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Is It a Bad Idea for Georgia to Recruit Nationally as Well as Locally?

As all of you know, I typically don't cover recruiting, preferring to leave that to folks like MaconDawg and Paul Westerdawg, who know whereof they speak.

S.E.C. recruiting, however, has been much discussed in the blogosphere of late, thanks largely to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's recent remarks, which have provoked some strong reactions. For my part, I did what I could to defend the Southeastern Conference, offering the following rejoinder in a comment thread at MGoBlog:

I'm not so sure that a player is being done such a terrible disservice by being offered a scholarship that is contingent upon his qualifying academically, however. That seems to me no different from making a contract to purchase a new house contingent on the seller producing a termite letter.

If the house doesn't pass the termite inspection and the would-be buyer refuses to close the sale, the purchaser didn't do anything that called his honor, his integrity, or his manhood into question; the seller didn't hold up his end of the bargain by meeting the minimum standard required of him to earn the benefit of the offer extended to him.

I can't speak for other schools, but, generally, Georgia's non-qualifiers spend a year at Hargrave Military Academy, where they go to improve their academic standing.

I cannot recall any instance where a kid who got his grades up at Hargrave didn't have a scholarship offer waiting on him at the end of that year, although some of those recruits have opted to sign letters of intent to other institutions, which they are entitled to do if they so choose. That hardly qualifies as being an indentured servant, much less being allowed to fall off the carnival ride.

Most of Jim Delaney's remarks, while smacking a bit of desperation to ward off criticism, merely consisted of regurgitating numbers that show the Big Ten is competitive with the S.E.C., a fact which no one denies.

The part I found troubling was his conflation of "speed" with academic inferiority. Given the common use of "speed" as a euphemism, Delaney's statement was one that undoubtedly would have generated cries of racism had an S.E.C. commissioner uttered it . . . yet Delaney seems to have been given a free pass for what was, at best, a poor word choice in a written document that, presumably, went through several drafts and ought to have been proofread more carefully.

One of Brian's readers, believing I "misse[d] the point," responded like so:
Offering to 25 kids with the expectation that 20% won't hack it is not, as you imply, an act of generosity on the part of the coach--its [sic.] a reflection of the priorities of the program, which in this case is the single-minded pursuit of the finest athletic talent available. At the college level, we at least pay lip service to the idea that these are student-athletes--not just athletes. Coaches who build a high-failure rate into their recruiting strategy simply aren't acting in the best interests of the athletes they're recruiting, plain and simple.

Admittedly, there is a degree of shrinkage that even programs that do a good job of recruiting athletes that can succeed academically have to account for. I think its safe to say, however, given the wide disparity between programs on the amount of "shrinkage" that occurs, that some programs are offering to kids that they know only have a slim chance at making it academically. For the school, this is no problem--cut the kid and move on. But what about the student?

To this, I answered:
It seems to me that the student is in precisely the same position he was in before.

If he had neither academic nor athletic ability, he would have no shot at attending college. Because he has athletic ability, he is given the opportunity to earn a scholarship, provided he meets the admissions requirements. (As you say, Daniel, these are student-athletes.)

If he fails to meet those requirements, he doesn't get in and he doesn't get the opportunity, but it's on him to meet the standards, which are hardly a state secret.

If schools refuse to take chances on kids who are academically borderline, then those young men will go from having a slim chance to having no chance.

I think most of those young men would take the view that bad odds are better than no odds and it seems to me to be far more cynical for Jim Delany to write off any marginal kid as being undeserving of any chance than it is for S.E.C. coaches to give opportunities to several borderline young men, knowing that some of them won't pan out . . . but also knowing that some of them will.

At the end of the day, the borderline kid who makes it is better off and the borderline kid who doesn't is right back where he started. In Jim Delany's world, though, neither kid would get a shot and both would be doomed to stay right where they were.

Maybe the willingness to take a chance on kids who are at risk is one of the factors that attracts these young men to programs that will allow them to succeed or fail on their own merits rather than to a place where the conference commissioner has already written them off because he assumes that fast kids don't have what it takes to cut it in the classroom.

Daniel, you may be right that "[c]oaches who build a high-failure rate into their recruiting strategy simply aren't acting in the best interests of the athletes they're recruiting," but Jim Delany is advocating a recruiting strategy that builds in an absolute assumption of failure and won't even allow marginal qualifiers the chance to prove themselves. How is that in their best interests?

That discussion thread has continued thereafter, but, as it has gotten a tad too "holier than thou" for me (and because I don't want to run afoul of what I am assured are negative attitudes towards the South harbored by some in that region), I am steering clear of the rest of that conversation, lest I lose the respectful tone with which I have endeavored to respond to prior Big Ten broadsides while I answer charges of recruiting improprieties from the conference that is proud to count Illinois and Ohio State among its member institutions. Thankfully, The M Zone is there to provide reasonable perspective and good-natured humor while the two conferences are squabbling.

