Best & Worst Colleges for Converting Elite Recruits into NFL Draft Picks


As a follow-up to our previous post, we would like to provide a more complete view of the best and worst colleges based on converting elite recruits into NFL Draft picks (number of draft picks divided by the number of four and five star recruits).  This study considers the last six NFL drafts, and examines the top sixty schools in terms of relevant recruiting cycles over the past twelve years.  We exclude schools that have not produced a single draft pick in the 2007-2012 period or that have less than four elite recruits over the relevant recruiting cycles.

Since there have been a considerable number of inquiries, it should be noted that the University of Alabama finished in the middle of the pack.  While the table above is produced from a rather straight-forward statistical analysis (descriptive statistics for each school), we would like to stress that our main results are derived from multiple linear regression models.  The key result is the significant negative relationship between the number of four-star prospects and the draft conversion rate of high ranked prospect. It is also worth noting that while we focused on the ratio of draft picks to elite recruits we also conducted a number of other analyses that focused on alternative measures of draft success such as the number of Day 1 or First round picks per elite recruit.  Our key finding was replicated across the various models.

By  Dr. Mike Lewis & Dr. Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013

Methodology for the study explained here.

Want to Get Drafted in the NFL? Go to Kentucky, Not Alabama!

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In the 2012 NFL draft, the first round selections included multiple players from Alabama, USC, LSU and Notre Dame.  The Crimson Tide had 4 of the first 25 picks!  To hardcore college football fans, these first round draft results are expected since colleges like Alabama and USC are perennial members of the lists of top recruiting classes.

A statistical analysis of draft picks versus college recruiting rankings confirms this simple story.  A regression analysis of the number of picks selected from a given school versus the number of five-star, four-star, and three-star players in the school’s recruiting class reveals a significant positive relationship between the number of players drafted and the number of four and five-star recruits.  The relationship between three-star recruits and draft picks is insignificant.  Specifically, we found that every five-star player signed by a school translates to 0.33 draft picks, and every four-star player translates to approximately 0.09 draft picks.  If we examine only players selected in the first three rounds of the draft, then each five-star recruit produces 0.23 picks and each four-star recruit results in 0.05 picks.

While the preceding results provide evidence that fans should be happy about recruiting victories, the story from the high school recruit’s perspective is far more complex.  That each five-star player only results in 0.33 picks obviously suggests that there is a great deal of error in the rankings.  However, an additional explanation is that a player’s draft outcome may be adversely impacted by joining programs with many other highly rated recruits.

To explain the situation, we performed several additional analyses that examined the conversion rate of college recruits to drafted players.  For these analyses, the measure of interest was the number of NFL draft picks from a school divided by the total number of four and five-star recruits signed by the school.  We then modeled this conversion rate by the number of five, four and three-star players signed by the school.  In this analysis, we found a significant negative relationship between the number of four-star prospects and the draft conversion rate of high ranked prospects.  When we limited the draft picks to only round one or only day one (rounds 1-3), this negative relationship persisted.

To further illustrate this point, let’s examine two schools.  Over the last six NFL drafts, the University of Florida has brought in one hundred four and five-star recruits, and had “only” twenty-nine players drafted.  The average recruiting class rank for the Gators over this period was 6.1.  In contrast, the University of Pittsburgh brought in twenty-five four and five-star prospects but had seventeen draft picks.  Pitt’s average recruiting rank was 32.

The following chart shows the draft pick conversion rate for a variety of schools.  Interestingly, over the last six drafts, the most effective school at converting prospects to picks is the University of Kentucky.  Kentucky actually produced more draft picks than the number of four and five star prospects they recruited.  At the other extreme, Florida State only produced about 0.2 draft picks per elite recruit.

(*Elite = Five and Four Star Recruits)

We also extended the analysis to include other factors that could impact a school’s ability to produce draft worthy players.  Specifically, we examined the influence of the school’s investment in its football program, the team’s winning percentage, whether or not the school played in a major bowl, and each school’s conference affiliation.  Investment may matter because greater resources could translate to improved coaching or strength training programs.  While the latter three factors relate to the publicity players receive at various schools.  The only significant factor from these additional variables was school’s investment in the football program.

The bottom line seems to be that for players with a goal of playing in the NFL, program selection should not be based on the glamour provided by the big time programs such as Ohio State, Alabama, Notre Dame, and USC.  Rather players should seek out opportunities at schools with substantial budgets but lower ranked recruiting classes.  In other words, it’s probably more important to increase your probability of getting on to the field early, rather than maximizing the number of times you play on a big national stage.

