Ready for Another Dose of Realism?

Ready for Another Dose of Realism?

A reader sent me an email today and in it was a link to a very interesting article titled “How to Win in Recruiting” and the fascinating information found in it.

The simple upshot of the article is that many factors go into making a college’s ‘brand’ and the better the brand the better chance that school has of landing the better recruits.  That makes perfect sense.  Here is that phrased in a bit more detail:

College athletics provide a unique, albeit contentious, dynamic in which players base their college decisions on a radically different criteria than professional players, who often opt to play for whichever franchise will pay the most.  Stadium size, uniforms (read our article Fashion Wars on the influences of uniforms and apparel companies in recruiting), program prestige, coach prestige, coach persona, location, media exposure, fan sentiment, playing style, and academics are only a handful of the endless factors that play a role in an athlete’s decision.  The net sum of all these influences becomes the program’s brand, which is then evaluated by millions of high school athletes.

The chart below shows what and which schools’ were the winners in this issue and which were the schools dragging ass.  It is built to show:

We wanted to find out exactly how high school football players perceive the Power 5 schools, so we asked 224 recruits to grade their interest and desire in each program as if they were the number one recruit in the country (i.e. they had offers from every school).  This process gave us a peek into the minds of the most important demographic: teenage football players. 

Guess where Pitt falls in line? That’s right, 54th out of the 65 Power Five schools.  My lord look at the company we keep… Minnesota, Missouri, Baylor, Colorado and Wake Forest to name a few.


Thirty years ago I think we’d be right up in at least the Top 20 or so – but that is what winning seasons do for you. The way we have played in the last decade – 10 wins being our best but averaging only 7.3 wins per season?  Averaging only less than seven over the last five years?  No wonder we are where we are on that list.

Now – we have seen this chart below before in different iterations but the article includes it to show, basically, how the rich get richer.  This is from schools’ 2015-2016 financial disclosures. (Private schools don’t have to do so).

Where is Pitt on this chart you may ask? Nowhere would be the answer as we didn’t have a revenue of at least $50M during that time period (or any other time period but it would sure be nice!) which was the lowest starting amount shown on there.

The article also addresses another interesting question…

How about the schools with financial resources and solid brand recognition, yet relatively poor recruiting results?  Wisconsin can barely land a single 4 star recruit yet appears in the top 16 of both our brand rankings and revenue rankings.  Darlow described an issue he frequently sees, stating: “Too many schools are leading with the same three or four recruiting pitches; things like playing time, head coach prowess, facilities…and every program is a “family” these days. As is the case in any industry, when you go blow for blow with your competition, you’ll eventually lose to the bigger, stronger opponent.”  

Which is basically what we seen happen with Pitt’s recruiting efforts in the past and recently. All the above is nothing new to Pitt fans.  We are well versed in the limitations Pitt has in its football program; no on-campus stadium, situated in a professional sports town, surrounded by bigger and more successful football schools, etc…

All is not lost though – in a lesson that Pitt and especially Heather Lyke need to take to heart the authors say this about branding…

Brand perception is not only one of the most important assets to an athletic department, but it is one of the easiest assets to change as well.  Darlow describes in his book that perception, recruiting, winning, and money make up the four phases of an Athletic Program Life Cycle, in that order.  

All four phases are interrelated, yet the ability to affect the different phases is not equal.  It is difficult for an athletic director to wake up and say, “I want to make 20% more money this year.”  It is more realistic for an athletic director to say, “I want to improve my brand perception.”  Perception in turn affects recruiting, which affects winning, which affects revenue.  Each phase is most greatly influenced by the preceding phase.

Look, I understand that all the above – the four phases of the cycle – and they are more easier talked about than done, but Pitt has to start somewhere.  And I’ll say this – even though the article linked above is about college football programs – our Administration and our AD better take a long and hard look at what Pitt’s train-wreck of a basketball program is doing to the overall athletic image of the University in its current state.  If they don’t believe that the extremely negative play on the court and the ensuing  negative local and national press we are getting on that front bleeds over and impacts the football program also… then I think they are fooling themselves.

They are part and parcel of one athletic department.