Talent Gaps

By Jake on May 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm
A.J. Hawk: 2 Whole Stars of Awesome

Hello ladies and gentlemen, rogues and rapscallions. It's been quite an eventful week. Royals were wedded, terrorists were killed, players were drafted, and tornadoes ravaged the south. And while the world continued it's not so blissful way, the blogosphere dropped a bit of a bombshell in the form of a diary post on Black Heart Gold Pants

The crux of the post is that player development is the forte of the Big Ten:

The Big Ten is indeed the elite player development conference. Recruits that go to the Big Ten add 15% to their NFL chances. The SEC and the ACC did have more draft picks than the Big Ten over the time period in question (the additional team helps), but that was because they started with with more talented recruits (and simply more recruits). The moment players step on campus, the Big Ten starts closing the talent gap through its superior player development. And as a side note, the SECs development profile suffers by its addiction to oversigning. While few doubt that oversigning is advantageous for the programs that do it, the players are the ones that pay the price in the form of a lowered chance of turning their talent into an NFL career.

This is a topic dear to my own heart. The original poster parses the recruiting success of various schools and compares them to NFL draft classes and comes to the conclusion that the Big Ten develops their players into lean, mean, combine machines by the end of their short college careers.

Assuming the data is good (it is), then there are three possible causes for the "change" in talent over time. If the SEC lags the Big Ten so much in developing their talent, then it stands to reason that their coaching staffs are worse than those in the Big Ten. Considering the absurd amount of cash tossed at coaches down south, it seems unlikely that that is the case. Much in the same way that the best teachers migrate north after a few years to take advantage of the higher salaries in the northeast and midwest, you would expect the better coaches to migrate south to take advantage of the better coaching salaries. 

Another possibility, one that the poster touches on, is oversigning. Cream rises to the top. So, more milk means more cream. Considering Steve Spurrier and others have essentially admitted straight up that oversigning is a competitive advantage, there's little doubt that it contributes to the talent discrepency. 

However, the third possibility, and one not really considered, is that rivals/scout consistently underrate Midwestern and Northeastern prospects. What's most striking about the data is the way it almost forms an inverted pyramid. The conferences with the best recruits all seem to have the worst coaching. The SEC, ACC, and Big-12 get the worst of it, the Pac-10, Big East, and Big Ten the best. Again, I doubt that the SEC has worse coaching than the Big East, but that seems to be the claim. Instead, it seems more likely to me that scout/rivals consistently underrate non-southern prospects, and over the course of 4 years of actual college production we're merely seeing a regression to the mean. 

It's not entirely the fault of the scouting services if they miss prospects in areas that are less football crazed than rural Alabama. Half of Iowa plays 8-on-8, which obviously makes any linemen scouting difficult. Here in North Carolina, most teams rotate starters to give every kid a shot, something that would be unthinkable in Northeast Ohio or South Florida. 

Regardless, it's diary posts like this that make the blogosphere such a great place. How often do you hear some former player or talking head parrot the "SEC speed" line or the "Southern talent" line without ever hearing any evidence to back it up? Even more, blogs create a community where the readers are as much a contributer as the writers. So, what do you all think? Is the talent gap a myth? Or does the Big Ten really have better coaches?

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