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Recruiting: Georgia Tech Offered Far, Far Fewer Scholarships to the Class of 2016

There was an odd reversal of recruiting trends by Georgia Tech's coaching staff in 2016. Let's investigate what changed, and why.

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

In the wake of National Signing Day, and with Georgia Tech's recruiting class fully signed (with one possible exception), it's a good time to step back and reflect on the class. How did it stack up nationally? How did it stack up to previous classes?

In doing so recently, I noticed a glaring difference from the previous two recruiting seasons: Georgia Tech gave out noticeably fewer scholarship offers to the class of 2016 than it did to the classes of 2015 or 2014.

The numbers are a little strange to look at, because 2016 saw the coaching staff seemingly revert back to a trend from 2012 and 2013, even when the 2014 and 2015 classes were decided improvements over their predecessors. I'll break this down into a few parts here, but I want to start with why any of this matters.

What's it Matter?

This whole discussion could really be taken one of two ways. The first way is to suggest that more scholarship offers are indicative of the coaches being unable to "seal the deal" and lock down recruits who have an offer, thus necessitating the distribution of more offers. That makes sense on a certain level, but at the same time it removes a very important human element from the whole recruitment process. The players being recruited aren't robots that just need to hear the right combination of sales pitches in the right order to get them to sign on the dotted line. It also ignores the fact that they're being recruited by several schools, and a commitment to another school isn't necessarily indicative of an inadequate recruiting effort by Georgia Tech's coaches.

Thus, the way that this discussion should be taken is that, in order to ensure the highest possible quality in the overall recruiting class, the coaches should focus on "casting a wide net", and hitting as many prospects with scholarship offers as possible. The more high-quality players that are offered, the better the chances are that one or more of them will take the coaches' sales pitches to heart and fall in love with Georgia Tech.

All that said, let's look at some numbers.

Total Offers

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rivals Offers 118 95 213 229 138
247Sports Offers 110 99 218 210 131
Avg Offers 114 97 215.5 219.5 134.5
Total Commits 17 14 22 27 18
Offers/Commit 6.71 6.93 9.80 8.13 7.47

We'll start here. The top two rows that you see in the table above are simple counts of how many players with Georgia Tech offers were reported by both Rivals and 247Sports in every recruiting cycle since 2012. (I found a noticeable disparity between the two sites with 2011, which makes me think that any data from that year and earlier may be unreliable.) From there, those numbers are averaged, compared against the number of commitments in each class, and then there's a calculated rate showing how many offers were given out per commitment.

The reason that these numbers are significant is because the size of the class is a relatively known quantity to the coaches very early in the recruiting cycle, and so they're able to plan accordingly. Obviously, a class that's going to be larger in size is going to involve more scholarship offers, as the coaches aim to fill more spots. So, in a sense, there shouldn't be major fluctuations in the "offers per commitment" number from year-to-year.

That said, there's a noticeable trend down from 2015 to 2016. After 2012 and 2013 saw the coaches offering less than 7 players for every spot needing to be filled, 2014 and 2015 saw them offer upwards of 8 players, with 2014 in particular nearly reaching 10 offers per spot in the class. Now, again, while the 2014 and 2015 classes were also notably bigger than the previous two classes, that "offers per commitment" number is fluctuating enough to indicate a change in strategy.

Except, that strategy seems to have reverted back towards old ways for the 2016 class. After two straight years of giving out over 210 scholarship offers, the coaches instead gave under 140 -- nearly 40% fewer, for a class expected to be only around 25% smaller.

Blue-Chip Offers

Another piece of this worth analyzing is how many blue-chip players were offered in each cycle. The general definition of a blue-chip player here will be one that is rated a 4- or 5-star recruit. For this part, we'll only be using Rivals' rankings, for the simple reason that their database is the easiest to use for these purposes.

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rivals Offers 118 95 213 229 138
Rivals 5* Total 33 34 34 36 33
Rivals Blue-Chip Total 353 366 375 391 387
Rivals 5* Offers 5 6 13 12 9
Rivals Blue-Chip Offers 44 33 86 89 49
Rivals 5* % Offered 15.2% 17.6% 38.2% 33.3% 27.3%
Rivals Blue-Chip % Offered 12.5% 9.0% 22.9% 22.8% 12.7%

In the chart above, you again see total offers given according to Rivals, the total 5-star recruits and total blue-chip (4- and 5-star) recruits according to the service, the total offers given to those 5-star and blue-chip recruits, and then a percentage of those 5-star and blue-chip recruits who were offered.

