The Recruiting Game Part 1: Commitment

The Kobayashi Maru

When choosing a program with which to commit, recruits are sometimes left with a Kobayashi Maru — an unwinnable test designed to test character and integrity, but routinely ignoring the impossible odds they face while taking this test.

Ultimately, the recruiting process is a way for the coaches to weed out the mentally weak and those uncommitted to The Process, whatever their process may be. Unlike the original test created by Jack Soward for the Star Trek series, however, no recruit seems to have found a way to cheat the no-win process.

Choose the school, not the coach is an oft-repeated mantra of farcical proportions. Within the recruiting ecosystem, the two are intertwined.

Returning to the USC example, the Trojans have had six different head coaches since 2010, beginning with Kiffin’s hire. Such fluctuation can make it exceedingly difficult to ascertain how USC, let alone its coaching staff, could help a recruit reach his highest potential.

And yet, recruiting’s Kobayashi Maru — choose the player, not the coach — dictates a recruit simply picks USC and hopes the coaching chaos solves itself. This mindset neglects that a coaching staff can have as much influence in shaping a recruit’s future as the recruit’s university.

Even as a walk-on athlete, former Iowa State running back Jeff Woody knew that he wanted to play for a Div. I football program, but he also knew that having a relationship with his coaches was paramount to what his collegiate experience would be.

Woody thus set about his recruitment with guiding principles that eventually earned him a scholarship in 2010, after being the Cyclone Scout Team Player of the Year.

The process might have been a little bit different due to his original walk-on status, but taking the school out of the coach and the coach out of the school was impossible, Woody maintained:

As far as star ratings went, I was an ‘N/A,’ so most of my offers came from the Div. II level. I knew that I wanted to play Div. I, so my field of acceptable choices was automatically narrowed down to Div. I schools.

From there, I was chipping down my schools from Div. I schools that — obviously as a white running back out of central Iowa, who was potentially going to move to fullback but preferably stay a running back, but likely not going to be playing the position I want to play. I’m probably not going to be playing at Florida State or Alabama or somewhere that’s getting blue-chip recruits all over the place, which kinda narrows my field down a bit more.

After that, I have an acceptable pool of places I want to go, as far as academics, and then once I have my pool narrowed down, then it goes down to coach preference to see where my acceptable choices of school are. It was both — school and relationships.

You can’t just go to a coach because that coach is inevitably going to bail. I think I heard some statistic — and people can probably research the value of this — that in four years, there’s gonna be 60-70 percent of the coaches who started that four year period are going to be gone before it’s over. That’s across the country.

So you can’t go explicitly for a coach, but you also can’t go explicitly for a university if you don’t agree with that coach at all. It has to be both, so the way that I wanted to narrow it down was a list of acceptable schools for other criteria and then fit the personality of the coaching staff and the football program to fit what my preference was as a recruit.

Using a set of criteria he had defined for himself, Woody was still ultimately able to play the position he wanted to play, and did so on scholarship.

Though the lesson should be prioritization of the important things and then use that to fit everything else around it, that’s not conveyed in a simple choose the school, not the coach catchphrase.
Such a simple either-or-proposition is no-win. But simply committing to a scholarship offer doesn’t mean a prospect has crossed the recruiting finish line.