Recruiting's stars a flawed process

Services' ratings don't take into account intangibles that could produce a bust

The (Charleston) Post and CourierFebruary 2, 2010 

CLEMSON - Tiger Nation hopes to see stars Wednesday.

Winners and losers are declared on National Signing Day before prospects step on campus. Keeping score are recruiting services such as Rivals.com, which ranks classes based upon their star ratings. The system is based on a five-star scale, with elite prospects receiving five stars.

Though ratings are not perfect, they have placed new pressures on programs and prospects.

"Now you have to win all the games and win the recruiting game," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "I just think there are a lot of flaws in the evaluation process.

"People get so caught up in who's recruiting this guy, how many stars has he got?"

Even national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, who ranks prospects for ESPN, says the system is flawed. Star ratings take into account only the physical attributes of recruits and do not measure intangible traits that so often lead to busts.

In 2006, ESPN ranked C.J. Spiller as the 47th-best prospect in the nation. Ranked ahead of him? Myron Rolle (No. 1), Vidal Hazelton (3), Antwine Perez (10), Jevan Snead (13), Sam Young (18) and others who failed to match Spiller's college production.

"I'll be the first one to tell you that what we don't have the ability to do is dictate in that grade if the kid is a good kid or not, and we are not pretending to," Luginbill said. "(Ratings) don't reflect the unknowns that sometimes don't manifest themselves until the coach gets them on campus."

Swinney seems OK if his class doesn't have a top-10 star rating Wednesday - in fact, he says Clemson essentially ignores outside grades, including star ratings, in the evaluation process.

In his office, Swinney moves to a shelf and selects one of several phonebook-thick binders. It contains hundreds of player evaluations.

On one side of the scouting sheets is a list of physical tools: speed, size and jumping ability, along with accompanying letter grades.

On the back of the sheet are blank areas for coaches' written evaluations and a must-have checklist of virtues - none pertaining to quantifiable attributes.

"Star power, that's what everyone wants," Swinney said. "I'm more interested in football players. I hope it works out: who we think is the best player is also a five-star guy."

For players like Greensboro safety/receiver Keenan Allen, rated as the No. 5 overall prospect by Rivals.com and 33rd by ESPN, the ratings match.

Clemson is thought to be a finalist along with Alabama for Allen, who will announce his choice Wednesday.

"What I challenge the staff on all the time is, let's go through our evaluation process and not even worry about who else is recruiting or this and that," Swinney said. "Let's have something we believe in, and if the kid meets the criteria, he meets it. ... If he doesn't have any offers, let's not be afraid to make the offer."

The ratings system not only places pressure and expectations upon recruits, but upon coaching staffs.

The passion for recruiting has created markets for Web sites such as Tigerillustrated.com and CUTigers.com, which follow recruiting year-round.

"It's the passion of fans to follow their team on a 12-month basis," Luginbill said. "I think football has gotten to the point at the college level where football season is jut not football season anymore. There is football season and there is recruiting, then there is spring football and football season again.

"The fan is so entrenched into (the) overall success of the team, they realize recruiting is the lifeblood of what level that success is going to be."

Swinney has been criticized for making offers to players over more highly rated prospects.

"(Tyler Grisham) was the best player on his (high school) team and didn't even get an offer," Swinney said. "But we stuck with our guns, with what we saw on film and in camp, and now he is with the Pittsburgh Steelers."

Former Clemson coach Danny Ford had his share of misses on highly regarded recruits, too.

"If anyone had any sense, they'd wait (to grade) after four years," Ford said. "How many games did they win?"

While Alabama ranked in the top 10 of recruiting classes in 2008 and '09, so did Florida State and Michigan.

And at the end of the day, if a player doesn't live up to expectations, blame will not be placed on the recruiting service that issued four or five stars. It will be pinned to corner offices like the one in the West Zone at Clemson.

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