Whistling Dixie

Submitted by bronxblue on February 6th, 2009 at 2:07 PM

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 College Recruits State Pop. State Citizens/Per Recruit NFL Players State Citizens/Per Pro
Florida 981 18,328,340 18,683 126 145,463
Alabama 245 4,661,900 19,028 40 116,548
Mississippi 149 2,938,618 19,722 22 133,574
Georgia 481 9,685,744 20,137 64 151,340
District of Columbia 27 591,833 21,920 3 197,278
Louisiana 184 4,410,796 23,972 54 81,681
Texas 974 24,326,974 24,976 135 180,200
Hawaii 49 1,288,198 26,290 6 214,700
South Carolina 169 4,479,800 26,508 39 114,867
Oklahoma 117 3,642,361 31,131 23 158,364
Ohio 362 11,485,910 31,729 65 176,706
Arkansas 87 2,855,390 32,821 17 167,964
Kansas 77 2,802,134 36,391 6 467,022
Virginia 209 7,769,089 37,173 48 161,856
New Jersey 232 8,682,661 37,425 24 361,778
Maryland 145 5,633,597 38,852 18 312,978
North Carolina 229 9,222,414 40,273 33 279,467
Nebraska 43 1,783,432 41,475 8 222,929
Tennessee 149 6,214,888 41,711 20 310,744
Pennsylvania 281 12,448,279 44,300 37 336,440
California 826 36,756,666 44,500 172 213,702
Kentucky 92 4,269,245 46,405 10 426,925
Iowa 61 3,002,555 49,222 12 250,213
Missouri 118 5,911,605 50,098 9 656,845
Washington 117 6,549,224 55,976 11 595,384
Arizona 103 6,500,180 63,109 16 406,261
Illinois 194 12,901,563 66,503 31 416,179
Michigan 150 10,003,422 66,689 41 243,986
Connecticut 50 3,501,252 70,025 9 389,028
Colorado 69 4,939,456 71,586 14 352,818
Indiana 86 6,376,792 74,149 21 303,657
Minnesota 66 5,220,393 79,097 11 474,581
Delaware 11 873,092 79,372 2 436,546
Oregon 44 3,790,060 86,138 15 252,671
Wisconsin 55 5,627,967 102,327 12 468,997
West Virginia 15 1,814,468 120,965 2 907,234
Nevada 21 2,600,167 123,817 6 433,361
Idaho 12 1,523,816 126,985 5 304,763
Utah 20 2,736,424 136,821 13 210,494
Massachusetts 46 6,497,967 141,260 8 812,246
New York 112 19,490,297 174,021 25 779,612
South Dakota 4 804,194 201,049 2 402,097
Montana 4 967,440 241,860 4 241,860
New Mexico 7 1,984,356 283,479 3 661,452
North Dakota 2 641,481 320,741 2 320,741
New Hampshire 4 1,315,809 328,952 0 0
Alaska 2 686,293 343,147 4 171,573
Rhode Island 2 1,050,788 525,394 3 350,263
Vermont 1 621,270 621,270 0 0
Total: 7484 302,210,600 1251
Average 40380.8926 241,575

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.



February 6th, 2009 at 3:22 PM ^

Yeah, that amazed me more than anything else doing this analysis - with about 8-10 million people (depending on what you count as NE), to have so few D-1 recruits amazes me. And this is a concentrated population, with major cities and weather no much different than places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. So to have such a weak number of players emerge is improbable.


February 6th, 2009 at 3:30 PM ^

Three big factors:

1. Not many black people live in New England.

2. Most of its population lives in or near Boston which, like most Northern big cities, has under-developed public school football programs.

3. Hockey is a big part of the local culture and sucks away some big, talented athletes.

turbo cool

February 6th, 2009 at 3:47 PM ^

Do you realize how stupid and ignorant you sound when you say that there aren't many black people in new england so that's the # 1 reason why there aren't many D1 recruits?

I currently live in Boston and there are plenty of african americans.

