Big XII Conference Realignment and Potential Recruiting Impacts

I've had fun taking a look at some of the potential financial implications of conference realignment, so I thought I'd switch topics a little and examine how changing conferences might impact football recruiting.

In theory, one of the aspects that makes FSU such an attractive candidate for conference expansion is the access that it provides to the fertile recruiting grounds of Florida. Similarly, FSU fans are likely keen to build a foothold in Texas where the ‘Noles might be able to pry a few recruits away from UT, OU, A&M, and others. Frankly, I really didn't have any way to assess how much of an impact realignment might have on recruiting, so I went back and looked at data from when USF joined the Big East in 2005. I think the data contains some interesting insights, and hopefully can provide some insight into how a FSU to Big XII scenario could impact recruiting in Texas and Florida.

At the time, one of the main reasons the Big East decided to extend an invite to the University of South Florida was its location in the state of Florida. Schools like West Virginia and Pitt figured that semi-annual trips to FL for games would increase their exposure, and therefore allow coaches to build inroads with some of the large high schools in the state. On the other side of the coin, USF probably figured that a more national footprint would open up markets in the mid-Atlantic and North East - or at least prove to local recruits that USF could run with the more established ‘Big Three' in Florida.

Why did I decide to use USF for the data?

  • They joined the Big East 7 years ago, so there is good data on how recruiting has changed over time (i.e. before and after)
  • Recruiting data on Rivals only goes back to 2002, so other proxies (Miami to ACC / FSU to ACC / VT to ACC) aren't very useful
  • They're in the state of FL, which will be one of the main draws for potential Big XII conference expansion

The process that I used to determine the impact of expansion was fairly simple. I looked at before/after recruiting data for legacy Big East schools to see whether adding USF increased their ability to recruit successfully in Florida. The teams that I focused on were West Virginia, Rutgers, Pitt, Syracuse, and U Conn since they were already in the Big East by 2002, and had data going through 2012. Ten years of data is likely sufficient to draw some basic conclusions about USF's impact on recruiting access.

Q: Did adding USF increase the ability of other Big East schools to recruit in the state of Florida?

A: Somewhat. Take a quick look at the charts below:



It seems that West Virginia made a very conscious effort to build relationships in Florida. For example, in 2002, 2003, and 2004 they recruited 2, 1, and 2 football players from the state (respectively). By 2010, 2011, and 2012 they were up to 5, 7, and 12 football players. Similarly, Syracuse looks like it made a major push in the state by nearly tripling its focus on FL recruiting (7% of class pre-USF to 23% of class post-USF).

For the other legacy Big East schools, the impact has been negligible. Perhaps they realized that Florida was too far away to build sustainable relationships or they simply chose to focus on their home states. Regardless, adding USF didn't seem to do much for their ability to pull players from Florida or Georgia.

Q: Did adding USF increase the ability of other Big East schools to recruit QUALITY talent from the state of Florida?

A: No.

While some of the schools (notably WV and Syracuse) were able to increase their total pull from the state, they were mostly getting the scraps left over by FSU, Florida, Miami, and a few SEC/ACC schools that have built inroads throughout the state. Here's a chart that looks at how many Florida Rivals 250 members have left the state since 2002:


There are a few interesting things I take away from this chart:

  • There is a ridiculous amount of talent in Florida each year
  • The ‘Big Three' schools have had a tough time keeping a lot of talent in-state as many ACC/SEC schools have managed to swipe some of the best players over the last decade
  • Over the last ten years, USF has had 6 Rivals 250 players from the state sign with them (less than FSU or UF get in a given year)
  • Despite the problems the ‘Big Three' have had with retaining talent, Big East teams are not taking very good players from the state. Louisville has had some success, but that is mostly because it added Charlie Strong to its roster from UF.
  • When good players do leave the state, they usually go to SEC or ACC teams; every now and then a major West Coast school (USC or Oregon mainly) will be able to pull a top recruit

Q: When USF joined the Big East, was it able to increase its recruiting footprint outside of Florida?

A: Yes.

Prior to 2005, USF recruited almost exclusively from the state of Florida. Approximately 90% of its players were from Florida. In fact, they usually didn't even venture to GA or AL to pick up SEC scraps. Seven years after joining the Big East, nearly 35% of USF's 2012 recruits were from outside the core recruiting areas of FL and GA. See the chart below for more detail:


Those are three basic questions that relate to conference expansion and its impact on recruiting. Based on that data, and some supplemental information, I'll try to answer some more FSU-specific questions related to a potential move to the Big XII.

Q: If FSU is in the Big XII, will it be able to recruit quality talent from Texas?

A: Probably. I was surprised to find that a lot of top recruits do actually choose to leave the state of Texas each year. In fact, in most years almost half of the state's top talent (Rivals 250 members) decides to play for out of state schools. The chart below also shows that out of state Big XII schools (notably OU and OSU) have had success pulling top players away from Texas.

My guess is that if FSU does join the Big XII it will help recruiting efforts in Texas, but it will also be competing with more SEC schools as they try to capitalize on Texas A&M's addition to the league. Probably count on one or two 4-5 star recruits per year.


Q: If FSU is in the Big XII, how will it impact recruiting in the state of Florida?

A: I think there are a few parts to this answer, and I'll try to examine each of them in order.

  • For middle of the road Big XII teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Texas Tech, etc.) it would likely open up a new channel for 2-3 star recruits. Players that get passed over by the ‘Big Three' and other embedded ACC/SEC schools will likely be willing to listen to overtures from second-tier Big XII schools.
  • For top-tier Big XII teams (Texas and Oklahoma) it will likely present some significant opportunities. Oklahoma has actually managed to pull a few elite recruits from Florida over the past 5 years (ex: Roy Finch, Ty Darlington, Eric Striker) and has enough national cache to attract Rivals 250 talent from Florida. Texas has been content to focus almost exclusively on the state of Texas, but they could probably also benefit from some new Florida pipelines if they chose to go out of state.
  • For current ACC schools not named Clemson, Florida State, or Miami my guess is there would be a fairly negative impact. I'm sure UNC, NC State, and Georgia Tech would be able to pull the occasional 4 star recruit, but losing both Clemson and Florida State would likely take away a lot of the ACC's national viewership. This, in turn, would make it more difficult for Florida recruits to justify leaving the state. In fact, it would likely benefit SEC teams (Auburn, Georgia, LSU, and ‘Bama) who already recruit heavily in Florida, and would be able to promise more national exposure than second-tier ACC programs in a post-FSU/Clemson world.

In summary, if FSU and Clemson were to join the Big XII, I think the following impacts would be the most likely to occur:

  • FSU would still pull top talent from FL, although competition with SEC powers is likely to continue - even if Miami does trail off
  • FSU would probably expand its reach into TX and the rest of the heartland, and could probably expect to pull 1-2 strong (4+ star) recruits per year; they would not likely reach for many 3 star athletes from outside of the core South East territory since there are so many local kids available
  • Texas and Oklahoma could probably expand their reach into FL and pull 1-2 strong (4+ star) recruits each per year, if they chose to do so
  • The rest of the Big XII could pull a couple dozen 2-3 star recruits from the state of Florida a few years down the road, once their coaches have time to build relationships with Florida high schools
  • Net, net - it would probably have a slightly positive impact on FSU's recruiting especially when considering the additional TV revenue and the dollars that would provide for the recruiting budget

What do you guys think? Are there other data points that should be considered? Are there other questions that would be interesting to look into?

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