In his breakdown of the recent NFL draft Gregg Easterbrook assails the practice of ranking high school athletes.
What college coaches have started calling the "Rivals effect" might be doing high school prospects more harm than good in this regard. The very public Web-based rankings inflate the egos of young athletes, while distracting them from schoolwork and conditioning. ESPN has started ranking high school prospects, too, so ESPN also is open to criticism.
Not only does the "Rivals effect" swell young heads, but the high school rankings seem little better than throwing darts at a board. Rachel Bachman shows that 54 percent of the high schoolers that earned a five-star ranking, the top classification, not only were not drafted high by the NFL, they were never drafted at all. The effect is doubly frustrating for college coaches, because Web prospect standings now enable the ranking of recruiting classes. Boosters pressure college coaches to produce highly ranked incoming classes -- although the rankings have little to do with who will become a good college player, as [Philadelphia Eagles' seventh-round selection Bryce] Brown's meltdown shows.
Your columnist is at work on a book about the effect of football on American society. As part of the research, I tracked down all players in the 2004 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, a high school all-star game that was then the ultimate in prep football recognition. (The Under Armour and Semper Fidelis all-star games now compete with the Army event.) The roster for the 2004 Army game matched almost one-for-one the top half of the Rivals ranking. Of the 86 players, two are now NFL stars, while only 13 more spent any time in the league. Seventy-one of the 86 top-ranked football prospects of 2004 -- 83 percent! -- never earned a dime in the NFL. A surprising number did not even play much in college. On the flip side, nearly all the high school football players from that year who became successes in college and in the pros were overlooked by Rivals and by the Army bowl selectors.
High school football players -- being on Rivals, the ESPN 150 or any similar ranking is a big thrill and a way to get college coaches to call your cellphone. But being listed has NOTHING to do with whether your athletic career will go well and might even hold you back by swelling your head ...