To further illustrate the preceding point, in 2009, Alabama had the top rated recruiting class with several four-star high school recruits.  A current examination of these recruits shows that several have left the team, others have red-shirted, and a few are projected as free agents or late-round picks.  One recruit is projected as an early-round pick.  These outcomes could be the result of over-recruiting and the lack of resources for top recruits.

Finally, using first round mock draft data for this year’s draft, we can determine the number of projected first round draft picks per five and four star recruits at a given school.  The chart below highlights some of the schools with projected first round picks this year.  It is interesting to note that schools such as Syracuse and Missouri do a better job with conversion of elite recruits than the football powerhouses of Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.

(*Elite = Five and Four Star Recruits)

By  Dr. Mike Lewis & Dr. Manish Tripathi, Emory University 2013

Methodology for the study explained here.

2013 MLB Competitive Balance Forecast

Since the advent of free agency in the 1970s, baseball fans have feared that competitive balance will decrease, and small market teams will become less competitive.  The logic is that large market teams like the Yankees will be able to acquire the best talent and small market clubs like the Pirates or Royals will be noncompetitive.

We have developed a competitive balance forecast for the 2013 MLB season.  This forecast is based on a statistical model of the relationship between the distribution of payrolls across teams and the amount of competitive balance observed in past seasons.  For the analysis, we defined competitive balance in a variety of ways.  A standard measure for competitive balance in the academic literature is the standard deviation of winning percentages in a given year.  This measure would be minimized if each team achieved a 50% winning rate, and become larger when teams show greater variation in winning rates.

The chart below shows the evolution of the standard deviation of normalized payrolls and the standard deviation of winning percentages.   The correlation between these two measures is .25 and a linear regression model suggests that the relationship between payroll dispersion and winning rate dispersion is non-significant.  However, when the dispersion in winning rates is examined at the division; level we do observe a significant relationship.


For our analysis, we focus on the range of winning rates.  For example, if a division winner wins 60% of their games, while the last place team wins 40% of their games, then the range would be 20%.   The reason we like this method is because it is easily translated into the common baseball measure of “games back”.  To predict the levels of competitive balance we use multiple measures of the dispersion or variation in payrolls across clubs.  Based on opening day payrolls, we predict that the AL East will be the least competitive division while the AL West will be the most competitive.

Of course, competitive balance or lack of balance is a mixed bag for fans.  If a fan roots for a high payroll, large market franchise, a lack of competitive balance may generally be a positive as the fan’s preferred franchise (sorry Cubs fans) will tend to win on average.  But for the small market teams, a lack of competitive balance can be a dangerous situation.  For further background on competitive balance and its impact on fan loyalty, the following research paper and NY Times OpEd may be useful.

Customer Equity and Player Diversity in MLB

Yesterday, Major League Baseball’s annual report on the diversity of players was released to the media.  The headline finding was that the percentage of African-American players is just 8.5%.  This percentage is much smaller than the NFL or NBA, and is down from 19% in 1995 and 27% in 1975.*

I found the report to be interesting in several respects.  When we started this blog, we began with a focus on brand equity.  Brand equity is the value of a brand like Coke or Apple.  Brand equity is useful because it is linked to customer loyalty, consumer awareness, and it may decrease consumer price sensitivity.  The issue of the diversity of MLB players brings to mind another class of marketing asset: customer equity.  In brief, customer equity is the value of a firm’s customer relationships.  It makes sense to think of customer relationships as economically valuable assets because customers tend to buy repeatedly, and their behavior is often a function of a firm’s marketing decisions.

I mention the topic of customer equity, because customer acquisition, and therefore customer equity can often be impacted by a brand’s current customers.  For example, Cadillac long suffered from being associated with an older demographic.  I even did some research that looked at how MBA program student demographics affected future student enrollment.

While the MBA student research was executed using sophisticated econometric techniques, at the heart of the research is a concept from sociology called homophily.  This is a simple concept that suggests that people often prefer to be parts of groups that consist of demographically similar members.  Player demographics therefore is a marketing issue, since a lack of African-American players could result in fewer African-American fans.  While the issue of lower percentages of African American players adversely affecting fan interest is a negative example of the aforementioned principle more positive examples also exist.  For example, Ichiro increased interest in the Mariners in Japan, and the Chinese-American community quickly embraced Jeremy Lin.  MLB fears that a lack of African-American players will reduce African-American fans, and consequently the future supply of African-American players.  This type of negative feedback effect could greatly reduce MLB’s customer equity in the African-American segment.

