Chasing the White Whale: Part I

By Jake on February 8, 2011 at 1:00p

Six days out of a week, it's easy to keep perspective. Football is just football. They're not shooting unarmed protestors in Cairo or selling junk mortgages on Wall Street. Football is a way to escape from serious business and unashamedly root for the good guys, who we know are good because, dammit, they wear the right color red! They provide us with a generally harmless period of entertainment that, except for the occasional scandal, is left separate from the dirt that clings to us in our day jobs. So as the recruiting season and Superbowl officially fade away and the offseason truly begins, I have the opportunity to address those things that continue to bring in the grease and grime that I try to avoid. But first, a story:

Almost a thousand years ago in the hills of what is now eastern Turkey, the Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes watched helplessly as the mightiest army in the known world melted away and his millennia-old empire cracked beneath his feat. His enemies, Seljuk horsemen, wore little more than street clothes and carried only a small sword and a shortbow, while the Roman soldiers were themselves the medieval equivalent of tanks; lifelong professionals that outfitted even their horses with heavy armor. Yet there were no finer horsemen than the Turks, and every time the Romans tried to force a fight the Great Seljuk Sultan and his light, swift horse-archers would fall back, peppering the enemy with arrows as they swatted vainly as at a swarm of wasps. Before the day had ended Emperor Diogenes was captured by the Sultan Arp Aslan, who punished the fallen Emperor by treating him as a brother; offering him a feast, his daughter's hand in marriage, and his freedom.

The Battle of Manzikert was one of those rare points in history where one event shook the entire foundations of the world. It didn't destroy the Empire. Indeed, Byzantium survived for almost 500 more years. Yet the eastern half of the Roman Empire, having already held on almost 600 years after the fall of the Rome, was reduced to a mere shell of its former glory. Before Manzikert, Constantinople was a shining beacon of Western civilization, the bearer of the heritage of the Caesars, and the wealthiest and most advanced civilization on the planet. After Manzikert, The Byzantines were petty Greek kings who the Lords in Europe and the Sultans in the Middle East viewed not with awe and respect, but hunger and greed. The Seljuk Turks later went on to conquer all of modern Turkey, lending it their name, before they themselves fell to the Mongols. Then, in the 13th Century, a Christian Crusader army sacked and pillaged the Byzantine capital rather than marching straight through to Jerusalem as promised, an act of treachery which ended any hope of survival. Finally, after 1,000 years continuous existence, the Ottomans conquered the city of Constantinople in 1453 and ended the last vestige of the once mighty realm.

Why should you care about a long dead Emperor of a long dead nation? What does any of this have to do with Ohio State? You see, that Emperor is us, my friends. We, fans of the Big Ten, shining beacon of civilization and upholder of all that is good and decent in amateur athletics, risk succumbing to that same sense of inevitable decline that afflicted so many great civilizations before us. So we should care, because if we don't, then no one else will. Allow me to explain.

In our post-Manzikert world, it seems barely a day passes without a new story discussing the many ways in which the Big Ten's best days are behind it; how it is a dinosaur among so many fleet-footed mammals. We all know it's bull**** because Ted Ginn Jr. runs so fast he warps time and space every time he picks up his mail and the Big Ten still wins plenty of football big games. Yet there's the issue. At the end of the day, it wasn't the battle that killed Byzantium, but the loss of respect. It doesn't matter whether you start the Big Ten Network, kick off college expansion, or play dominating basketball, because Ohio State's very own Manzikert makes sure the conference still suffers under the perception that Midwestern recruits simply aren't good athletes. Everywhere you hear the same self-defeating resignation: "The rest of the country is growing, and we're not. We just can't keep up. All of the best players come from the SEC." Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated even recently argued that a combination of dark skin, bar-b-que, and morbid obesity is why we're doomed to failure. Until the zietgeist moves on and Big Ten fans quit being so damn self-loathing, the perception that the Midwest is a talentless wasteland will slowly become a self-fulfilling truth as top talent moves to "greener" pastures elsewhere. 

At the heart of this accusation lie two main arguments: The demographic argument and the racial argument. I've spent far more time than is healthy researching these claims, and I think it's safe to say that both are (mostly) complete garbage. I'm not deluded enough to think one blog post will have any effect on the prevailing attitudes, I think only winning will ultimately do that, but at least I'll be able to get this off my chest.


Guess which one is the peanut butter part of the Buckeye?            Guess which one is the peanut butter part of the Buckeye?

Argument 1: The Out of africa theory

I'll start with probably the most controversial argument: that black people are better at sports, for whatever reason, and since the south has more African-Americans, they have better football players. The more racist among the proponents of this theory usually argue that at some point slaves were selectively bred by owners to be better athletes. There are two big problems with this line of reasoning. 1) A better athlete is a better escapee. Only an idiot would make their slaves better at running away. 2) It's completely bogus. There's no evidence of slaves ever being forced to breed, and even if they were it would take centuries to make any real lasting genetic change. In the Andy Staples article I linked earlier, he puts forward a less racially charged version of this idea, but instead looks to Polynesia. With isolated populations like those living on a small island in the Pacific such widespread genetic changes are more likely, as is the case with the small group of Kenyan tribesman who are excellent distance runners. But in both cases we're talking about groups that number in the thousands who were isolated for extended periods of time, allowing recessive genes that might help in running or harpooning time to spread throughout the population. That didn't happen on Plantations. 

Now, even if the "selective breeding" hypothesis were plausible, it would still amount to racism. To say "black people are better at sports" is to say that people who have certain amount of melanin production are more or less athletic. There's never been a link discovered between athleticism and either melanin count or the ability to grow a good afro, this I promise. Leaving aside the often unstated addendum, "and whites are smarter," if we move forward with the assumption that race is linked with athletic ability that also leaves unathletic black men and women in an awkward position, akin to a poor Asian-American kid getting bugged by college kids  to help with math just because his parents are from China, or everyone assuming that the white guy in the room is an incredible dancer. Of course, this is all assuming it were even possible to define "black" in biologically meaningful manner to begin with. 

