You hear a lot of talk of bias in the media when it comes to college football. Everyone thinks the press has it out for their team or conference. I personally think that there is a tremendous amount of favoritism and benefit of the doubt accorded to the SEC. Of course the only people who deny this are the SEC honks.
One area where we don’t hear much about bias is in recruiting rankings. But it looks to me like the recruiting services are beginning to go the way of the rest of the college football media in pumping up players from the South–in particular, Florida–at the expense of other regions. The result is that, naturally, teams from the South will get most of these players and they will then dominate the recruiting rankings.
Just last year, much of the early talk was of Florida possibly having the best recruiting class of all time (even though it did not sign a quarterback–a criterion usually associated with top-flight classes). ESPN was declaring this to be the case before the ink was even dry on the letters of intent. When the dust cleared, however, the so-called greatest class was by no means a unanimous choice across the recruiting spectrum, as Rivals.com had USC atop its list.
But what helped lead ESPN to this conclusion in the first place?
A look at the ESPN top 150 of 2010 gives us some clues.
Of the 150 players ranked by ESPN, here is the breakdown of the top four states:
Note: Ohio, population 11.5 million, had one selection.
So, what we were led to believe is that Florida and Georgia, with a combined population of approximately 29 million, produced more elite players than California and Texas, with their combined populations of 72 million. Naturally, the Florida Gators signed a large chunk of those players and that’s how we get talk of their class being the greatest of all time.
Just in case you might be thinking that this is a one time deal, THIS year’s ESPN top 150 is even more skewed toward the Sunshine State and the South in particular–and, once again, away from the mega-populous states of California and Texas:
Note: Ohio was given four selections this time.
That’s 58 players from Florida and Georgia vs. 31 from California and Texas. Four Southern states–Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana and South Carolina–comprise half the 150 total despite having a combined population of 43 million. Furthermore, Louisiana and South Carolina (combined population: 9 million), have the same number of selectees as California (population: 37 million).
Does anyone truly believe these rankings? Do you think Florida has more elite prospects than California and Texas COMBINED?
Does ESPN ever venture west of the Mississippi River to rank its prospects?
At worst, these rankings are a brazen attempt to cater to the rabid SEC fan base by focusing on prospects from that region. At best, it’s a scattershot selection process that fails to properly account for huge swaths of the country.
Either way, I think ESPN’s recruiting service has some explaining to do.
Oh, I’m sure some of you are thinking that most of the talent really does come from Florida, Georgia and other parts of the South and that I’m being paranoid. But checking USA Today’s NFL database, the results are much different:
A comprehensive database of the past 20 NFL drafts, assembled by USA TODAY, illuminates trends in geography (school and conference), position and player size.
It is no surprise that California, along with Florida and Texas, produce large numbers of draftees. After all, they are three of the four largest states in the USA, making up 26% of the population.
But those three states out-produce their population when it comes to NFL draft picks. They account for 1,808 of 5,395 players drafted — 34% — according to a USA TODAY analysis of the NFL draft from 1988-2007.
So, California and Texas out-produce their populations when it comes to sending players to the NFL, but are woefully under-represented when it comes to how their players are ranked heading into college.
Anyone have any clue as to why that is?