With National Signing Day in the rear-view mirror, and with the popularity, and proliferation, of shows about “the haul,” shows like Deadliest Catch, Lobster Wars, Alaska Fish Wars, Swords: Life on the Line, and Wicked Tuna, it struck me that it might be interesting to compare Notre Dame’s recruiting hauls under now sixth-year Head Coach Brian Kelly with our 2015 competition. Then, I threw LSU into the mix, for a little flavor, a little lagniappe.
So, without further ado, let’s look at the numbers:
As a refresher, or, if you’re new to this, as a bit of background, the NCAA limits all FBS programs, with the exception of the service programs, to 85 total scholarships and twenty-five per recruiting class. The National Letter of Intent (NLI) program, a cabal of 644 NCAA schools and recruits, guarantees to every athlete who signs an NLI a one year athletic scholarship to the offering school. Signed “letters of intent” what the student-athletes so famously fax in to their schools on National Signing Day. The rankings services, such as Rivals.com, the website I used for this piece, tally the signed NLI’s and then evaluate the classes.
Even the Arts & Letters students out there recognize that 25 scholarships over four years results in 100 scholarships, fifteen over the 85 total scholarship limit. When you look at the table above, you see class size fluctuate. One of the reasons for this is early-enrollment, whereby the student-athlete graduates from high school early and enrolls at his school in the Spring. By doing so, the school may be able to count him against the previous season’s scholarship total. Academics may cause a player to leave a program or even switch his commitment prior to enrolling. NCAA sanctions, such as those that hit USC, may push class size to “artificially” low levels, too. Sometimes a program gets burned on Signing Day, à la Deontay Greenberry in 2012 or Eddie Vanderdoes in 2013. So, there are some legitimate reasons for the numbers to deviate a bit from where the math says they should be.
Then you have schools like LSU and Texas. LSU joins its SEC sister-schools like Tennessee and Alabama among the ranks of the “chronic oversigners.” “Oversigning” is a practice whereby a school intentionally signs more players than they can and then spend their time until Fall practice winnowing the roster down. Over the same number of classes Notre Dame signed 134 recruits, LSU signed 147. Texas, Notre Dame’s opening day opponent in 2015? 142. Alabama, the school with the perennial top recruiting class, signed 149? And somehow, spectacularly, Tennessee managed to sign 154 players. That’s TWENTY more players than Notre Dame signed. Because of privacy laws, the schools have convenient shields that keep them from having to explain too much.
Looking at the numbers the other way, Stanford has done incredibly well, despite noticeably smaller recruiting classes. Credit to the Tree for recruiting quality players who fit well in their system and produce on the field. UMass has chronically undersigned since making the move to the FBS and their rank in the bottom tier of the Rivals rankings. Georgia Tech shows the effects of NCAA-rules violations and a probationary period that ends in 2017. There’s no explaining the disconnect between Tennessee’s on-field performance and its recruiting class size or rankings.
For all the perceived difficulties the Irish face on the recruiting trail, the numbers show the Irish are able to sign full classes. That the wins and losses are not obviously linked speaks to the magic, or madness, of football and sport in general.