Also, reason # 2. no dipshit it's not that these programs are under-developed, or under-funded, it's cause they're in a big city where facilities are hard to come by. makes sense, right? if you don't have a field to play on cause there is a 30 story building in the way, you can't play.

And #3, yeah, hockey is a big sport up here. Just like in michigan, minnesota, and wisconsin. So b/c of hockey there are less football players here? Then why is it that there are consistently a solid # of 3-4* prospects from these northern midwest states each year even though hockey is such a huge sport there? also, believe it or not but some kids play both hockey AND football. weird, i know.

anyway, your arguments are the worst i've read on here in a while. i've been trying to figure out since living in NE why there aren't many prospects and so far I can only really think that it's b/c there is that the emphasis on sports isn't as great up here as it is elsewhere in the country. i'm not saying that people up here don't like sports, but there are no major D1 schools (BC is a stretch) up here and as a result college sports aren't followed as closely. i've noticed with the people i work with compared to back home in the midwest. perhaps since college sports aren't a huge deal here in addition to the reasons i listed above, kids here just don't have the same motivation to become those types of athletes.


February 6th, 2009 at 4:31 PM ^

I do think race plays a small part in this equation, but I think a bigger cause is finances and how certain demographics/communities allocate them. I remember something I once read in an article (I think SI) about the dearth of white athletes in professional sports such as basketball and football (at least at the "speed" positions). What the article basically said was that there are far more athletic opportunities afforded to certain races compared to others, and that the relative communities reinforce the ones that they value highest. Thus, many latino players gravitate toward baseball over all other sports, with the best becoming stars in the MLB. Part of preference, though, was due to logistical limits inherit in their communities, where equipment for other sports is hard to come by and baseball was the "cheapest" to start up and play. Similarly, African Americans were found to gravitate toward football and basketball because the communities valued them over all others, and that thus all available funds were directed toward those sports in lieu of golf, baseball, soccer, tennis, etc. As for whites, they noted that most suburban high schools, which tended to be the most homogeneous and the most affluent, had an amazing number of athletic opportunities for their athletes, and thus there was more diversity across what kids focused on. They also intimated that many white athletes were "steered" away from sports like football and basketball by parents, coaches, etc. toward soccer, baseball, cross country, tennis, swimming, etc., sports where money was available.

I think there is something to the fact that while there are a great number of African-American basketball and football players, there are also dearths of such individuals in elite levels of baseball, soccer, etc.


February 6th, 2009 at 7:39 PM ^

the thought about hockey taking away bigger and more talented athletes, if expanded to include other sports, may have some validity. Growing up in Saginaw, the football teams in the city were traditionally better in the city where the best athletes would choose it over soccer and the reverse was true outside the city (in the "township") where soccer was the draw for the most athletic kids. Maybe hockey and lacrosse and whatever other sports are big in the NE draw away from the pool of athletes available, leaving less to play football? This would just mean there is a cultural difference with less emphasis on football then in the south and even the midwest.

Of course maybe a large population of descendants of slaves (who were selected for based mostly on physical characteristics and prowess) could leave states like Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana with a larger pool of big, strong athletes then other places. That would also explain why Cali, Zona, and such don't have this amount of apparent talent. Just some thoughts.


February 6th, 2009 at 4:15 PM ^

I agree with points 2 and, especially, 3, but I'm not sure about point 1 as much. While I don't disagree that race plays a role in the recruiting process (and anyone who doesn't see a disproportionate number of African Americans in football compared to the population at large obviously needs to upgrade his or her TV set), one thing I noticed looking at demographic data by state is that there is a distinction between regions as much as there is a breakdown in African American population. States like Illinois, Michigan, and New York have relatively large percentages (and composite number) of African Americans compared to southern states, yet they tend to produce D-1 football players at a far lesser rate. I think your 2nd point points to a possible cause, but I don't think the issue is quite as black and white (no pun intended) as it first appears.


February 6th, 2009 at 3:11 PM ^

Well, not THAT bad - I'm waiting on a bunch of stuff to be processed. But yeah, longer lunch break than usual. Still, I was really interested to see how this all played out after working with the numbers at home.