The one caveat to all of this: according to most modern studies, all humans came originally from Africa somewhere in Ethiopia. As a result, scientists have found that any two random non-Africans(including African Americans) are almost certainly more genetically similar to each other than any two random native Africans are similar to each other. Since those humans that left Africa were only a small group of a much larger population that stayed on the continent, all humans from outside of the continent are essentially inbred compared to native Africans. The practical effect of this is that because there's so much more genetic diversity in Africa than outside of it, you're likely to find both the smartest and dumbest, fastest and slowest, strongest and weakest, tallest and shortest people in the world in Africa. For whatever that's worth. 

Now, assuming all of this didn't matter, and it is 100% true that a larger African-American population equals a larger pool of great athletes, it's still not a good reason for why the SEC is supposedly more talented than everyone else. While it's true that the SEC states have the largest African-American high school population (~900,000) according to the census estimates, it's by a pretty slim margin over the ACC (~840,000), who haven't had to work very hard to find space for their football trophies lately. The conference with the fewest African-Americans? The Pac-10 (~220,000), followed by the Big XII (~250,000), then the Big Ten (~560,000), all of whom are far better conferences than the comparatively dark Big East (~750,000). So, the two "worst" BCS conferences and the "best" BCS conference all share this characteristic, while the Pac-10, Big Ten, and Big XII, three conference with multiple MNC appearances and victories to their credit, do not.

Thomas Malthus thinks you're having too many babies, SEC.     Thomas Malthus thinks you're having too many babies, SEC. 

Argument 2: The demographic Argument

The second argument is one that's so common, people don't even bother to defend it anymore and it's simply assumed to be true. Hell, you've probably made it yourself. Fundamentally, it goes like so: "The South is where everyone's moving, the North is where everyone's leaving. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is shifting the talent south as well." While the first argument is not really much of an argument at all, at its core, this one contains an element of truth to it. It's absolutely true that the Midwest is growing more slowly than the rest of the country. In fact, over the last 10-years, the Midwest is estimated to have grown 3% while the rest of the country grew by an average of 10%. Case closed right? Why the hell am I even writing this? Maybe you should write it if you think you're so smart. Actually, the truth is that if you dig even a little deeper into the demographics, the story is quite different.

There are two ways to evaluate the demographic significance of the SEC relative to the Big Ten. First, you can look at comparative population growth in more detail, which I'll do in a bit. Second, and way more time consuming on my end, is to look at the rosters of every single BCS conference team and see where their talent is coming from. Now, this analysis entailed a bit of executive decision making on my part, as conferences overlap each other. So I decided that rather than organizing recruits by what conference their state is a part of (impossible with situations like PennSt-Pitt, Florida-FSU-Miami-USF, South Carolina-Clemson, Iowa-Iowa State, and Kentucky-Louisville), I'd grouped states regionally, mostly by sports culture, i.e. basketball states with basketball states, rabid SEC states with rabid SEC states, etc... 

The end result is that regions are organized along conference lines with these notable exceptions: 1) I combined the ACC and Big East into one super region of all the Northeastern states plus Virginia and North Carolina as it's a basketball region and thus distinct from the rest of the south 2)  I put all of the states that border Texas in their region, which includes New Mexico, since Texas is such a monolithic presence in the region. 2) I kept Florida separate from any conference, as its own distinct region since you can't credibly argue that UF is a bigger deal than both FSU and Miami and Florida is really different from the rest of the south culturally.

Now, fundamental Supply and Demand would suggest that an overabundance of talent in the south would mean that other conferences repeatedly raid the SEC's backyard to snatch prospects that don't want to wait 4 years behind all of the Southern Ubermensch ahead of them. So we would expect that southern recruits dominate the distribution. Surprisingly, recruits are pretty widely dispersed. Here's a chart of where every single player on a BCS team came from:

Roughly 60% of the players are divided equally between Texas, the Big Ten, and the South. As one would expect, the more football fanatic regions have more football recruits, but no one region dominates the BCS rosters. "But wait," you might say if you were paid by me to help me advance my argument, "It's not that the MOST players come from the South, but that the BEST players come from the South. I'll bet the South is more heavily represented on the starting rosters than on the rosters as a whole, what with walk-ons and communism." That's a great point, so I went ahead and just looked at the starting 22 for each BCS team, who would presumably be the 22 best players on the team. Here's the chart:

The south is actually worse off on the depth chart than on the roster as a whole. The ACC and Florida pick up a little while the South and Texas lose a little. Functionally, though, the differences are too minor to really matter. If broken down by conference, it proves to be incredibly regional. SEC teams recruit 80% of their kids from within their own conference, Big Ten teams over 75%, the Pac-10 80%, and so on. The exceptions are the Big East, which recruits heavily in Big Ten territory and Florida (mostly the work of Cincinnati and USF respectively) and the ACC which recruits Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina heavily, for similarly obvious reasons. Basically, kids stay home. That doesn't address the longer term question, however. Surely, if the South is growing 3 times as fast as the Midwest, even if they're not really ahead now, won't they be in the future?

The answer to that question is yes, they absolutely would be, if SEC teams were actually growing quickly. With the exception of Georgia, they're not. In every single case of high growth in the SEC, the state was shared with decent sized ACC team. In the case of South Carolina - Clemson and FSU/Miami - Florida, the ACC arguably has the bigger program(s). One last chart to illustrate this point:I

The Big Ten starts off in 1960 with a massive 30million person advantage over the SEC. By 2009, that advantage has shrunk to a measly 27million. Wait, huh? Yeah, over the span of 49 years the SEC has managed to make up exactly 10% of their population deficit with the Big Ten. I'll be sure to crap my pants when I'm 500 years old and the SEC finally passes the Big Ten in population. It's important to note that the while the south is still growing at a faster clip than the Big Ten, growth rates are leveling off. Even more interestingly, if you exclude those states the SEC shares with the ACC, the Big Ten actually grew more than the SEC, 13.5million to 10.7million. Maybe they'll make it up in volume. 

