Geography as Destiny: Recruiting College Wide Receivers
Julio Jones played his high school and college football in Alabama. (Photo via bamakodaker/Flickr)
Julio Jones played his high school and college football in Alabama. (Photo via bamakodaker/Flickr)

Jon Moore’s article from earlier today, which discussed the lack of impact that Pac-12 wide receivers are having in the NFL, has had me thinking about possible explanations.  One reason that may seem obvious to you, but which wasn’t immediately obvious to me is that the Pac-12 suffers from both a time zone and a geography problem. Most of the population of the U.S. lives east of the Rockies, which means that a good number of the recruits that play college football live in time zones that are a two or three hour difference.  The amount of exposure that Pac-12 schools can have for these potential recruits is limited in some sense.

Because I was interested in the degree to which schools are successful at recruiting outside of their geographic sphere of influence, I pulled together some data and mapped it.  The app below will let you explore the origin of college football receivers by conference.  The dots on the graph are the hometowns of the players.  Black dots represent all of the receivers in the dataset, while the red dots represent the conference indicated by the pull down.  Interestingly, the geographic center of the receiver recruiting universe is actually just northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Half of the players come from west of that center, half from east of it, half from north of it, and half from south of it.

You can see pretty easily that conferences really aren’t very successful at recruiting outside of their spheres of influence.  The Pac-12 draws mostly from recruits in the west, the Big 12 draws mostly from the rust belt, and the SEC draws from an area that is generally within a few hours drive of its member schools.  But this obviously gives a great advantage to the SEC because close to 1/4 of all of the receivers in college football come from an eight state area located in the southeast region of the country.

The next step in this analysis would be to look at supply and demand and determine the extent to which the increased number of schools in the eastern part of the country end up competing for recruits and whether that ends up evening the playing field for the relatively smaller number of schools on the West Coast (who all have to compete for the recruits in California’s metro areas).

One note – because I wanted to have some way to visualize the varying quality of receiver, they are scaled in size by their market share of touchdowns.  I don’t think that matters that much except that it allows some of the metro areas to stand out more.

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