February 6th, 2009 at 3:17 PM ^

I am surprised that you would find these surprising. States with high percentages of black residents produce the most prospects per capita. Isn't that pretty obvious? The only state in the top 10 without many black residents is Hawaii, which has a large Pacific Islander population (another group that is very well-represented among football players).

Of the ten states at the bottom of this list, only one (New York) has a large black population. And even then, this can be explained by the fact that much of New York's black population lives in New York City, where (like a lot of Northern big cities) the public school system's football programs aren't well-developed.


February 6th, 2009 at 3:30 PM ^

Thanks, I had always thought that the MSM hype about how great states like Cal-e-forn-e-ah were for producing football players was not taking population into consideration.

Now, you have provided the stats.


February 6th, 2009 at 4:14 PM ^

Also, doesn't it seem like it would be kind of a circle? The states with more talented players means each player is facing more talented competition, theoretically making them better, etc.


February 6th, 2009 at 4:21 PM ^

To an extent yes, but you can't tell me that in states with 10+ million people, especially in highly-compacted states like those found on the East Coast, that there wouldn't be more talent being produced from states like MA and NY and that competition is somehow stunted compared to the south. I agree that the better talent in the south leads to better competition, but I still don't understand why a similar cycle doesn't exist in northern states with similar populations.


February 6th, 2009 at 10:59 PM ^

As a coach in wny I can tell you first hand football is not a huge priority to the nys school budget committees. Our preseason is very short for high school only four sometimes three weeks before games start. No practices or spring football is allowed to be played. Any off season stuff is usually an indoor passing only league. Anything organized for the school players can not be school associated other wise it is deemed illegal. Catholic or private schools however do not have follow nys public high school regulations which is why they are starting to have an influx of talent here In wny. Many of them are scheduling games with teams from Ohio and pa now as well The season is short too and getting shorter. Only eight games are being played next season down from nine this season. Also school unions play a big roll in who gets coaching jobs. In Many school districts teachers get jobs over more qualified coaches because the teachers want a larger pay check to retire on. In many school districts here football prpgrams are killed by teachers just coaching for money especially since football is most often the highest paid coaching salary in most districts Also many areas lack quality youth programs. More and more are starting and improving so hopefully this starts to curb the trend and we start sending our athletes to some bigger schools.

Brewers Yost

February 6th, 2009 at 6:20 PM ^

I took your data and switched out state population with high school 11-man football participants (2007-2008) from the NFHS website. I sorted by college recruits/player and Pros/player.

I am only using participants for 1 year and your recruit and pro data is over several years. Therefore, my numbers are not "correct" but they are an accurate indicator of talent/state.

p.s. Sorry about the size of this. Also you did not give data for maine and wyoming so they are not included. Finally I was too lazy to line stuff up neatly.


Louisiana 23
District of Columbia 27
Florida 37
Georgia 67
Alabama 90
Pennsylvania 96
Oklahoma 98
Hawaii 102
Maryland 107
South Carolina 109
New Jersey 117
Virginia 124
North Carolina 129
California 131
Ohio 144
Mississippi 150
Kentucky 150
Arkansas 151
Tennessee 154
Texas 166
Washington 168
Arizona 184
Kansas 193
Missouri 200
Connecticut 205
Colorado 257
Nebraska 263
Illinois 265
Indiana 269
Delaware 293
Michigan 309
Oregon 317
Nevada 328
New York 342
Iowa 365
Utah 390
Minnesota 419
West Virginia 435
Massachusetts 473
Wisconsin 569
Idaho 588
New Hampshire 884
New Mexico 939
South Dakota 958
Alaska 1,009
Montana 1,199
Vermont 1,346
North Dakota 1,584
Rhode Island 1,586