The reason I have that other line showing the SEC + North Carolina and Florida is to illustrate the extent to which the "growth" in the SEC has actually been in just two, mostly ACC states. If you add those two states, the South is actually bigger than the North, mostly on the strength of North Carolina's growth over the last decade (where I currently live). Of course, North Carolina is not SEC country, so why its growth should matter is a mystery. As for Florida, they may actually be losing population now that the housing market is no longer artificially inflated, much like Nevada. 


And, so, while it's possible that adding 3 million people over 49 years was the thing that put the SEC over the edge, it seems pretty unlikely. If you want a good idea of what a demographically led creation of a football powerhouse actually looks like, look at Florida State and Miami in the 80s, USC in the 60s, Ohio State in the 40s, or Utah and TCU right now. That's not to say that the SEC's success has been a mirage or that the South doesn't put out more than its fair share of good players. My point is that the SEC's success, such that it is, doesn't come from some supposed weakness of the Big Ten. They're not bleeding our talent away, and black skin doesn't grant super powers (unfortunately).



Colin's picture

Wow! I. Am. Impressed.

For as long as this was this was real easy to follow too, unlike stuff from say MGoBlog where that stuff reads off like lab reports. Unfortunately, these facts still probably wouldn't convince ESPN or anyone from the south.

M Man's picture

Actually only 12.93756% of the stuff on MGoBlog reads like lab reports, when adjusted for inflation and using a standard serum osmolality value of 282 - 295 mOsm/kg water.  That's approximated, of course.  And it does not include any of the useless data from the SEC.

[btw, this was a terrific article; worthy, I expect of a class on the History of Warfare with Assoc. Prof. Woody Hayes.]

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

^^ LOL, that is hilarious

jfunk's picture

With so many charts, graphs, and historical references I think I just had a nerdgasm.

Scotch: It may be too early to drink it, yes; but people it is never to early to think about it.

E2Brutus's picture

Wow, great read. Well researched... I can't imagine how long it took to go through the rosters of 120 teams and divide the players by region. I'm truly impressed. Chartastic job Jake!

MaliBuckeye's picture

Jake, this is a phenomenal article... great work.

I'm particularly glad you discussed the possibility of latent racism in this issue, which is something that troubles me a bit even as we discuss the oversigning phenomenon.  There seems to be a mindset that these students who sign LOIs and don't qualify or are only at an SEC school for a year or so are just another example of "poor, uneducated minority students" that these institutions are exploiting for profit and so forth.

While it may be true that student athletes are being "exploited" by oversigning (a debate I'll leave to another website), language that implies that students of color are inherently less qualified for the academic community is troublesome and often overlooked.

Again, great article...

"Sarcastically, I'm in charge."


builderofcoalitions's picture

It is exploitation, but I don't think it's exploitation of all the athletes. Part of me feels it's an exploitation of an 18-year-old's ego more than it is of their education or racial perspective. The exploitation of the (poor) black athlete goes much further than oversigning. Still, you're right to call attention to Jake's great assessment of the race issue.

Because we couldn't go for three.

MaliBuckeye's picture

The exploitation of the (poor) black athlete goes much further than oversigning

Agreed. But since oversigning is the flavor of the month, it's hard to not make the connection.

A HS student has a better chance of being a doctor than a professional athlete in the NBA/MLB/or NFL.

"Sarcastically, I'm in charge."


AJ's picture

especially if that high school athlete isnt very good

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

Colin's picture

But what if that high school athlete isn't very intelligent either?

AJ's picture

then i probably know them, because they joined the army along side me....

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

btalbert25's picture

I don't neccessarily think the Big 10 is going to rot from the inside to be a shell of itself because some talking heads don't think the Big 10 can compete with the SEC.  To be sure this attitude is stronger than ever, and is being broadcast more than ever, but has any real damage occurred here?  Has the conference ever been that tough top to bottom?  If Ohio State would've won the 2 NC games they blew, this wouldn't be relevant.  However they didn't, and as a result it's been an SEC team for what 5, 6 strait years?  TV does what TV always does, latch onto a champ.  That's why they were obsessed with USC, Tim Tebow, the SEC, Yankees, Duke, etc.

Sometimes sheer demographics have to be overlooked when it comes to who produces the best athletes.  I've never seen or heard of New York being a hot bed for football prospects, though they have the 3rd largest population out of the 50 states.  Similarly, states like Illinois and Michigan don't churn out dozens of top notch recruits either.  Some states just have a football culture.  Texas, Ohio, Western PA, some areas of California, and Florida just have iconic schools that people nationwide have heard of.  Many of these schools churn out blue chippers every year, it's no accident.  Now too be sure these states all have huge populations, but it's far to simple to just say well more people live here so blah blah blah. 

btalbert25's picture

I also forgot to mention, great article.

builderofcoalitions's picture

It's true what you're saying about the B1G top to bottom. That was never an issue when OSU and Michigan were national title contenders. Now, I think it's a liability. The perceived strength of the entire SEC places it above the rest of the conferences. (Of course, the SEC East is conveniently ignored when this argument is made.) Honestly, if the rest of the B1G would put a better product on the field, it would help the overall conference tremendously. I also think the weak bottom hurts as far as preparing the conference's elite teams for BCS games.


The population/culture issue is an interesting one. I suggested below that people in the south just care more about football. The evidence is in the money they throw at coaches and all the shinanigans that happen every year during recruiting season.

Because we couldn't go for three.

btalbert25's picture

That's basically what I was trying to say.  Some places just have a culture built for such things.  You know, I live about 10 mins from Cincinnati in Kentucky.  We have decent high school football, but for the most part we don't have schools where kids were born to play, like Elder, Moeller, St. X , and even Colerain.  Babies over there are wearing purple you know, that just doesn't happen over here.  It's no mistake that it's a really good football school every year.

There was a small county not about 1 1/2 hours away from here who always seemed to have unbelievable baseball teams.  They had 6th graders in the state tourney hitting game winning homeruns.  The largest city in the county may be 10,000 people.  They had 3 major leaguers come out of this small county.  They had a culture for baseball that exceeded any school I've ever seen around here for a stretch of about 10 years.  They likely would've competed with the best from other states as well.  Unless there was HGH in the water or something, this area had kids who from a very young age wanted to be great baseball players and they were nutured and raised to be just that.

