Before we take our look at the Badger program, a great lead in to this topic is an article by Andy Staples of SI.com which examined the importance of location in assessing the balance of power in college football.
Unfortunately for a team like Wisconsin, Staples' conclusion emphasized the propensity for elite collegiate recruits to stay within 200 miles of home when determining their collegiate choice. That becomes a fairly significant problem when you draw just 39 percent of your players from your home region and just 31 percent from your home state, as the Badgers have done over the last five years. Of the top 15 teams in the country in terms of wins over that time period, Wisconsin has the worst "recruiting base", with only Boston College and West Virginia even in the conversation.
I examined the entire issue of recruiting bases about a decade ago, finding to nobody's surprise that schools such as UCLA, Texas, Ohio State, Penn State, Florida, USC, and LSU had a huge recruiting advantage due to location.
With these parameters in mind, it makes sense that a typical Badger recruit would probably not fall into this traditional pattern. True enough, as we shall see a number of Badger recruits do choose Wisconsin due to location or because they are the local team, but broadening the recruiting web is the only true option for a team like the Badgers. So, in lieu of location being as major a selling point, what does the typical Badger recruit tell us about their selection of the Badgers? Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, I will note that this was not intended to be any sort of scientific look at the subject, but just a snapshot in time after simply reading recruit comments from the last three Badger football recruiting classes. As a result, we often do not know what THE definitive reason was, nor can we say that these comments are reflective of recruiting at other schools. So, let's get started.
Ultimately, this is probably at the heart of every player's commitment. Without a solid relationship with the coaching staff, it is pretty rare that you are going to attend a particular school. The top reason, by a significant margin, given by the last few classes are the relationships they have/had with Coach Bielema and those coaches assigned to their recruitment.
A surprisingly strong number two was the academic reputation by the school. My sense is that this is often important in gaining the acceptance of the parents. I have also heard that Bielema's staff attempts to use this strength of Wisconsin quite often. While the academic situation can sometimes limit who they take a look at, it seems that of the players that DO commit, it does carry some weight.
Another strong selling point is the beauty of the campus and the city of Madison, a fact that does not seem lost on many recruits.
4.) Tradition/Strength of Program
Sometimes we forget that Wisconsin has been an upper echelon Big Ten team for the better part of a typical 18 year old's life. Nobody remembers the Morton years anymore and selling the players on bowl games and shots at Big Ten titles is par for the course.
5.) Close to Home
6.) Badger Fan
8.) Stadium Atmosphere
9.) Just Feels Right
These five facts were all tied in terms of importance. Here is where we find the location element that I prefaced in the opening. The Badgers have built a strong wall around the state and quite a number of recruits have grown up Badger fans or have wished to play close to home.
The facilities and stadium atmosphere also carried some weight. I think both are indicative of the "Wow" factor that is rolled out on a recruiting visit. It probably isn't THE reason that a player picks the Badgers, but it is indeed something they remember.
10.) Future Teammates
Typically, this also relates to recruiting visits, in particular how well the recruit meshes with the current players. We all remember the case of losing Kwame Harris and his disastrous visit. Once again, I don't know that this is every one of the key reasons, but I would think that it is an area that disqualifies a team, should the recruit not get along well with their hosts or future teammates.
11.) Big Ten
12.) Style of Play
These two factors ties. Typically, this involves players who love playing tough physical football. Of late, a few quarterbacks have also mentioned the Badger's ability to be diverse in their offense, something that has evolved further under offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.
13.) History of Players from Home Area
14.) History of Players at Position
15.) Early Offer/Strong Interest
These three were also tied. In general, these factors tend to be much less important obviously. Where these come into play are traditionally talent rich areas where competition for talent is fierce. Getting in early and having a track record with prior players from an area (typically out of state) can be a key factor with a small number of players.
16.) Early Playing Time
Not much of a factor and rarely mentioned. Most players don't seem to have the expectation that they are going to see the field immediately, which leads me to believe that the coaching staff has a pretty good reputation for being up front with potential Badger recruits.
17.) Recent Record
18.) Strength Program
These two were tied as well. For all of the doom and gloom about player's being impacted by how a team performs on the field, it doesn't seem to register much. In fairness, the program has been strong recently so maybe it becomes more of an issue should it falter. Still, for all of their recent wins the last couple years, it didn't seem to make much of an impression.
19.) Fellow Recruiting Class
Virtual non factors. Most recruits don't seem to care how good or bad their recruiting class is. They just want to find the right fit for them.
I suspect that most recruits at most schools say pretty much the same thing after committing to the school of their choice. Most of the comments on this list are basic common sense to those that follow recruiting to any degree. Still, it is fascinating to see specifically what future Badger recruits value in a program.