College football players do not get paid for their work. Yet not even the most naive onlooker would argue that the sport is divorced from pecuniary matters. Advertisers spend millions on prime TV spots, bowl game sponsorships and the right to be The Official Product of the College Football Playoff. That is not to mention the money that schools mint from television deals, jersey sales and ticket revenues.
The players might play for free, but even in a market where their earning potential is artificially depressed by NCAA regulations, the talent hunt is fierce indeed. Coaches invite top prospects to their houses for weekends filled with Jet Skis and barbecues, tour them around world-class training facilities and do everything in between to sell those athletes on the idea of playing for their school.
That means that the best of the best high school football players are courted by dozens of schools, all of which are dedicating significant manpower to their pursuits.
Take, for example, Class of 2017 running back Najee Harris, ranked No. 2 overall in the country and designated as a five-star prospect by 247Sports.com, generally reserved only for elite athletes. Harris received scholarship offers from at least 18 schools. Those schools in total assigned 10 recruiters and staff to Harris, dedicated to following his performance and keeping tabs on his decision process. Harris ended up at Alabama, which assigned both top recruiter Tosh Lupoi and running backs coach Burton Burns to the young standout.
In a world where recruiting is as much a numbers game as it is a competition between stadiums, program traditions and academic offerings, a bigger staff does not hurt. Tech’s athletic department acknowledged as much in December when it sent donors an email asking for larger contributions so they could build a larger recruiting staff. “Maintaining and enhancing our competitive position requires continued investment in the staff, programs and facilities needed to compete at the highest level,” Athletic Director Todd Stansbury and Head Coach Paul Johnson wrote in a joint letter.
Since then, the program has raised nearly half a million dollars, and last week those funds resulted in additions to the staff: associate directors for the player personnel department in Thomas Balkcom and Tevin Washington, along with digital content coordinator Ryan Wise.
Both Balkcom and Washington are names familiar to many involved with Tech athletics. Balkcom played for the Jackets’ 1990 national championship team as a defensive back (on a team for which Stansbury was an academic advisor) and has spent his time since in coaching. Meanwhile, Washington graduated from Tech in 2012 as one of the most decorated quarterbacks in school history. Now, he receives a promotion from graduate assistant to a full-time recruiting role.
Wise, who previously produced film at Liberty University, will play a part in selling the Tech brand to recruits through high-quality videos. His position is a textbook example of a role on a recruiting staff that would not have existed not so long ago. As it becomes more important to reach recruits via a strong digital footprint, it is understandable that he was prioritized as a hire.
Tech apparently plans to bring in one more hire as part of its Football Recruiting Challenge. But a look at other competitive programs shows how long a way the Jackets have to go.
The Jackets’ new hires bring their football staff to 27 members. That is an impressive figure until it is brought into comparison with others at the Power Five level. Michigan employs a football staff of 49 members, with titles including “Director of Performance Nutrition” and “Offensive Analyst.” The staff boasts such big names as former Florida head coach Jim McElwain, now a receivers coach.
Meanwhile, Clemson numbers 37 strong, including assistants dedicated to research and development for both offense and defense. These powerhouse programs live in a drastically different world than the Jackets, or at least occupy a different portion of the landscape. They expect conference championships and College Football Playoff berths. Consistent performance bellow that standard leads to getting coaches fired, athletic directors facing pressure and local radio shows inundated with fans ready to air their grievances.
While Tech has now made strides in helping get players to Tech, they must still find more staff to help those athletes while they arrive, or somehow make do with less. After all, the Jackets may not be a consistent conference contender, but as seasons like 2014 showed, they are capable of fighting for it when all breaks right. If they cannot win acquisition, they must