I know stats and numbers people have a problem with intangibles, but those are the attributes that really end up telling a large chunk of the story.  Impossible to quantify, hard to define, but they often are the difference makers.

blazers34's picture

Harrison County?

btalbert25's picture

Bingo!  My number on MLB players may be off, but man every time one of 9th Region teams would win they would get smoked in Sectionals by those guys.  I definitely know Chris Snopek played there and there were 2 other guys I can't remember their names, that were always being talked about.  They were insane!

blazers34's picture

played in college with  a few harrison county boys.  decent guys, pretty good ball players.  there is def. something in the water down there

MaliBuckeye's picture

The perceived strength of the entire SEC places it above the rest of the conferences. (Of course, the SEC East is conveniently ignored when this argument is made.)

Three quick beatings of a dead horse-

  1. The strength of the SEC, while valid, is also propped up by the circular argument that "they beat up on each other every week". When that happens in the B1G, it's because the conference is week.  We see what we want to see (or broadcast what we want to broadcast, eh ESECPN?).
  2. It also doesn't hurt the SEC strength argument that they get home games for the postseason.
  3. The SEC East phenomenon is interesting, given that there was a ton of concern regarding having Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia in the same division when the conference was formed. Everything's cyclical...

"Sarcastically, I'm in charge."


btalbert25's picture

I always hate when I hear the beat up on eachother every week.  To which I always say, don't all conferences beat up on eachother.  How many years do South Carolina or Georgia get ranked high just to get smoked in conference.  Kentucky loads up on WKU and Miami of Ohio type teams and worse in non conference to end up with 1 or 2 conference wins a year.  It doesn't make them strong, just bowl elligible.

Maestro's picture

Adding Nebraska to the fold will certainly help on the football front with this perception.

vacuuming sucks

KenK's picture

Good points. For eons, our conference has been the Big Two and the Little Eight, so lack of conference depth is not a recent issue.

Athletic culture has a significant role. In western NY, high school football isn't really that big of a deal.

I've always felt the "population shift to the South" meme was piss-poor, at best. If one were to look at population tranfers from North to South, there might be a surprising number of retirees in the headcount. Likely not too many schollie offers in that mix. 

Johnny Hooker: "He's not as tough as he thinks". Henry Gondorff: "Neither are we".

builderofcoalitions's picture

What's interesting to me is the factor of education. The Midwest/Big Ten region was well ahead of the South in public education, especially when segregation is considered. However, as education levels in the South have improved, birth rates are slowing and leveling off.

Personally, the two biggest factors in the SEC's dominance have to do with unique characteristics of Southern culture. Southerners just care more about football than Northerners. This is hard to quantify, but it seems pretty obvious when you look at the Big Ten and SEC compared top-to-bottom. Ohio State is the only program that really runs like a SEC school. That is, aside from oversigning, which is the second factor. Arkansas mad a run in the Sugar Bowl because they had more able-bodied players. There's a correlation between losing half your secondary and a team coming back. Ask the Packers. If oversigning is finally ended in the South, I look for the playing field to level.

Because we couldn't go for three.

builderofcoalitions's picture

Great post, BTW. I look forward to the next installment.

Because we couldn't go for three.

btalbert25's picture

I'm on the fence about oversigning in general.  I think if the kid is presented with the full picture and they knowingly enter into this arrangement, then it's not that bad.  The problem is the deception that comes along with it.  It's not against NCAA rules therefore, I can't condemn the SEC for putting it into practice. 

That being said, if southerners care more about football, and most would agree that they typically have an us against them mentality when it comes to football and other parts of life, then the kids are going to sign with a southern school.  Denying them a chance to compete for a spot at the school of their choosing is well just not American lol.  Competition drives efficiency and it seems like they've put it into practice well.  Most kids are aware of what's going on and still CHOOSE to give it a shot.

I think inherently oversigning is sleazy, but if the kids are made aware of the situation, have to sign a paper saying they fully understand this, and they aren't given the ole wink wink, this is just for official use crap, you'll be fine I have no problem with it.

Hootie159's picture

It also helps that the southern athletes are outdoors year round, running and playing football. In the north they just can't do that with all the snow on the ground.

gwalther's picture

Brady Hoke does it for the Lulz:


"If we don't win the championship, we've failed, period."



Class of 2008

Matt's picture

Excellent, thought-provoking work, Johnny Jake.  However, I think it is painting with too broad brush to label the "racial argument" as “racist.”  I would agree that baldly labeling a race of people as inherently more athletically-gifted than another race is racist.  But the issue here is much more nuanced than that scenario.  The original progenitors of America's slave population came to the country via the Middle Passage in the 17th, 18th, and, to a lesser extent, 19th centuries.  Mortality rates for the weeks-long ocean trip alone hover at about 15%, but more deaths likely were caused by the African slave catchers who hunted opposing tribesmen and then sold their captives to European slave traders. 

In other words, saying that a group of people – here, African-Americans living in the South, as opposed to all Africans – whose ancestors almost exclusively came to this country through a process of forced brutalization, which only the physically-strong could survive, only to then face forced manual labor conditions for generations, where the physically-weaker individuals presumably perished from the work/harsh elements – I do not think that is a racist argument.  I believe this is not a racist argument because such a model is equally applicable to any race:  if one group of humans subjects another group of humans to systematic, targeted brutality that includes the Middle Passage and centuries of enslavement, those individuals and their offspring who suffer and survive that experience -- regardless of their race/melanin production -- would be more capable of withstanding physical stress/disease, and, presumably, be more physically fit, than a group of people whose ancestors were not subjected to that brutality.  This scenario would not involve natural selection and eons of evolution, but rather the collateral consequences of directly or indirectly killing the physically-less hardy as a result of one group’s brutalization of a subset of people who were plucked from their homes. 

And I don’t put much stock in the argument that faster slaves would have run away from plantations if the experience of slavery actually made them faster.  That argument presumes that escaping from bondage simply took faster feet.  A faster slave might be able to run off of a plantation more quickly, but that still placed the individual penniless, hundreds of miles from the free North, with a Fugitive Slave Law that was enforced to varying degrees even in these states.  In other words, I don’t think faster slaves would be more prone to run away, as I think the decision to escape from Slavery would be a function of other considerations.