Louisiana 79
District of Columbia 242
Florida 287
South Carolina 471
Oklahoma 496
Georgia 503
Alaska 505
Virginia 542
Alabama 551
Utah 600
California 629
Pennsylvania 726
Arkansas 771
Ohio 802
Hawaii 835
Maryland 864
North Carolina 896
Oregon 930
Mississippi 1014
Rhode Island 1057
Indiana 1100
New Jersey 1126
Michigan 1132
Connecticut 1136
Tennessee 1145
Nevada 1148
Arizona 1183
Texas 1196
Montana 1199
Colorado 1269
Kentucky 1384
Idaho 1412
Nebraska 1414
New York 1534
North Dakota 1584
Delaware 1612
Illinois 1656
Washington 1786
Iowa 1858
South Dakota 1916
New Mexico 2190
Kansas 2481
Minnesota 2511
Wisconsin 2608
Missouri 2626
Massachusetts 2720
West Virginia 3265
New Hampshire #DIV/0!
Vermont #DIV/0!


February 7th, 2009 at 12:05 AM ^

interjected into the discussion. Several previous posts have suggested that some large areas that have large populations of African Americans (AA) yet produce relatively fewer D-1 and Professional athletes MI and MA conversely, relatively smaller populations of (AA)produce disproportionately larger D-1s and Pros such as the South East MS, LA, AL and Florida. So race in and of itself indeed is a small factor, That would suggest other factors are at play obviously. Cultural norms within the smaller subset, socio-economic factors are at play here. And another factor to consider here. Many AA families went north during what is considered the renisance period in AA history the time period just preceeding WW-II up to the late 50's. Many of those families left relatives in the South. I say that to say this and I have no real sample or hard data only personal experience and anecdotal information. Many of those families that moved North send their children South to "raised" by Grand ma and Grand dad to keep them away from crime and other negative elements that are associated with urban areas. "Raised" to suggest instilling old fashioned values like hard work having a less cushioned life. In other words some of that D-1 talent that would be found in states like MI, MA, Ill, and New England is going south. When I took my son on a recruiting trip to Alcorn State in Lorman, MS the majority of kids there were from Chicago, Detroit, Pontiac, Cleveland, and Philly. When he went to Jackson State for an official most of the kids were from the same states. He chose to attend University of Southern MS. which by the way had two kids from NY. Again it is anecdotal and I certainly believe a small factor but should be considered when discussing the issue of race and numbers.


February 7th, 2009 at 2:05 PM ^

to inject race into a discussion where so many other factors are involved. There are more African-Americans living in New York than any other state in the country (not percentage, just numbers)--nearly 3 million. Yet according to the chart above, New York rates in the bottom ten of recruits per population. It would seem to me there are a lot of other factors playing a role other than race--many of which have been mentioned.

First and foremost, there is just a much bigger emphasis on football in the South. Football gets the resources even in areas that are quite poor (New Orleans and Miami). Football isn't getting a disproportionate share of those resources in New York or Boston or even Chicago (maybe basketball does, I don't know). Because of that there is better coaching, better facilities, better training, and better competition.

Second is related to the cultural aspect. Hockey does suck a good amount of quality athletes away from football in the Northeast. It is THE sport in a lot of New England. Lacrosse may even suck MORE athletes away as those players tend to have similar athletic skills as football (may play both in high school) and the coaching is excellent. Suburban and prep schools in the Northeast can offer a great athlete an opportunity to play lacrosse at the next level (as opposed to football where the coaching is worse in comparison). Basketball is also bigger at the high school level than in the South, particularly in New York City where many schools can't really field programs. While football is clearly king in the South, it is much less so in the Northeast where other sports get much more attention.

How come there are so few black hockey players in the NHL? Is it because African-Americans don't have the skills to play hockey at a high level or because most African-Americans aren't ever exposed to OR don't choose to play high level hockey at a young age?

Why do so few kids from the Northeast play big-time college football? Is it because they don't have the inherent skills or because they aren't exposed to OR don't choose to play high level football at a young age?


February 8th, 2009 at 3:55 PM ^

It mathematically verifies what we knew all along: The South rawks when it comes to producing football players.

And UM will soon be competing for NC's while MSU will be bragging about how they "dominated Michigan in recruiting."