However, if I had to hazard a guess as to why MLB is suffering declining interest in the African-American community, I would identify a different culprit.  My conjecture is that MLB’s reliance on a farm system approach rather than a system where major universities develop talent, is the true  problem.  High school athletes are well aware of the lucrative nature of participating in professional sports, and how players like Lebron, Michael, Cam Newton and RG3 transcend being just athletes, and become brands.  These future professionals also know that stardom can be acquired in college or even high school through AAU basketball, or high profile college football recruiting.  Simply put, major college football and basketball offer opportunities for athletes to become stars at an earlier age!

*Note that there has been some criticism of the report’s methodology.  The major concern seems to be that the percentage provided in years like 1975 included all players of African heritage, while the current number only includes US born African Americans.

Winners, Losers, and Question Marks from the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament

Later tonight, the NCAA championship game between Michigan and Louisville will tipoff in the Georgia Dome.  Even though a champion has yet to be crowned, we can begin to make some judgments regarding the marketing winners, losers, and questions marks of this year’s tournament.  Before we provide our thoughts, please note that tournament success will usually result in greater publicity, fan loyalty, and all the spoils that come with brand equity (think Apple or BMW).

The two teams in the championship game are both interesting stories.  Louisville is a marketing monster, and enjoys the greatest “revenue premium” relative to on-court performance, but Michigan is another story.  Michigan performs poorly on our brand equity metric because history shows that Michigan needs to win consistently to keep the arena packed.  Anecdotally, we had to explain this poor brand equity finding to a distinguished University of Michigan business school professor, who pointed at this year’s excitement as an indicator of fan loyalty.  Given that this was a UM professor, we had to explain using small words, that true fan loyalty means that the fans even show up in down years.

For the two teams in the championship, Louisville is a clear brand equity winner, as they will continue to lengthen their lead on the competition; but the jury is still out on Michigan.  The only potential losers in the Louisville family are the Louisville fans that could be asked to pay higher prices.  As a frustrated University of Illinois fan, Professor Lewis would view this as a very small sacrifice for basketball success.

Michigan faces the challenge of all football schools: the year consists of the football season, spring football, and the remainder is perhaps a tossup between basketball season and football recruiting.  For Michigan to create true basketball brand equity, the school needs to sustain success.  While Coach Beilein’s history suggests this is likely, Michigan could lose multiple underclassmen to the NBA draft.

Two schools that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament also offer an education comparison.  Tubby Smith failed to make the tournament, and was replaced by Rick Patino’s son, Richard.  Given Minnesota’s high level of brand equity (2nd in the Big Ten), this was likely a decision to protect the brand by trying to bring in a dynamic young recruiter.  The most notable team to fail to make the tournament was last year’s winner, the Kentucky Wildcats.  The Emory Sports Marketing Science Initiative makes no pronouncements about Kentucky.  I think we can all agree that Kentucky and Coach Calipari have developed a new and unique business model.

March Madness is known for its Cinderellas.  This year’s top two Cinderella stories were the Wichita State Shockers and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.  Our assessment is that Wichita State was the BIG winner.  Not only did the Shockers reach the magical level of the Final Four, but also, at least as of now, Coach Marshall is sticking around.  For a mid-major to build equity, the school needs to sustain success beyond that achieved by an individual coach.  This last point brings us to FGCU.  By his hitting the exit for USC with amazing haste, it is likely that any fan excitement created by reaching the Sweet 16 has left the state of Florida with Andy Enfield.



Watching for Brand Giants in the Elite Eight

Each year, the second weekend in the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament gives us eight teams competing for spots in the Final Four.  One might assume that match-ups between the top college basketball brands will be correlated to the highest TV ratings; however our analysis of Nielsen TV ratings, team match-ups, and brand equity dismisses this conventional wisdom.

We analyze Elite Eight data from 2010 to 2013, and find that metrics at the match-up level such as the combined brand equity of the two teams or the difference in brand equity of the two teams have a negligible correlation with TV ratings (less than 0.1).  Thus, from a brand perspective, the match-up of two Goliaths or the David versus Goliath match-up does not seem to be correlated with viewership. Rather, it seems that on a given Elite Eight Saturday or Sunday, when there are four teams playing, there is a significant positive correlation between the highest brand equity team and TV ratings, and a significant negative correlation between the lowest brand equity team and viewership.

A possible explanation for these findings is that Elite Eight viewers look at the full set of teams playing on a given day, and are drawn-in by strong brands, but put-off by weak brands.  These findings also seem to possibly indicate that given viewership preferences, it is really difficult for a low brand equity college to improve its brand.