Slow day at work.
With the recent news of a likely/impending flip of Herron to Stanford, it got me thinking more broadly about our positioning in the college football ecosystem.
We tout ourselves as a big-time football program with strong academics. basically selling ourselves as the pinnacle of the "student-athlete" ideal. But it seems like the ground is shifting under our feet to the point where it's now a net-negative rather than a net-positive due to how other programs are currently positioned. Is this a common perception, or am I totally out to lunch on this?
Instead of being "well rounded", has the college football landscape shifted to the point where we now come off as being mediocre at both and thus the worst of both worlds in the eyes of many recruits?
Clearly if a kid's top goals are to simply land in the NFL & to compete for CFP slots and championships, other power schools have us beaten if you look at recent history. And let's face it: For some kids, rather than 'strong academics' being a sales point, we all know it can also be a hinderance.
So for these elite athletes that are ambivalent or even intimidated by strong academics the (unintended) interpretation of our current sales pitch effectively becomes, "Trust us, Harbaugh is here & we'll be at the top of the football world in 2-3 years; it's totally worth the extra academic effort you'll have to put in. Why win now with an easier course load & more free time, when you could work so much harder for some potential winning in the future?"
This is not an effective value proposition. It's akin to arguing that "one bird in the bush is better than two birds in the hand."
As a result, it won't make sense for many of these elite athletic/ambivalent academic kids to go with us until Michigan can convince them that their path to the NFL & CFP is at least as good if not HIGHER than the other schools & therefore WORTH the tougher courseload. So if anything, Michigan's more rigorous academic system requires more proof of likely football success, not less proof. At least for the elite athlete/non-academic oriented kids.
Maybe you say we shouldn't be going after most of those kids anyway as they aren't the stuff of "Michigan Men." Fine. But we also don't seem to be holding up too well on the other end of the spectrum.
Stanford right now has maintained a pretty strong program since Harbaugh departed, clocking in route 10+ win seasons . Notre Dame less so, but they've also got the Catholic presteige thing going for them. Northwestern does not automatically suck anymore.
For these elite academic types, the (unintended) interpretation could be viewed as, "Trust us, Harbaugh is here & we'll leapfrog Stanford's record soon; it's totally worth taking a notch down the academic reputation ladder on the marginal increased chance that Michigan & not Stanford will hit the CFP during your football career."
For these academic gunners, it just doesn't make sense to take a permanent half notch down academically in exchange for a very small marginal increase in likelihood of CFP appearances compared to Stanford.
And it won't make sense for them to make this tradeoff unless the Stanfords & Notre Dames take a consistent nosedive for several years and/or Michigan improves significantly to the point where the likelihood of CFP appearances is not simply a marginal improvement, but a very BIG one.
At that point, the sales pitch will basically revert back to what we've been telling kids for decades, but it'll have more credibility. Namely: "You don't have to sacrifice your academic goals by going to Clemson, Bama, etc--you can win right here at Michigan and still get that great education."
Bottom line: There will always be "tweener" kids who truly want a balanced student-athlete experience who might not *quite* have the grades to get into Stanford, but who also want more rigor than the juggernaut SEC style programs out there. But it seems that niche is either shrinking in overall numbers or schools like Stanford are stepping up their game to grab a bigger percentage of that niche we largely had to ourselves for a long time.