack at school or the office about how their team is going to rule because they got the #18 OLB in the nation...blah blah blah. And yes, you DO sound like a guy who just drank his first beer when you engage that guy.

Someone up above mentioned Tennessee as an example of how recruiting is just the first step. Coaching is huge, of course, but keeping the kids eligible and in school is even bigger.

Attrition is like termites. It gets in and it just erodes your program. When a kid quits two years in or gets thrown out of school, it just takes all of the time and effort you've spent on him and thrown it into the toilet. You can't get that time back and you can't replace that player. You just start from scratch with the next guy.

There is a certain amount of time that has to be spent just teaching a freshman how to be a member of the team. Here's how to keep your locker, here's how to stretch, this is where you need to line up and this is how you need to practice. When we say you need to be here at this time, this is what we mean.

When that guy quits on you, you have to go through all of that knuckle-headed stuff with someone new and that's time NOT being spent teaching that guy how to read the safety during the pre-snap cadence. Or how to shed a block at the second level or any of the other thousand things a good player has to do.

Back in 2001, I happen to see a list of Tom Lemming's top-100 players in the country. As someone who followed recruiting, I printed it out and stuck it in a file. Michigan had a bunch of players on there. Kelly Baraka, Pat Massey, Ernest Shazor...

(I found the list online...here it is, in case you were curious: http://espn.go.com/recruiting/s/2000lemmingtop100.html

I remember Massey being a solid player, Shazor being a colossal disappointment, and I have no memory of Baraka. I looked him up and apparently he got thrown out of school for smoking pot.

If you can't keep them in school, it really doesn't matter how good they were.

Blue in Seattle

January 21st, 2010 at 6:57 PM ^

Bo was right in saying reducing the number of scholorships would hurt the players.


that Michigan Daily article covers a lot of ground that has been covered before on many articles on this blog. But why I bring it up here is for the reason that people believe the reduction in scholarships was a good decision so that the smaller schools could compete with the big schools AND thought that was the best thing for the players.

As I read the article again I find this quote from a coach we know so well to be, oh what's the word, well I'll just say it's interesting.

" 'Philosophically, I would be in a system where freshmen aren't able to play," Michigan State coach Nick Saban says. "I think it would be a better adjustment socially and academically if they didn't have to play.'

This season, due to injuries and academic ineligibilities, the Spartans have been forced to use half of their 22 true freshmen."

Ahh Nick, you always were all about the Student in Student-Athlete.


January 22nd, 2010 at 12:43 PM ^

It would be interesting to track how the stars pan out, versus the general population. Similar to the 'great class' that included Shazor, Baraka, and Massey, much giddiness was brought about when the Wolverines landed the No. 1 RB one year. As it turns out, Justin Fargas ended up (after a broken leg, position switch, another position switch, and a transfer) having a fairly lame football career at UM. I don't recall Hart's recruiting rankings, but we all know how his story ended. Obviously, two examples do not a study make. Somebody else - crunch those numbers.

Undefeated dre…

January 21st, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

A few comments:

1) Regardless of how players are distributed, the most likely situation is that the gap between player 1 and player 50 is much higher than the gap between player 51 and player 100, which is higher than the gap between player 101 and player 150, etc. This is commonly seen in fantasy drafts, and applies here as well.

In the situation you've described, basically the bottom part of the distribution is getting cut off. But the distribution where the slope is the steepest is still there.

Now, there's still the issue of whether stars are properly applied to players. But assuming you had a perfect star system, the fact that there are more 'replacement level' recruits actually means stars/performance are even MORE important. Again, this is big in baseball, where 'value over replacement' or 'wins over replacement' have big sway among analysts. As the value of a replacement level player goes up, the worth of the super star actually increases, because it becomes so much harder to differentiate from the pack.

2) The best test of the star system is longitudinal -- how many 5* players pan out vs. 4*, etc. That analysis usually reveals a real effect -- the average 5* IS better than the average 4*. What confounds the issue is that exceptions abound -- there are 5* duds and 2* superstars.