Now, I am not saying that I believe race has anything to do with the SEC rise -- I suspect it has more to do with oversigning and stronger football/weaker basketball culture among young athletes -- but I do think that the situation, as it applies to the American South and slavery, is more nuanced than you are portraying it to be.

AJ's picture

well put

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

KenK's picture

"That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Good point about Passage and consequences, Matt. Definitely some Friedrich Nietzsche goin' on here.

Johnny Hooker: "He's not as tough as he thinks". Henry Gondorff: "Neither are we".

Doc's picture

Matt has a point here.  The other thing to consider is the physical make-up of the two races.  There are physiological differences between "whites" and "blacks".  Muscle, excluding cardiac, is broken up into fast twitch and slow twitch.  As a race "whites" have more slow twitch muscle cells, while "blacks" in general have more fast twitch.  This allows them to fire quicker making the person run faster and jump higher.  It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to look at the rosters of NBA and NFL squads to see what race of people are the majority.  Now, I'm not so obtuse to not know there are exceptions to every rule, but in general this holds water.  If there weren't differences between the races the racial make-up of the major colleges and professional ranks would be closer to 50/50.  This isn't a racist statement, but it is a racial one.


"Say my name."

Matt's picture

I can't say that I subscribe to your position, Doc.  My point was not that some inherent physiological difference exists between "blacks" and "whites," but rather that, if it does exist, it is a product of environment culling the gene pool over time, not some innate difference between "black" and "white," whatever those terms mean.  The African population that was brought to the American South via slave ships, as well as their African-American descendants who suffered through slavery and later dispersed throughout America, were subjected to a unique, singular experience that could have resulted in the culling of a more physically-fit population of human beings through generations of brutal attrition and pro-creation.  It's a theory in which the race of the population is irrelevant.  I also don't have anything other than a vague speculative logic to back it up.  To the extent that any fast/slow twitch difference exists in America, I think that would be a product of environment (i.e., the slave experience) and not genetics.  It then becomes a chicken and the egg conundrum.  And even to the extent that any scientific literature exists which reflects a fast/slow twitch difference between "races," I'd be interested in seeing how the study defines a sample size.  Is the study based on an examination of African-Americans?  Native Africans?  Is there a control for socio-economic class? And what is the definition of "whites"?   I ultimately don't believe the athleticism-by-race is something that is quanitifiable, as other factors that affect the makeup of college and professional athletics would not be adequately accounted for in a study -- for example, the lack of upward mobility in inner-city communities and the trend towards playing sports as a means of escaping an otherwise hopeless situation.

Doc's picture

Maybe I should have changed my whites and black into people of European lineage and those of African respectively.  I don't have the time or the energy to dig up a journal article that backs up my claim.  All I know is what I learned in my physiology class all those years ago.  Bye the way, all the African people don't have an over abundance of fast twitch muscle.  The Kenyans go more toward slow twitch, explaining their excellent marathoners.  I don't disagree that during the time of slavery breeding of slaves did happen.  My contention is that the differences between the races occured farther back than that.  You are not a racist if you think there is a difference between White people and Black people or even Asian.  Just like you are not a sexist if you believe there is a difference between men and women.  African Americans are generally faster than European Americans it is the truth.  I don't think socioeconomics makes any difference here.  Being poor doesn't make you faster, or jump higher.

I'm not trying to start an argument with you Matt, that is not my intention.  I'm just trying to shed a little more light on the subject.  There is a difference physiologically speaking.  I'm not saying one is better than another.




"Say my name."

Matt's picture

Yeah, I guess we just agree to disagree, and also know that it was not my intention to start an argument with you either, Doc.  Ultimately, it was not a good idea to originally raise this issue on an Ohio State blog, and I regret having further engaged on the issue once it was presented in the initial post.  People don't come to 11W to engage in post-modernist pretentiousness and bandy about first-year grad-school buzzwords like it was going out of style;  they come here to argue about the pressing, unresolvable issues that confront us all:  whether we are utilizing the tight end as a passing threat enough out of a two back set, whether Jaamal Berry will finally make me a prophet and start to play ball like I know he can, and whether Jim Bollman's continued presence as an influential member of this coaching staff is a sign of the end of days.

buckeyedude's picture

This is almost the argument that Jimmy the Greek made, and due to political correctness, got fired for.

There are differences, physically and culturally between the races, cultures and nations. Not all cultures/nations/races are exactly the same. To deny that is ignorant, IMO.

I did enjoy the history lesson. I did not realize that the Romans fought for the Byzantines. They were two separate empires, were they not? (although I enjoy the History Channel and history in general, I am not an expert). Did they not have their own separate armies?

And Doc, I think African-Americans make up roughly between 20 to 30% of the US population. If there weren't any differences between the races, then I believe the racial makeup of college and professional sports would be closer to 70 to 80% caucasian, 20 to 30% black.

BTW, how many Asian-Americans play professional sports, and how many of them run the Math Departments at universities across the nation?

And in response to Matt, I believe that there are differences that were/are influenced by "culling," environment, and genetics.

In conclusion, Go Buckeyes!



Doc's picture

Thanks Dude, my point exactly.  You are right if everything was equal the professional sports rosters would look more like the general population.

Go Bucks!

"Say my name."

Jake's picture

The term Byzantine is a modern invention used by historians to distinguish the medieval Roman Empire, centered no Constantinople, from the Ancient Rome centered in Italy. The Byzantine Romans were a direct political continuation of the Ancient Roman empire's eastern half, but by 1000 AD they all spoke Greek rather than Latin, were thoroughly Christian, and they had reformed their political system quite a bit, as one would expect after 600 years.

It'd be as if the eastern half of the United States collapsed but the western half did not, and after awhile Spanish became their majority language.

Hootie159's picture

The city was originally named Byzantium (hence Byzantines) until emperor Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire, and changed the city name to Constantinople.

jfunk's picture

The city was originally named Byzantium (hence Byzantines) until emperor Constantine made it the capital of the Roman Empire, and changed the city name to Constantinople.


