Here is my take on the basics of college football recruiting – I’m not a professional on a recruiting website and so some of this may be off-base a bit, but I think it is in essence how things work…
We all know the recruiting sites’ star rating systems are somewhat suspect but they are the thing most regular football fans use as recruit comparisons and for a conversational baseline when discussing the recruiting game. Which, as we are in the doldrums of college football until August, is a continuing main topic on here so let’s explore it a bit.
Recruiting stars awarded aren’t the only thing to look at when trying to decide how much you feel a recruit is going to contribute to your future teams. Two other equally important issues are offers and official visits. We’ll get to those in a minute but first the star system.
It is for the fans way more than for the actual decision makers. The recruiting sites live and die by the star system because it captures the fan’s interest and keeps them coming back to the sites to see how their school is doing in the star chasing game – which is also how the school’s recruiting classes are nationally ranked week to week.
Here is a very good USA Today piece on the ranked 2017 recruiting class as composed of all the recruiting sites. It is explained as this:
The composite represents an average of the rankings by the four major recruiting services: 247Sports, ESPN, Rivals and Scout. All rankings went to Top 50, except ESPN, which is Top 40. Teams not ranked in ESPN’s Top 40 received a 41; teams not ranked in the other rankings received a 51.
Here you see how the variables are at work between the four major recruiting sites. If you follow Scouts.com (who are the most stingy in awarding stars to recruits) you see we are ranked 41st. Then again ESPN has us almost in the top 30.
School’s football staffs don’t pay much attention to the star rating system at all. But to say they absolutely disregard it is incorrect. When it comes to players they have 1) extensively scouted already and/or 2) had the players in question in their camps (or other schools camps) they couldn’t care less what a for-profit website says.
All that said – Wannstedt used to publicly refer to his player’s star rankings all the time. He once said that Dickerson was ‘a 4* talent that we need to get on the field‘ among other things. So the star system isn’t completely ignored by the coaches.
One way they use it is to try to find diamonds in the rough outside of their local recruiting areas. For example in Pitt’s case when we offer 5* kids on the West Coast and in the deep South sometimes the first they have seen those players names and info has been on recruiting sites.
Schools like Pitt – those around the middle of the Power Five schools pack – have to sometimes take long shot chances to get true star quality talent onboard. To do that they will send out offers to kids they know they have about 1% chance of landing. It’s like buying a lottery ticket. That’s when things like sending players from a school into the NFL (or being All-Americans, College HoF and/or NFL HoF) comes in.
If a talent lives somewhere where there is a sparsity of schools that do the above they might want to travel a farther distance to get to a school that does. Thus Pitt dangles all that glorifying info in front of the recruit’s nose via letters, calls, texts, etc…and offers camps or an official visit to the kid to get them interested and then on site to close the deal.
This happens because we are always actively recruiting against nearer, bigger and better football schools like PSU, Ohio State, Michigan and ND who come into WPA and steal local talent on a regular basis. To make up for that we’ll cast a wider net (now it is Florida and the SE coastal states) and try to get far-away kids interested in Pitt. That cast is done by offering anyone we think can help us.
For instance take a look at Pitt’s 2018 offer list and see what competition we have for the out-of-state 5* kids on it. We know we have a minuscule chance at these top shelf kids but what we want is to get a foot in the door. Now – how do we get them even more interested in what Pitt has to offer? Well, we beg, borrow and steal to get them on official visits to Pittsburgh and try to close the deal then.
The NCAA now allows a recruit five official visits a year; that is when the school pays for all expenses (with restrictions):
Any visit to a college campus by you and your parents paid for by the college. The college may pay all or some of the following expenses:
Your transportation to and from the college. Room and meals (three per day) while you are visiting the college; and reasonable entertainment expenses, including three complimentary admissions to a home athletics contest.
You must have a Certification Account with the NCAA Eligibility Center before you can go on an official visit.
This is how recruiting money comes into play. Schools with very rich football recruiting budgets can entice many, many recruits to take official visits to them because they have the jack to pay for all of it. Pitt – not so much.
