How to win in recruiting?

The simple answer: branding.

As Jeremy Darlow explains in his book Brands Win Championships, “teens pick brands, pros pick contracts.” [my emphasis] College athletics provide a unique, albeit contentious, dynamic in which players base their college decisions on a radically different criteria than professional players, who often opt to play for whichever franchise will pay the most. Stadium size, uniforms (read our article Fashion Wars on the influences of uniforms and apparel companies in recruiting), program prestige, coach prestige, coach persona, location, media exposure, fan sentiment, playing style, and academics are only a handful of the endless factors that play a role in an athlete’s decision. The net sum of all these influences becomes the program’s brand, which is then evaluated by millions of high school athletes. Each athlete is sure to perceive each school uniquely, but the masses will come to a general sentiment on which school is better than the next.
From a book review of Brands Win Championships:

In "Brands Win Championships," author Jeremy Darlow contends (quite successfully) that in the real world today, a school's brand is the most important factor in not only winning recruiting battles, but the championship at the end of the rainbow. Recruits want to be associated with a program because of how that program is perceived. The better your brand is perceived, the better recruits you sign, the better you perform, the better your brand is perceived. It's a cycle, and the easiest part to impact is the perception of the brand.
The book is several years old. What triggered me to post about it is the survey data just released by the Pick Six people. You can find it all in the linked article.

No surprise to me, the #1 brand in college football is currently ... Clemson. I've referred to Clemson several times as an example of a program that gets it and does things right without a huge budget.

One of the points I've made, is that Clemson has reached their current level of success, and brand approval, with a middle-of-the-pack Power5 operating budget.


​When discussing how revenue affects branding in 2018, we decided to look back a few years (2015-2016) for revenue figures assuming there is a lag between income and results. If we look back at revenue generated in 2015-2016 and compare it to our “Tier One” schools, it isn’t who jumps off the page--it's who isn’t on the page at all. The number one ranked team in our brand rankings, Clemson ($104.8 Million), generated the 27th most revenue in 2015-2016. This isn't to say that money isn't important, of course, as there is a clear linear relationship between revenue generated and brand power. However, it's evident that recruiting results are tied closer to brand ranking than revenue.

So what is the the common denominator among teams like Oregon, Miami (revenue not reported), and Clemson? All three teams cracked the top seven brands, yet didn't come near the top seven in revenue.[my emphasis] They are all well-defined brands with deliberate brand strategies. They don't have the history or mystique of an Alabama or a Penn State but they have in fact created their own aura from scratch. Oregon has never won a National Title, but was the first to brand speed and tempo, and also has the ability to wear a different uniform combination for every game from now until the year 3344. They are one of the hottest brands in college football and this is reflected in their brand ranking (#5) despite coach turnover. Miami is still riding its wave from the 80s with “The U” despite under performing for the better part of the most recent decades. The U is still considered one of the “coolest” brands in college football. In a recent rebranding period, Miami brought back several of their uniform combinations from the 1980’s, and meshed that with their new-age turnover chain. Finally, Clemson has Death Valley, Howard's Rock, the charismatic Dabo Swinney, and a recent National Championship to sell. These three programs have found a way to differentiate themselves in the eyes of teenage student athletes with their brand from the blue bloods and other non-traditional powers in the sport of college football.