And then it became Istanbul, but that's nobody's business but the Turks....

Scotch: It may be too early to drink it, yes; but people it is never to early to think about it.

Another Jason's picture

And then it became Istanbul, but that's nobody's business but the Turks....

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam.

Buckeye in Athens's picture

I appreciate the Byzantine love (and the whole article), especially because I just finished The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Great book.

Colin's picture

I swear to God I did not know this and I did really well in World History...I wouldn't expect this kind of enlightenment to come from a sports fan blog. You sir, are brilliant.

Jake's picture

The issue is that there's little scientific basis for a biological distinction between races. It's an entirely cultural creation. This doesn't make race not "real", but it's important to understand that all the characteristics associated with any specific race are largely independent of one another. Within societies where those culturally constructed racial groups are largely kept seperate, there's a tendency for biology to match the cultural construction of race simply because society expects people who look a certain way to mate with others who look that way. Think of it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

All that said, there's not scientific evidence that fast twitch muscle fibre is coded for by any of the genes code for skin color, hair, eye color, or facial characteristics. So while it might be true that there are more people with the "fast-twitch" gene among people that also have the "dark skin" gene, it would be incorrect to say this shows that black people are more athletic. 

Furthermore, there are more variables in athletic success than simply genetics. In the 1930s, all of Americas best athletes were mostly Jewish, which is certainly not the case today. The worlds best soccer players come largely from Western Europe and Latin America, the best Rugby players come from England and Australia, while the best Hockey players come from Central Europe and Canada. As for the U.S., baseball is mostly hispanic.

Think about how many pro athletes come from a moneyed background, regardless of their race. Outside of legacies whose parents were also pro athletes, there aren't that many. If you have a job as a doctor or lawyer lined up and a college future secured by an advantaged background, there's a little incentive to pursue competitive sports outside of a love for the game. The NFL is a brutal industry, where the average player barely less than 3 years and makes less than a million dollars in that time. A graduate from Harvard Law can make the same, but do so for 40 years and not use a walker by 50.

Competitive sports are really difficult, and for those who have a wide selection of entertainment options and no need to play professionally it's likely never pursued. It's possible that the most genetically gifted athlete in America is a 300 pound World of Warcraft addict who programs computers for a living and never tried out for a sport in his life. While the majority of African Americans are middle class, it's also true that as a group they are also the most poor. It could be that the predominance of black athletes is a result of race, but in the sense that their cultural identity led to discrimination in the past and thus more poverty today, leading to more black children pursuing athletics as a source of entertainment and advancement. 

The point is that there are many more variables than we can accurately quantify and even if someone is 20% more likely to be a gifted athlete if you're African American (which is unlikely), if that  leads to people assuming every black person is fast then they'd be even more wrong than if they'd assumed everyone was the same.

Jake's picture

This scenario assumes that survival on an intolerably cramped ship, riddled with cholera and measles selects for the people with the fastest 40 time. It's possible that it would select for people with the shortest stature and most propensity toward obesity, or for people who don't pack on muscle and have a lower metabolism and need less food. So while I would say that it's possible for athletic genes to more prominent among people who are culturally identified as African American, this doesn't establish a causal link between race and athleticism.

What I'm saying that is that the extent of athletic genetic distribution within cultural groups is not a knowable quotient right now. The argument is ultimately racist because the concept of race itself is not rooted in biology, and any argument which treats the difference in achievement between ethnic groups as biologically based is ignoring a whole hell of a lot of other variables.

AJ's picture

im curious as to why florida isnt included in the "south"

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

buckeyedude's picture

Evidently, Florida is in a class by itself.



Jake's picture

Florida is a unique case where no single conference can lay claim to it as their own. There are 3 major programs split between 2 conferences, and 4 BCS programs in the state split between 3 conferences. Not only that, but Florida is culturally quite distinct from the deep southern culture of the SEC. Florida's population is centered mostly around South and Central Florida and has more in common with California than Georgia. This mostly due to the fact that 70% of Florida's population arose over the last 50 years, which naturally means most Floridians have origins from outside the South. 

For the purposes of this article, then, it made sense to view the SEC dominated states as distinct from the classic definition of the South and exclude Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia while including Kentucky. 

btalbert25's picture

I think there are parts of Florida that are much more similar to Alabama, and Georgia than they are Miami.  So yeah, I can see where a large portion of Florida does consider itself as part of the south.  However, because of the multiple BCS programs and conferences represented in Florida, I have to agree you would need to remove them From the south and include them as a region all their own. 

I also, don't know that I would lump Kentucky in with the south as, and many won't like to hear this, but the majority of Kentucky's population is culturally more similar to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois than say Georgia.  That and Kentucky is a basketball first state.  That being said, Kentucky doesn't produce enough great college football prospects to really make a dent if you add them or take them away.

I like how you broke down the different regions and think it's a pretty good representation. 

burkmon's picture

Ever been in (any part of) Florida for an extended period of time?

'nuf said!


The_Lurker's picture

I have lived in Florida since 1999. SoFla from 99-04 and Orlando since then. Apart from the weather, I hate it, and the weather is only good from October - May.

AJ's picture

born and raised in florida until i left in the what do you mean nuff said? but i understand matts point of view on not counting it as part of the south...although im from central florida...very small town and i assure you there they consider themselves part of the still see confederate flags flown...

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

btalbert25's picture

Another thing that no one talks about is the fact that schools who traditionally gobbled up great recruits from States like Florida and Texas fell off a lot.  Kids from Florida may have chose South Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Bama instead of Miami or FSU.  Both school have had some success recruiting but by and large with NCAA problems, and poor coaches kids have left the state for other schools.  Same can be said for Texas.  If they weren't going to be a Longhorn, LSU, Bama, Auburn, and Arkansas are better options than being an Aggie right now. 

That and a state like Georgia emerging as a great high school football state, can make teams that would've been average or even bottom feeders, pretty solid.

Arkansas Buckeye's picture

If you come down to Fayetteville and enroll next semester, you could probably get a Master's degree at Arkansas on that thesis, I mean blog, alone.

