Ohmygosh ohmygosh ohmygosh; it’s the first week of college football! Thousands of players, far from home, are gearing up for their games this Saturday. Wait, how far from home? Since I can never fully silence the part of my brain that tries to extrude ideas out into maps, I’ll just revel in it.
Here are the top ten college football programs in the nation, leading into week one:
And top-tier programs like this recruit from all over the country (and beyond):
But even for big-time schools like these, it’s just more practical to look in your own backyard, first. Here’s a breakout of the drive-time areas around each of the top ten schools (less than an hour’s drive, 1 to 3 hours, and 3 to 5 hours):
Already, you can see a profound difference in the distances some teams travel to recruit their players. Michigan snags nearly a quarter of its players from schools a stone’s throw away, while Florida State and Stanford are made up of almost no local kids. Notre Dame’s roster contains exactly zero local kids.
Generally, around half of the players on these teams come from beyond a five-hour drive away. Nearly all of Stanford’s players come from more than five hours away. This means these players, and the assistant coaches who woo them, probably aren’t driving; they’re racking up air miles. So let’s switch over to a different way of describing the far-flungedness of a team’s roster…
The Air Mile Index!
The Air Mile Index (AMI), is a description of how broad a school’s recruiting footprint is. An AMI of around 12, for a top-tier program, indicates a wealth of local talent. An AMI approaching 30 indicates a massive national reach.
Here is a map connecting each player’s hometown to their school:
Overall, the players on the top ten programs have a combined AMI of 18.17. Freshmen tend to have a slightly larger AMI, indicating a slight tendency to loose some of the more distant players after their first year. AMIs are steady across the classes thereafter. LSU has, by far, the tightest AMI of the top ten teams, while Stanford’s roster is exceedingly distant. Notre Dame brings in a second-largest AMI, perhaps owing to their conference independence, and the cultural dimension of being a private Catholic institution.
Here it is sorted out by school (in order of AP week 1 football ranking):
Alabama recruits regionally, and has done so consistently across all four recruiting classes. Most players are from nearby, in the deep south, with slight recruiting clusters in the Metro DC area and Dallas/Ft. Worth.
Clemson’s recruiting footprint is highly local, with recruiters drawing strongly from within the Carolinas and Metro Atlanta. Westward recruiting is rare. The senior class is a profoundly local group.
Michigan, which did exceptionally well in the recent recruiting season, shows a marked increase in draw range -perhaps as the result of a media-savvy new head coach. Only the across-the-board high AMIs of Stanford and Notre Dame out-distance Michigan’s freshmen.
Stanford’s AMI is off the charts. Recruiting sparingly in the local Bay Area, most of the team hails from the Los Angeles region. Non-California kids are pulled from a scattered set of far-flung locations.
Notre Dame, belonging to no regional football conference, can use distant game locations as a recruiting opportunity. While not as vast, overall, as Stanford, Notre Dame has the most dispersed players of all top teams.
Curious about how the Air Mile Indexes shake out by position? Here’s a breakout of AMI by the player’s position as mentioned on their roster:
There they are, the AMIs of the top ten football teams (for now). Did you notice anything that surprised you? Let me hear about it.
In the meantime, Help yourself to this step-by-step walk-through of how to make Air Mile Index maps.