The seemingly age-old question in recruiting: Why do prospects leave the state they grew up in to play college football somewhere else? The answer is simple and complicated at the same time. There are a few realities in recruiting: 1. Players go wherever the feel most comfortable (thus the term recruiting); 2. Increasingly, where you live is not where you are from.
How is that you ask?
When I discovered a feature from the New York Times’ The Upshot I was fascinated to see what we all think about the South in hard numbers - it is changing like never before. Folks from around the country and around the world are flooding into the American South… not just into Florida. The South is no longer closed off from the rest of the country and states in the South are less and less isolated from one another.
That’s tipped the balance of power in the states politically - and in recruiting. What does it mean to be from Georgia? Is that different than being from Louisiana? All typical jokes aside - yes it is different to be from Georgia than from Louisiana - more on that later.
In the last few years we’ve seen college football rosters become more and more diverse as it relates to the location of the players on their roster. It is noticeable - for instance - to see the difference between the starting lineups for the Bulldogs in their 1980 game against South Carolina. (I will leave out the fact that a “big” lineman was 240 pounds back then).
75% of the Bulldogs’ starting offensive unit was from the Peach State - all corners of the Peach State. The other three starters were from South Carolina and Florida. Georgia didn’t have an offensive starter from metro Atlanta on the 1980 national title team. That would be nearly impossible today.
In 1980, the State of Georgia had 5.4 million people in its borders. Today metro Atlanta alone has nearly 6 million people - the State of Georgia has almost 10 million, and you can tell Atlanta has taken over on the roster at Georgia (and the rest of the SEC).
The 2005 team, Georgia’s last SEC championship team, had 46% of its starters from metro Atlanta; 27% were from out of state. The other 27% were from non-metro-Atlanta Georgia. In 2013, 27% were from metro Atlanta; 46% were from out of state; and 27% were from non-metro-Atlanta Georgia.
Georgia, the state, has grown - meaning more football prospects from the state in the end - so why do so many Georgians leave the state to play high-level college football somewhere else? The answer is multi-layered. Most of them don’t have much choice. Obviously, recruiting is the number one reason anyone signs anywhere. But with the increased number of population and the scholarship level staying the same each year (roughly) the math dictates that Georgia couldn’t sign every high-level player in the state… even if it wanted to.
But that’s wort of a cop out way of looking at it. The reality is that because of the population surge in Georgia (and everywhere else in the South - particularly Florida) many Georgians are not Georgians.
Back to the New York Times’ work in The Upshot - Georgia’s roster in 1980 was likely full of Georgians because Georgians were in Georgia. According to the Times, in 1980 71% of Georgians were born in Georgia. In 2012? Only 55% of Georgians were born in Georgia. That’s signifiant and a startling number if you are singularly focused on recruiting in-state players as the path to winning. The reality, too, is that few programs do that in the South any more - save perhaps LSU. More often than not SEC programs simply ignore state borders and attack where the players are at - no matter where that is.
Back to Georgia… Georgia, the state, is only half full of “Georgians” - so shouldn’t about half of the Georgians wind up signing with the Bulldogs each year? Maybe, but asking for more than that seems like asking for too much (and not just in Georgia). Right now, of the top ten players in Georgia four are committed to the Bulldogs and the two uncommitted in that group seem to be leaning towards the Dawgs. That would be six of the top ten players in the state playing for the Bulldogs - the best in-state recruiting haul in Mark Richt’s tenure.
But 2015 is the only time since 2011 that the Bulldogs seem able to secure half of the top players in the state. So is this (leaving your home) the new normal? It feels like it - and not just in Georgia.
For instance, of the current top ten players in Florida only two are committed to in-state programs. Last season a player in the top ten was about as likely to leave the state as sign with one of the three major powers in the Sunshine State. For the most part the higher the state’s migratory population the more likely a top prospect is to leave the state - there are exceptions. In Florida, a state with three programs that have all won the national title in the last 14 years, players stay at home at a higher rate than one might think. But even with that in-state success nearly have of the top prospects in Florida have left home for college.
Florida - 36% of population born in state; 48% of top prospects in last four years have left; FSU with 28% of top in-state prospects in the last four years; Florida with 12%; Miami with 12%
Georgia - 55% of population born in state; 68% of top prospects in last four years have left; Georgia with 32% of top in-state prospects in the last four years.
North Carolina - 58% of population born in state; 73% of top prospects in last four years have left; North Carolina with 15% of top in-state prospects in the last four years; NC State with 12%
South Carolina - 58% of population born in state; 43% of top prospects in last four years have left; Clemson with 30% of top in-state prospects in the last four years; South Carolina with 27%
Arkansas - 61% of population born in state; 32% of top prospects in last four years have left; Arkansas with 55% of top in-state prospects in the last four years
Missouri - 67% of population born in state; 58% of top prospects in last four years have left; Missouri with 39% of top in-state prospects in the last four years
Alabama - 70% of population born in state; 18% of top prospects in last four years have left; Alabama with 52% of top in-state prospects in the last four years; Auburn with 30%
Kentucky - 70% of population born in state; 33% of top prospects in last four years have left; Kentucky with 32% of top in-state prospects in the last four years; Louisville with 22%; Western Kentucky with 13%
Louisiana - 79% of population born in state; 27% of top prospects in last four years have left; LSU with 73% of top in-state prospects in the last four years
Other notes: Clemson (7), Georgia (5) and Florida (4) hit North Carolina hard in the top ten. 40% of the top players in the Tar Heel state have signed with those three schools since 2011.
A couple of the states don’t add up to 100% because some state’s top players sign with Arkansas State, Southern Miss and the like. Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee are thin in terms of overall prospects.
So, then, is it different being from Georgia rather than from Louisiana? Yes. Because, like, no other state in the South, if you are “from” Louisiana you were probably born there. If you are “from” the Carolinas, Georgia and particularly Florida, you are increasingly not from there.
So, yes, it is easier to recruit at LSU more than any other place in the SEC. LSU has New Orleans and Baton Rouge, but unlike Charlotte, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami or Raleigh, most everyone from those places was born in Louisiana to a family from Louisiana.
Louisiana is the one place in the South that’s not really changed in terms of outsiders coming in. For the last century, Louisiana has pretty much been a place where only those born there live there - or at least know it well (Texas and Mississippi). We can’t say that about any other state in the South - certainly not about the Sunshine State, where nobody is from Florida and alliances are flimsy at best.
That, coupled with the fact that LSU is the lone major college football power in the state, makes for powerful home cooking in recruiting that’s just not seen anywhere else in the country. The rest of the SEC, with the exposure that billions of dollars in TV exposure brings the conference, has a recruiting challenge on its hands.
Its a win-at-all cost game, recruiting. And these days the good old days are gone. States are growing, but with that comes carpetbagging fans from the North and around the rest of the South. They’ve left their home, but not their loyalties. The Kool-aid everyone drinks before the season is a lot more diluted.
In Charleston or Charlotte its never surprising to see a Georgia “G” on the road. Its also not surprising to see Alabama’s “Mullet A” or Auburn’s logo on I-285 in Atlanta. Nashville is full of Kentucky fans. Memphis is jammed with Hogs, Vols and Rebels.
This is the new normal - there are a lot more of us in different places now, and you can see that in the recruiting numbers.