How Conference Realignment Can Kill Recruiting

Just when we thought Clemson and Florida State were out the door and on their way to the Big 12, the Clemson coaching staff decided to speak up and say just how bad an idea it is:

"We are a thousand percent committed to the ACC and committed to making this the best program and best conference we possibly can," [Dabo] Swinney told reporters Tuesday before the start of the Dabo Swinney Football Camp. "It has really been very frustrating (from a recruiting standpoint). I think there has been a lot of irresponsible blogging, reporting or whatever you want to call it (about changing conferences). It has been a real distraction."

Now, I don't know how badly recruiting's been affected, since, you know, Swinney just signed the top football recruit for 2013, but basketball coach Brad Brownell is saying the same thing:

"I just think our fit is much more natural in the ACC than the Big 12," he said. "It has been a bit more problematic recently because people use anything they can in recruiting against you. They'll use things with players and coaches and say 'if you go to Clemson you may not end up playing in the ACC.'

"Some of it is just rumor and that's what this has been. And with us recruiting in North Carolina and Georgia and South Carolina here in our bread basket- those kids want Carolina and Georgia and South Carolina here in our bread basket- those kids want to play in the ACC and those are kids we think very highly of. It's caused us a few problems and a little bit of heartburn but hopefully we are past that."

This is something I haven't seen addressed in the past couple of summers of "Ohmigod we're all changing conferences! Yay the big shiny newness!" is that these sports are built around eighteen year-olds picking schools, and they do so like every other high schooler, often wanting to be close to home, and having the same experiences they've been hearing about since they were kids. Kids around Syracuse don't dream about cutting down the nets in Greensboro, and folks from San Diego State aren't chomping at the bit to play football in Ohio. And there are some schools that are going to be at a bigger disadvantage than others in the new landscape.

Now this is just a couple of photos and some large-type away from being a Bleacher Report slideshow, so let me say up front that these schools aren't doomed. And sustained success is always going to be a big recruiting draw. If these teams win, they'll keep recruiting and keep winning. (And there's no way I can be proven wrong! It's internet commentary in its purest form!) All of that being said, if I was a fan of these teams, I'd be a little nervous:

Missouri: Hey recruits! Remember the biggest game of your lives, one of the best rivalries in college football and the biggest event in two states? Yeah, we're not doing that any more. But you can travel to Mississippi! Maybe even twice in one year! And Alabama!

Ending the Border War, even temporarily, may be the dumbest decision in all of sports. And I think it'll hurt Missouri more than Kansas. Mainly because Missouri has further to fall than the Jayhawks, but also because Kansas still has an in-state rivalry, while Missouri has... Arkansas, I guess? Maybe they can pick another border to squabble over? Missouri as a state isn't a hotbed of football recruiting, and it seems easy for kids to slip across the border to other schools.

Texas A&M: Texas is a hotbed of football recruiting, and loyalties run deep. But at the moment there are five BCS conference schools in the state. At four of them, you can play three instate conference games a season, plus games in Oklahoma; family will see you and you'll grow up watching those four teams week in and week out all over the Lone Star State. Or you can play for Texas A&M, where your closest conference opponent is in Louisiana. Again, if Texas A&M starts excelling, they'll get lots of recruits. But the Aggies have won three bowl games in the last twenty years, and have had five coaches since 2007. The SEC isn't an easy conference to succeed in; if they struggle, they could be the new Mississippi State.

Fun fact: the Aggies' Wikipedia page lists five inactive rivalries and only two active ones. One of the active ones has been played a whopping twelve times. College football, everybody.

Pittsburgh: Pitt knows something about being denied rivalries, considering Penn State abruptly put the in-state grudge "on hiatus" in 2010. But now they've lost the Backyard Brawl as well, along with nascent rivalries throughout the Big East. But now they get added travel time in a conference with only two other schools north of the Mason-Dixon line. A conference struggling in football, and quite happy with their own rivalries. Pitt will get Penn State back on the schedule for 2016 and 2017, and their best chance for success is to hope the Nittany Lions flail without Joe Paterno. Otherwise, there are lot of schools willing to go shopping in Western Pennsylvania.

San Diego State: Do you think there are a lot of eighteen year-old Californians who want to play football on the East Coast? Or even small schools in Texas? Me neither.

Other schools won't have this problem. West Virginia is a state full of kids who have no concept of going to any school but WVU; their recruiting won't change. FSU would probably recruit just as well in the Big 12 as they would the ACC. And Syracuse, well, I don't understand how Syracuse recruits football players in the first place — hey, it's really cold and we play in a dome named after an air conditioner! — but I can't imagine a change in opponents affecting their selling points. And all the teams above can overcome these handicaps with some consistent winning. But I'm glad my school of choice has a national brand in basketball and no intentions of jumping ship.

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