This examination of divergent recruiting strategies has, however, put me in mind of a diary posted by 34hawk back in November. While 34hawk's piece on the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics failed to garner as much attention as it deserved, NCT raised an interesting point upon the subject:

Those of us who are alumni (or even not alumni but are interested in our state's flagship university) and sports fans have a strong attachment to the school and how its teams do on the field (court, diamond, whatever). Sadly, we have more invested than most of the actual players, in a sense. Recruiting from other parts of the country is nothing new, to be sure (just ask Joe T III's grandfather), but is something lost? I suspect the Tereshinskis are a bit of an exception. But is someone from Texas or California or New Jersey as likely to have the kind of team/school identification that, say, David Pollack had?

How important is the impact of national recruiting upon a state university? NCT is right about the personal investment most of us have in our alma mater, so it is worth wondering whether something crucial is being sacrificed by stocking the football team with student-athletes from other parts of the country.

I make no secret of my provincialism and I take pride in having graduated from a law school into whose stone central plaza are etched these words of Governor Carl Sanders:

The people of Georgia want and deserve nothing short of the best. The University of Georgia School of Law is, therefore, to be one of such excellence that no citizen of Georgia need ever leave the state because a superior legal education is available elsewhere.

In light of that explicit objective, it is unsurprising that the members of the Joseph Henry Lumpkin School of Law class of 2009 claim as their four most common undergraduate institutions the University of Georgia, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, and Georgia State University. Still, admission to the law school is not limited to native Georgians, nor should it be, so the question remains.

The recent transition in the character of the Georgia football team from local to national is evident at the quarterback position. For the first five years and change of the Mark Richt era, the Bulldogs were led by Snellville's David Greene, College Park's D.J. Shockley, and Athens's Joe Tereshinski III; heading into next autumn, the Red and Black's field generals are Texas's Matthew Stafford, North Carolina's Joe Cox, and Missouri's Logan Gray.

As NCT noted, though, out-of-state recruiting is nothing new for the 'Dawgs. Joe Tereshinski III is a third-generation Georgia football player but a first-generation native Georgian. In 1913, Lexington, Ga.'s Bob McWhorter became the Red and Black's first all-American; in 1914, Brooklyn, N.Y.'s David Paddock became Georgia's second all-American. The university student body circulated a petition requesting that Paddock play for the Classic City Canines, making him the only football player in school history to have been so honored.

As prominent as Georgians have been in shaping the history of Bulldog football, it is worrisome to think where the program would have been had no Keystone State natives ever donned the red and black.

Joe Tereshinski, Sr., grew up near Wilkes-Barre, Pa. McKees Rock, Pa.'s Frank Sinkwich and Pittstown, Pa.'s Charley Trippi wore two of the four jersey numbers retired by the 'Dawgs. John Rauch, who started 45 consecutive games at quarterback for Wally Butts in the 1940s, hailed from Philadelphia. Both all-American tackles on Vince Dooley's inaugural Bulldog squad in 1964 were Pennsylvanians, as was Musa Smith.

When Wrightsville native Herschel Walker guided Georgia to renewed national prominence in the early 1980s, he elevated the Bulldog tailback position to marquee status, enabling Coach Dooley to recruit top-flight running backs such as Indiana's Lars Tate and North Carolina's Tim Worley. The Bulldogs' success during that period also wasn't harmed by the presence of Huntsville, Tex.'s Terry Hoage in the defensive backfield.

Perhaps some of those student-athletes were using the University of Georgia as opportunistically as some would accuse the Bulldogs of using them, acquiring no school spirit in the process of building a resume for the N.F.L. draft. Has any alumnus ever spoken more glowingly or gratefully of his University of Georgia education than Charley Trippi, though?

Here are Trippi's words, as quoted in What It Means to be a Bulldog:

Growing up in Pennsylvania, I basically had two choices in life. I could find a way to go to college or I could work in the coal mines like my dad.

I saw what the coal mines did to my dad as he tried to support five children. Some days when he got home he would have to lay on the couch for an hour before he could eat dinner. I decided that was never going to happen to me.

The University of Georgia gave me the opportunity to play football and get an education, and it completely changed my life. . . .

[W]hen my [professional football] playing days were over I came back to Athens, where I had always had a home, and I was able to enjoy some success in real estate.

It's simple, really. My time at Georgia was the best thing that ever happened to me. That's why I'm still here.

I don't care where he grew up; those are the words of a man who loves and appreciates the University of Georgia.

Likewise, Terry Hoage may have come from the Lone Star State and he may live in the Golden State, but his continued devotion to his alma mater is evident in the fact that Terry Hoage Vineyards features wines called The Hedge and The Bulladoir.

Should we be worried that Georgia is casting the recruiting net too far and wide? I don't think so, not any more than we should be worried that the Bulldogs are scheduling games in overly distant locales.

While I would not want the nation's oldest state-chartered university to lose its identity as the flagship institution of higher learning in the Empire State of the South, the sprinkling of a few additional Floridians, Pennsylvanians, and Texans throughout the depth chart is not apt to alter the fundamental character of the school. Besides, if we can hire an Auburn graduate to coach our football team, surely we can sign a player or two from South Carolina, can't we?

If a fellow is willing to pledge his loyalty to the University of Georgia, he's O.K. by me. If he happens to hail from someplace else, well, the Lewis Grizzard rules still apply; he can live and work in Georgia and he can marry one of our women, just as long as he doesn't tell us how they did it back in Cleveland.

Go 'Dawgs!