3) Probably the best argument to be made is that the simple glut of players makes it difficult to get accurate ratings of players, so the star system has less meaning than it did before. But again, only a true longitudinal analysis will give the answer.

So, if there are more replacement level players available, then there's even more of a premium on getting great talent. But I do agree with your point: assuming that most teams are unable to evaluate and hoard that talent, then there is a definite premium on coaching, facilities, etc. Not to mention, dare we say, 'football smarts', which may be one way to distinguish two players who are athletically equal.


January 21st, 2010 at 8:14 PM ^

I wonder if the star rankings are more accurate for some positions than others. I'd think, for instance, that it's easier to project how good a running back will turn out to be, than an offensive lineman? The primary success factors for an RB - speed, vision, balance, agility - would seem to be more easily evaluated from tape than at least some of the success factors for an OL - mental agility, physical development, willingness to watch lots of film.

Even just watching YouTube of Dillon Baxter, you know the guy won't go the way of Dan O'Neill.


January 22nd, 2010 at 9:02 AM ^

....because they effectively help discriminate among a larger group of candidates. Analogy: say (purely for the sake of argument) I went to FancyPants University back 30 years ago when they had 10,000 applicants. You could get admitted with good scores good grades and an ability to put a complete sentence together. Today, FancyPants gets 30,000 applicants. Now, you need to have been Touched By Greatness - some national award, or at least you should be made of dilithium.

In this case, the stars (national recognition) become increasingly important.

The statsgeek in me wants a complete roster of HS players controlling for personal and team records, size, academic ability, etc. AND the number of stars. The question is does getting the stars add to the quality of the team you land on over and above that other stuff, and has the size of that effect increased or decreased over time. (Don't mean to put you guys to sleep but that would really nail it.)

Let me play devil's advocate here and suggest that individual experts (coaches) don't necessarily know more (in the sense make better predictions) than some national system. Here's why: individual coaches predict player performance with some error. Any given player, some coaches will underestimate him and some overestimate him. If the star system takes into account the opinions of many (maybe it doesn't), it helps alleviate that problem.

It's like with finance - the expectation is that any one stock analyst has a larger error in valuing a stock than the market as a whole.

Of course, if the star system is just some self-appointed dude assigning stars (instead of some aggregation), that argument is toast.


January 22nd, 2010 at 11:23 PM ^

that stars don't matter? I think that's the position of many posters since Michigan isn't getting the stars it used to get. By this logic, UM should get more lower rated players so they have an even bigger chip on their shoulder, maybe NR players.

And your basic conlcusion is that you can turn any one or two star into Charles Woodson or Lamarr Woodley, which I disagree with. And when you say coaching is a check, are you implying that RR is the best coach in the big-10?


January 23rd, 2010 at 10:01 PM ^

Maybe I'm not reading this right, but .3% of 841,900 athletes is 2,526. While .23% of 1,108,286 athletes is 2,549. You are saying that schools are recruiting fewer athletes, but in actuality they are recruiting slightly more... Again there is the issue of extrapolating data and the addition of 14 teams, but it seems to me like the number of recruits has been relatively constant.

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January 26th, 2010 at 10:31 AM ^

I don't think this really holds water. Yes, there's an incredibly long tail of high school football players who aren't good enough to play D-I college ball. That doesn't, in any way, diminish the gradation between the five-star guys and everyone else.

Let's take Terelle Pryor, who got more press than any recruit ever. He was the #1 five-star QB that year. The #1 four-star dual-threat QB was E.J. Manuel of FSU, who hasn't seen the field yet started a few games in injury relief this year. The #1 3-star dual-thread was Kody Spano of Nebraska, who may or may not ever actually play quarterback for the Huskers.

There could be a billion high school quarterbacks beneath that, who aren't fit to hold Spano's jock--but no amount of motivation or "rightness for the system" will make them perform like Pryor.