I'd recommend the MBa program in the Poultry Science Public Relations program.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Leanenaud's picture

Can't wait to read part 2!

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

Here I thought the whale was going to be an undefeated season for the basketball team.....

Maestro's picture

Great article.  I enjoyed it.

vacuuming sucks

Hopalong's picture

The beginning of this article with the historical analogy to the Byzantine Empire was incredible. You definitely took us on a most excellent adventure through history.

The_Lurker's picture

This isn't going to be like Mel Brooks' History of the World Part 1, right? I mean, there will be more...right? Right? RIGHT!??!?!

buckeyedude's picture

Amen The_Lurker! I want more Byzantine history, dammit! LOL.



Nappy's picture

I never thought I'd get legitimately smarter after reading an 11W post. I really liked the pie charts because when my boss walked by my desk earlier he still thought I was working. SCORE! Great stuff, Jake.

You always hear about the population shift as the reason for the recent success of the SEC. Those same people will also tell you that the Big10 Network is so successful because of the population of Big10 states. Both statements can't be true.  College football, as with all sports, is cyclical. For the longest time the NFC was the dominant team in the NFL, as the Western Conference is currently tops in the NBA.  One day your up, the next your down.

I would like to say that with the scholarship limits placed on college football these days that there would be more parity among conferences/teams, but that point is null and void when one conference is consistently signing an extra recruiting class every 4 years. That, I think, is the true reason why the SEC has had success. When you can replace underacheiving 4 star recruits with high potential 4 star recruits, youre bound to find imrovement. 

I never saw a football player make a tackle with a smile on his face

Johnny Ginter's picture

welp that's the best post to ever appear on 11W, time to pack it up everybody else because DAMN

Ultrabuckeyehomer's picture

Just a couple of points

1. I am glad that you addressed the fact that the population shift (endorsed by our idiotic commisioner) is a joke.  I looked at the number myself a few months ago and found roughly the same indication that you did - it simply is not statistically significant and cannot possibly account for the SEC dominance.

2. The reason the SEC has dominated is that they want to. Period.  They pay more money and have a culture that demands good football. We do not have that in the north outside of Ohio and Penn.   This is why the SEC is so deep. More teams care and the competition being better forces everyone to improve. More competition in the Big Ten would help all of us.

3. The "beating up on each other every week" argument is a function of the BCS era.  Its relatively recent that the idea of choosing two teams to play for it all has even been an issue.  Now, because we have to choose two teams, we have to look at the respective roads the various competitors took to get there, hence the increased focus on conference strength. And I can't really blame the media for focusing on conference strength to determine relative differences between numerous teams all vying for limited spots.  There has to be some criteria to use in distinguishing the teams.

Bottome line - OSU will be fine because we spend the money and have a culture that cares.  The rest of the big ten has been left furher behind than they were in previous eras. that will not change anytime soon. Minny just hired some guy named Kill and he probbaly will make what coordinators make in the SEC  

Boyceblan's picture

To #3, agree largely a product of the BCS era.  However, agendas have huge impact on perception.  For example, when Ohio State was struggling with Illinois at the beginning of the Big Ten season this past year, McShay talked about how bad OSU looked while Robert Smith simply pointed out that maybe Illinois was a better team at home then previously thought.  When a clearly medocre at best Tennesee team pushed LSU to the limit, it was the depth of the SEC that was the reason. 

Granted, McShay is a nob.  We all know the ESECPN agenda.  The worst part is that i hear Ohio people, who are mostly uninformed but represent a majority of fans I would assume,  regurgitating this crap as a result. 

Lee in Altoona's picture

I actually work with demographics for a living, and can thus say with some authority that this is some outstanding analysis. You're a current student at OSU, right?

The kids just keep getting smarter and smarter!

elaydin's picture


College Football + Tons of Turkish History = Full of Win!

Scipio's picture

I thoroughly enjoyed that read. Thanks for taking the time to write and research it..

gravey's picture

One point that keeps being accepted prima facia, but I reject: SEC dominance.

They aren't dominant bros.  That's an SEC/ ESPN fantasy.  They've had a recent run of MNC winners, but as a whole the conference isn't dominant at all.

I lived down there some years.  I would say they have several advantages:

1) Football season is pretty much year round.

2) Football culture is strong and has perhaps less competition from other sports.

3) It sure seemed like 300 lb high school boys weren't all that rare.

4) Oversigning.

nickma71's picture

I was reading They wrote two articles on Superbowl and college. One was about the rosters and how they are stacked with SEC players. The author felt the need to mention it a few times. A quick evaluation shows it to be not accurate.

Another shows players scoring in the Superbowl. No mention of confrence in this article at all. Probably because 6 of the top 7 were midwest only scoles including the domers. The other was Miami of Florida. It wasnt' talked about in the article because they don't want you to know it. Perhaps many "journalists" in sports are from the south before they go to Syracuse.

Buckeye in Athens's picture

I don't recognize about a third of the names in this comment section- 11W must be growing! Welcome to all you former lurkers!

madhatterhater's picture

Espn sure harped on the population shift on signing day.  Urban Meyer even went as far as saying it was very concerning.

go bucks

Sean N's picture

Maybe this will be covered in part 2 (so sorry if I steal some of the thunder), but why no mention of academic standards and admissions policies?  I'm not going to pretend that Ohio State is Princeton but, every year it seems like there are top prospects in the state of Ohio that never even get offers from Ohio State because of concerns about grades and stuff.  Since the rest of the big 10 schools have similar (or better) academic reputations, I'd guess this is the case throughout the conference.

Meanwhile, the SEC is Vanderbilt and a bunch of community colleges.  A couple of years ago I looked at it and in the US News & World Report "America's Best Colleges" list, only Vandy, UGA and Florida were ranked ahead of the lowest big 10 school (Indiana U, I believe). I know these school rankings lists are far from perfect, but you could probably choose any other variable you like (avg SAT scores/Nobel Laureates/common sense/whatever) and you'll probably come up with similar results.  Part of the reason SEC schools oversign is because some of their recruits won't qualify academically and will end up going to community college. Now do you really think that someone who is borderline to get into Mississippi State would be admitted into OSU or Michigan or Purdue?