Fans think of recruiting budgets as the means of having our recruiters go to the kids’ home and that is a big part of it… but the real kicker is to get the kids who live far away on campus for an official visit and that is expensive also. Preferably many at one time if Pitt can afford it.
Gus Mustakas is a good case in point here – we found him down in Florida when almost all other schools had ignored him. Even though he was a 2* recruit we got him to come here on an official visit and sealed the deal. If you notice Mustakas’s other two official visits were local USF and Florida Atlantic.
Now there was a small Pittsburgh family connection there with Gus but for Pitt to pony up budgeted recruiting money for a Florida kid to come north for an official visit means they wanted him pretty badly. This was back in 2005 when our recruiting budget was a lot less than it is now with the ACC money coming in.
Of course the recruits can take as many unofficial visits as they want to – that is why we see local recruits and their parents at things Pitt does for free like the Spring Game and spring practices… or during the season we’ll see them at actual games – as long as the school isn’t paying for it.
Football camps are big business now also and Pitt holds some of our own. The thing here is that the kids and parents have to pay out-of-pocket to attend those (transportation, fees, sometimes lodging, etc…) so the recruits have to be careful of which to attend. These are considered unofficial visits by the NCAA I believe and can be great recruiting tools for both parties.
For Pitt the key is to get staff out to as many of the summer camps as possible to be able to watch these far-away kids in action in person then talk to them about Pitt. Some camps are run by recruiting businesses and are open for everyone to send observers, some are closed by the school hosting it. Again – it takes lots of recruiting money to send staff all over the country and the big richer schools can do it easily year in and year out.
I know it bothers Pitt fans when a school like Penn State and their fans say they don’t concentrate on PA like we do but “recruit nationally”. But what they mean when they say that is what I explained above – they truly do have the money and resources (charter jets on call for example) to do that whereas Pitt has to really hone down far away targets due to lack of money.
Penn State has almost a full quarter of their listed roster with scholarship kids from over 300 miles from their campus – FL, GA (lots), CA, TX, MI, IL, NC, WI and Canada. Pitt’s scholarship HS recruits on the other hand are almost all in the tri-state area and Florida, where we have been heavily concentrating.
Why Florida? Well, it is a target rich state and one of the least expensive places to use the shotgun recruiting effect to visit as many schools and kids’ homes as they can in a limited number of trips. Big schools will fly out to the West Coast to woo one player even if that recruit is a long shot – Pitt just can’t do that.
For instance newly-departed Jeremiah Taleni was recruited when Breckterfield was back in Hawaii on a vacation – so no Pitt recruiting money went into that except for an official visit he took to Pitt four days before he verballed his commitment. Pitt paid for that.
DB Ryan Lewis was from WA State but he was the nephew of Pitt alumni football player Tim Lewis so there was a pre-existing connection between Pitt and Lewis. Very rarely do we get kids from far distances unless there was something already extent between the two principals.
What I look at first when determining how valuable a recruit was on the national scene is how many official visits to good football programs they made. Not his offers or his stars but which big schools were willing to pay good recruiting money to get the kid and his parents on campus for three days.
If we get a recruit who officially visited Ohio State, Penn State or ND, etc. and still chose Pitt then that is a big deal and I think he’s a good one (time will always tell though).
The second thing I look at is their offer sheet – with certain caveats.
Offers are many times only in the eyes of the beholder because these ‘offers’ we see listed next to a recruit’s name on the websites is provided to the recruiting services by the players themselves or their parents/coaches.
The bottom line is that a school is not permitted to discuss any recruits by name in public.
Offers come in many different shapes and sizes – most commonly verbal and written. Obviously the written offer is more valid. But even then there is the initial letter a school sends out en masse… here is my favorite:
Now either that is a note to a recruit’s sister asking for a date or Michigan needs to find a TE coach who can recruit better than that.
Here is a better one “Official Offer” from Florida (with a small threat implied):
That is the Golden ticket for a recruit, and that usually doesn’t go out until the school has had that kid on campus for an official visit – until they actually get that letter in the mail from a school I take every other ‘offer’ on their list with a grain of salt.