So, again, there's a noticeable difference here between 2012 & 2013 and 2014 & 2015 -- the latter set saw far more blue-chip recruits offered. As with what was shown above, that trend was reversed for the 2016 recruiting class, where fewer five-star recruits were offered, and noticeably fewer four-star recruits received scholarship offers. The true drop-off was with the four-star recruits, who Georgia Tech has traditionally had more success with recruiting (although even then it hasn't been an extensive record of success).

Although the plan for 2016 was to have a smaller recruiting class than in previous years, there was a major drop-off in scholarship offers to these elite-level players, one that was disproportionate to the drop-off in planned signings for the class.


Let's go back to why this all matters. If you haven't figured it out by now, the correlation here is this: the recent years where Georgia Tech has had its best recruiting results have been the same years where they've offered the most players. They also happened to be the same years where they had the most open scholarships (and therefore the biggest recruiting classes), but those years were also ones where the coaches offered the most scholarships per open spot -- casting the widest net that they could. At the same time, the lowest-ranked of Georgia Tech's recent recruiting classes were also the same years when the coaches offered fewer scholarships per open spot -- when they had the fewest spots available, but also when the net cast was a little more relatively undersized.

2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Total Commits 17 14 22 27 18
Avg Offers 114 97 215.5 219.5 134.5
Offers/Commit 6.71 6.93 9.80 8.13 7.47
Rivals Final Rank 57 85 48 39 68
247Sports Final Rank 52 76 56 44 59
Scout Final Rank 59 72 47 43 65
Average Final Rank 56.0 77.7 50.3 42.0 64.0

Now, I would be remiss (and my ISyE professors would hunt me down to personally & ruthlessly reprimand me) if I didn't remind you that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. That these numbers seem to ebb and flow together does not necessarily imply that they're directly related. It's entirely possible that they are directly related, but it's also entirely possible that they're not, and that the correlation being pointed out is pure coincidence.

Possible Explanations

So, given the appearance that offering more scholarships appears to be beneficial to the overall recruiting effort, what would be the coaches' rationale for offering fewer in 2016? Here's a few possible explanations:

Georgia Tech wanted to ride the momentum coming off of the Orange Bowl win and be more 'picky' with the class of 2016.

This would make sense, particularly earlier in the recruiting cycle. Perhaps the coaches wanted to limit the scholarship offers being distributed in order to hold spots for higher-rated (and higher-priority) recruits, thus protecting themselves from trouble if lower-priority recruits were to commit earlier on in the process. This hasn't really been a common trend in recent years given Georgia Tech's difficulty with luring blue-chip recruits, but with where the program was from the standpoint of national perception even just 6 months ago, it was as good of a time as ever to give it a shot. Then again, this theory doesn't make a ton of sense with the relative drop-off in the number of blue-chip prospects being offered.

Several high-priority recruits delayed making their decisions until relatively late in the process.

This isn't just guys like Donavaughn Campbell and Romeo Finley, but also guys like Baylen Buchanan who were thought to be very realistic targets even in mid- and late-December. There were several guys that Georgia Tech was working on and waiting on deep into the recruiting cycle, where earlier commitments elsewhere would have prompted more scholarship offers being handed out.

The coaches weren't as impressed with the class of 2016 recruits as they are with what they've seen from the class of 2017 thus far.

The previous theory could be rebutted by saying that the coaches should always have "Plan B" and "Plan C" options ready just in case "Plan A" doesn't work out. The thing about that is, though, that the limited number of scholarships available requires the coaches to be careful -- sometimes, it's about more than just hitting a certain number of commitments. Letting one or two scholarships go unused for a year and using them on the following class can sometimes be more beneficial than using them on guys who need a lot of development and may never become contributor-level guys.

But, remember, all of these are just theories as to what happened or why the coaches may have elected to give out fewer scholarship offers.

How's the Class of 2017 Looking?

For a class that's looking to end up around the same number of signees as the class of 2015, Georgia Tech has distributed several early offers, with Rivals showing 51 offers thus far and 247Sports showing 43 offers given out. That's a strong start, with several more offers likely to be distributed during the summer after several camps and other opportunities for the coaches to evaluate players. That said, it'll be a while until we get a good idea of how the coaches' strategy for 2017 compares to the one from 2016.