It just seems to me that the pool of players available to these schools in the south is going to be a lot deeper than at schools with better academic standards.

btalbert25's picture

Seriously, while the SEC schools may not all have extremely high standards, lets not act as if it's impossibly easy to get into them all.  In the latest rankings, I believe Florida was ahead of Ohio State.  I went to high school in Kentucky and had friends rejected by UK.  They weren't morons or idiots, they weren't failing out of high school either, but they still were rejected.  Friends who went to UK got their undergrads and were accepted into grad programs at other schools.  I have cousins who got their undergrad at UK, then went to UK's law school and Med School.  Both got their degrees and are very successful.  I know people who went to UT as well who have had very successful lives too.  It's not like these institutions are just garbage schools overall.  Some may not be the greatest, but who cares where they rank.  Even SEC schools have guys flunk out or have trouble getting in. 

painterlad's picture

All I know is, we have the ultimate trump cards when it comes to the SEC.

Their names are Grant and Sherman.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

Hoody Wayes's picture

That was a rather long slog to get to:

"My point is that the SEC's success, such that it is, doesn't come from some supposed weakness of the Big Ten. They're not bleeding our talent away, and black skin doesn't grant super powers (unfortunately)."

There's no need to impress us.


burkmon's picture

Wow!  Where do I go to take the test and get my .5 college credit?  Great read, great posts.  Will be waiting for Lesson 2. 

Carry on my good man.


canukeye's picture

I thought that we beat Arkansas?  Can't we just let that stand alone and forget about all of this for one year?  I like what tressel said, "We play for Ohio State.  Not the Big Ten." 

It's not the band that I hate.  It's the fans.

Tommy's picture

Is it just me or does the demographic data, particularly the pie charts, not really solve anything?  The pie charts seem to be a bit deceiving, especially with the handling of Florida.  Let me see if I can get into words what I am thinking here.


You said yourself that "Basically, kids stay home".  Well it isn't just the kids that stay home, its the programs too.  Its cheaper, easier and more efficient in every way to recruit kids within a closer proximity to their campus when possible.  If Nebraska has a scholarship to fill and has candidates in-state and out-of-state from Georgia, they are usually going to pursue the in-state candidate first, even if they know the kid from Georgia is a slightly better player.  It just costs too much to travel multiple times to Georgia, and spend 5 times as long talking a kid into U of Neb than it would take for a kid who grew up always wanting to be a Cornhusker.  The university would be smart to take the in-state kid and use the extra money saved on better coaching, to get the 3 star Neb kid to develop into something better than the 4 star GA kid would've with lesser coaching anyways.  This situation is just one example, but when similar situations are multiplied around the country, it leads to figures like 75 and 80% of Big Ten and Pac 10 players coming locally, and yet it doesn't establish that the high school talent is evenly distributed.


When looking at FLA, I agree that it is a peculiar case and not easily solved, but just dropping it into its own category is deceiving, especially for visual purposes.  Florida is obviously a recruiting hotbed, evidenced by the fact that it alone competes with the sections labeled West Coast and Atlantic Coast.  So where do the majority of the FLA kids end up?  I would be willing to bet that it isn't so evenly spread among the BCS conferences.  And if the SEC takes only about 80% of its roster from the "South minus FLA", what percentage of the remaining 20% is from FLA?  I mean, 80-85% of the Gators roster must be from their home state alone.  Pretending that the SEC doesn't have an advantage over other BCS conferences in the state of FLA distorts the figures.


Also, by using the BCS rosters as the measuring stick, you are equating all BCS rosters to each other, and later, you are equating all BCS starters as well.  I think its obvious there is a difference between average players in the SEC and the Big East or a starter on LSU and Washington.  If players from the "South" are better than others, it wouldn't necessarily be reflected in the disection of "BCS Starters" as all the top recruits from the "South" will usually be on the SEC teams, leaving the lesser southern high schoolers for the rest of the country.  While the SEC teams that take kids from out of state are either able to take top out-of-state talent based on their recent success, or they take kids from FLA who make it onto their "top 22" but are left out of your analysis as kids from the "South".


I'm sure I haven't done a great job of putting my thoughts into words in a short period of time, but my bottom line is that I'm not sure you really used your statistics to accurately or fairly portray the picture you were trying to paint when talking about the demographic portion of this discussion.  While I'm sure you are limited in your resources, it would be interesting to see a map of the U.S. color coded by number of D-1 FBS scholarship players by state or even by county.  I am fairly certain that a larger number of players come from "SEC Country" than any other region of the U.S., especially if we looked at some sort of recruits per BCS school in the region figures.


I realize I'm late to this discussion, but wanted to get my thoughts out there.  In all seriousness, thank you Jake for writing a piece that generates so much intelligent conversation.


Go Bucks

AJ's picture

this is what i was hinting as when i said i didnt understand why florida wasnt part of the south...since i know for a fact (atleast my hometown) considers it a deep souther state...but im not one for putting together words so, i wasnt even gonna try.  Because if florida is put into the southern section then the pie chart looks much different

"Without winners, there wouldn't even be civilization." -----------Woody Hayes

btalbert25's picture

You don't think the ACC is more represented by athletes from Florida, since they have two Major programs within the state lines?  I really don't think the SEC would hold a recruting advantage in Florida over the ACC.  I would think the SEC west benefits more from Texas recruits overall than kids from Florida. 

Tommy's picture

I agree that the ACC benefits from FLA as well.  I would love to see a breakdown of where the Florida kids end up.  So maybe FLA should have been split in half for the pie chart purposes - half to ACC and half to SEC.


All I'm saying is that its not like FLA kids are split up even close to evenly amongst the BCS conferences so the chart is deceiving in this way.

Kurt's picture

I agree, it's not talent... the SEC is and has been excelling as a result of great coaching and schemes.

JakeBuckeye's picture

I agree, it's not talent... the SEC is and has been excelling as a result of great dirty coaching and schemes.





oberon's picture

FWIW, and as a PhD student in Anthropology, this is some of the best blogosphere writing on race I've ever seen -- both the article and Jake's replies to comments below. Well done Jake.