Disclaimer: I don’t have any hard evidence or data to support my final conclusion. I suggested this concept to Paul Dalen at Football Study Hall and he told me that it can’t be measured or supported with numbers because you can’t measure something that never happened. But here it is anyways.
Here’s my unprovable hypothesis: Alabama’s (among others’) recruiting practices are making the rich (e.g. Alabama) richer and the poor (not really “poor,” but upper-middle class, seven-to-nine-win teams that might be able to land a blue-chip recruit) poorer. The Alabama’s of the world are getting better and better by recruiting more elite recruits than they have use for which stacks their teams and leaves fewer blue-chip recruits to go around for the rest of America. UPDATE: Thus, in effect, they are making themselves better, while at the same time, making everybody else worse. (Except for the teams that can use the same recruiting practices.)
I’m going to look primarily at Alabama because they’re an easy example. This scenario is not limited just to Tuscaloosa. It is taking place at powerhouses elsewhere as well.
I looked at the 2011-2013 recruiting classes. These guys are the ones who should be playing the most this coming season. If they’re going to redshirt, most likely they’ve already done that by now and we should see them making an impact on the field in 2014.
I looked at the running back position mainly again because it was easy, but what I found is evident at other positions as well.
Over these three recruiting classes, according to ESPN, there were 86 blue-chip running backs (four- or five-star recruits). Of these 86 available, Alabama signed SIX of them. In addition, they signed two blue-chip “athletes” that converted to running back.
During this time frame, only two non-AQ conference teams signed a blue-chip running back [Boise State and Texas State (both in 2013)]. So let’s say that those remaining 84 players are available to the 66.3 AQ-conference teams plus Notre Dame [Utah was only in the Pac-12 for two of these three years and TCU (Big 12) and Temple (Big East) were only in an AQ conference for one year each]. Alabama represents just 1.5% of the AQ teams yet they signed almost five times their “share” of the blue-chip running backs.
My logic tells me that there’s no way that eight elite running backs can be major contributors for one team over the next two seasons (assuming these players redshirt their first year, the overlap for these classes is the 2014 and 2015 seasons). And since these players are supposed to be the best of the best, they should be major contributors by their second year at a school.
I understand completely that some of these players will transfer, quit, be dismissed, etc. and wind up at different schools, but here is what I have to believe. When a team like Alabama takes more recruits than they can use (i.e. hoarding), they obviously are making themselves better and creating great depth for their team. However, this also, I believe, functions as a defensive recruiting tactic. If they have more blue chips than they need, there are fewer to go around to the other teams. Yes, some of these players who leave their first school will end up helping another school, but it will only be for one or two years generally because of the NCAA’s transfer rules versus three to four years if they remain at one program.
Out of those eight players that Alabama signed over the last three classes, logic says only one of them will be the feature back over each of the next two seasons. Even if you factor in the possibility of the main back getting injured and replaced by the number two, that leaves at least four blue-chip players who are not the primary playmaker and who most likely would be the main running back at the vast majority of other schools. Those players in this example who are sixth, seventh, and eighth on the depth chart are making a minimal impact at Alabama. (This is the part that I can’t back up) but at place like Virginia Tech, Miami, Nebraska, Washington, etc. they would be big playmakers and the top running back.
Conclusion: Over-signing is great for the teams who can do it. However it’s detrimental to the game as a whole and specifically the teams who would directly benefit from having those unused/under-used blue-chip recruits available to them. Unused/under-used blue-chip athletes would be major/primary contributors at most other schools, but because of the practices of certain elite teams, we’ll never know of the impact those kids could have made by spending five years at a school where they actually fit and would be used.
Now you have another reason to hate ‘Bama. Roll Tide.