Many times a recruit will have the name brand schools listed as offering and then it turns out the school never really did offer, or offered and rescinded – which happens all the time with powerhouse programs but the recruit still keeps that school on his offer list. That school might have shown a bit of interest via phone calls, texts and maybe a camp visit but never really offered.
Again – that school will not discuss who they offered and who they didn’t – at least the NCAA doesn’t allow them to.
Another thing is that a football staff will never come out publicly and say they pulled a kid’s offer when it happens because it makes that school look bad in the public eye. What they will do is if they really don’t want the kid – (personal issues, already filled that position, etc…) the school will call and tell them to look elsewhere. If ND tells a kid that do you think he’s going to call Rivals and say ‘take ND off my offer list’?
Now I do think that the local recruiting sites editors do bust ass trying to make sure the info up on their site is correct, but at the same time you can be sure there is a reason offers to a recruit differ from site to site. If Alabama offers a HS SO a scholarship for three years in the future then in his JR that recruit gets Alabama next to his recruiting profile. But by that time Alabama may well have forgotten who that kid is altogether.
The dirty not-so-little secret is that the Big Dog schools do this all the time. Alabama sends out between 150-200 ‘offers’ every year and they already know they can’t take more than 25 per year by NCAA rules. And verbal offers are worth the paper they are written on.
So that is what I mean when I write ‘if you can trust those offers’ when talking about Pitt’s recruits (or any school’s recruits). Offers come in all different sizes and degrees of honesty. But that official offer letter to the kid is the key that the big schools really do want that player on their roster.
A good example is Tom MacVitte’s experience with LSU. Below is his 24/7.com website page.
In it you can see that this site doesn’t believe a phone call is a “formal” offer and so doesn’t list him as having an offer from LSU. Now, if you look at MacVitte’s Rivals.com page they do list LSU as having offered.
MacVitte’s three formal offers were from Miami (OH), Cincinnati, Toledo, Ohio and Pitt.
LSU didn’t pursue MacVitte until two weeks before LOI Day in 2015 when Jim Chaney left Pitt. That created uncertainty in the Pitt program that Miles jumped on. Miles had an extra scholarship to use and decided to call the MacVitte household to test the waters. Here is a good article about how that went down. Rivals.com’s Chris Peak is the author.
Dwayne Haskins was a top target for LSU, but the Tigers were hardly the only school in pursuit. So Miles and Cameron offered MacVittie a scholarship and worked to turn it into more.
“Throughout the whole thing, I was like, ‘Listen, Pitt’s my choice and there’s a really low chance of anything changing there,’” MacVittie said. “They were always really respectful of Pitt and just said, ‘Let’s have a visit, come see your folks and get you down to Louisiana to check it out.’ I actually used to live in Louisiana so that was kind of interesting, but I never decided if I would visit.”
Miles wanted MacVitte to come to LSU on an official visit so there was certainly interest there – but that really isn’t the same at all like LSU offering a scholarship in the player’s JR or SR HS year and then sticking with him up to LOI Day to commit. That is when the player is really considered valuable to the school.
So to say that MacVitte had an offer from LSU is technically true, but to say he was recruited by him is not truly the case or at least the interest wasn’t at the level some fans think it was. Where does that leave MacVitte now? Well, it is up to him to show LSU should have offered way earlier I guess! Throwing 30 TDs in a season for us would do that I think.
Now if MacVitte doesn’t land the #2 QB job this season keep an eye out for Matt Canada trying to get him to transfer to LSU. If that happens then MacVitte is very much wanted by LSU and Pitt loses out. I do doubt we’ll see that but stranger things do happen in college ball.
The upshot of all this is that if you as a fan are going to be really trying to parse what sort of interest a recruit has from those Power Five conference schools, especially the bigger more successful programs, then don’t just look at offers – dig around and read the stories on where the kid took his official visits, which camps he attended (especially if far away from his hometown) and when the recruit actually commit to a school.
If he committed to a school early and the big programs kept on him then that is a sign that he’s one who was worth the effort and the money to try to land.
If all others offers dried up after his commitment, or were lackluster at best and no official visits were offered , then that recruit wasn’t valued as highly as his offer sheet might imply.
Of course these are broad stroke examples but that’s what I use when looking at recruits.