October 29, 2010
As a follow-up to my post yesterday on Arjen Colquhoun, the NCAA, and the state of Canadian talent, I interviewed Kent Ridley of Ridley Scouting via e-mail about the trends he's seen in football recruiting in both CIS and the NCAA, what factors Canadian prospects should consider when choosing a school and how his scouting business is involved in the recruiting process. My questions and his answers are below.
Andrew Bucholtz: What trends have you seen in NCAA recruiting over the last few years? Are the numbers of Canadian kids heading south changing, and are there more Canadians going to higher-profile schools, or has it been pretty static?
Kent Ridley: It really changes year-to-year, but the five-year trend is fairly even. The average is 30 to 35 entering the American system each year (NCAA, NAIA and junior college).
A.B.: Are there any particular areas of Canada where star high school players are more likely to head to the NCAA?
K.R.: It's fairly wide open. There are a lot of ties between some high schools and certain colleges, of course, but no particular pattern. There are over 1,000 football playing schools in the United States so the the opportunities abound.
A.B.: In my piece Thursday, one of the things I talked about was certain programs' familiarity with Canadians and thus increased efforts to recruit them. Have you noticed that, and are there any particular NCAA programs that are really high on Canadian talent?
K.R.: There are some schools with recent track records. Rice University, for one, had several Canadians. Both Connecticut and Baylor have a couple right now [Baylor offensive lineman Danny Watkins, the fourth pick in the 2010 CFL Canadian draft, is pictured above doing a radio interview during this summer's Big 12 Media Days -AB]. The Michigan Mid-American Conference schools have been home to several Canadians of late. Virginia, Eastern Washington and Washington State have had quite a few in recent memory. In Div 2, there has been an active push by Minnesota state schools, especially the campus at Crookston. For NAIA, Minot State has crossed the border several times to recruit.
A.B.: What about on the CIS front? Has the distribution of talent changed much? From the parity-filled results of this season at least, it looks like some of the previously lower schools are doing a better job of recruiting top talent.
K.R.: I'm not sure if it's better recruiting, better coaching at the CIS level or better coaching at the high school level. Part of what my Top 100 project showed me is that there are still a lot of worthy players at the high school level that are being passed over or only offered a chance to walk on at the next level. It brings to mind the old saying, "To the victor go the spoils". When it comes to recruiting, that is exactly the case; the hardest-working recruiters will find players in all sorts of overlooked places.
A.B.: Is national recruiting on the rise in the CIS? It seems there are a lot of pretty good players winding up at schools across the country. Is this a newer development, or is it just getting more attention now?
K.R.: I think it's always been there. Some teams are more active than others, of course.
A.B.: From a top-tier talent perspective, how do the numbers of players heading to NCAA and CIS programs stack up? Are the best guys all going south, or are some of them staying north of the 49?
K.R.: Not all the best are heading to the States, but a high percentage of the top grouping of players are getting serious offers. However, from a talent perspective, if you could take all the ones that are heading to the States and put them together on the same team you'd have a powerful CIS team. It will be interesting to see how Simon Fraser [which joined the NCAA's Division II this year-AB] affects the flow.
A.B.: On the company front, tell me a bit about your company's goals. What are you trying to accomplish? What about the company history? What motivated you to start it?
K.R.: Ridley Scouting is trying to change things. Perhaps it's too ambitious but it's what we want to do. We got started in 2003 by working with the smallest school in the ACAC (Alberta College Athletic Association) as they constantly struggled to draw in student athletes for their basketball program. By the time they dropped their athletic program in 2005, we had realized that there was a real lacking with the options for players out of the smaller schools. The mindset of many college/university coaches seems to be if you didn't play against the top schools in high school, you just aren't worth an offer. So many of these players were told that they could walk on in the fall tryout but weren't even given a chance to prove themselves at a spring ID camp. If they enrolled and didn't make the team in the fall it would be too late to transfer and try again somewhere else. In the end many of these student-athletes were dropping the athlete moniker and becoming full time students. We have a real passion for the overlooked and late bloomers.
A.B.: Why the multi-sport focus? Has that always been there, or is that more recent?
K.R.: Ridley Scouting started in basketball and then added in football and lacrosse. Those were the three sports I have the biggest background in, having coached in football and basketball and broadcast for lacrosse and football. I also played soccer at the high school and college level. The only sport I've avoided on purpose has been hockey, I did get a goalie a spot at a NCAA ID camp once but there are just too many "experts" in Canada.
A.B.: How do you balance services for individual players (profiles, promotion, etc) with services for teams and your player rankings?
K.R.: Working with the players and their families is always the priority. We reserve 15 hours per month for a client during their recruitment period. Our work with teams is usually reserved for national championships and inter-provincial play. The most popular feature for the average viewer of our website is the player rankings for the CFL drafts.
A.B.: How do you come up with the player rankings?
K.R.: We have developed a series of sport-specific formulas that come up with player rankings for the website and a separate player grade for the school mailouts. The goal has been to create a system that removes the personal bias but supports the potential of players too.
A.B.: What's a typical work week for you look like?
K.R.: Our typical week is spent reviewing highlight reels, game film and keeping in contact with players, coaches and parents from Monday to Friday. Wednesday night I coach basketball, and of course, I try to take in between 10 and 20 football games a week right now. Saturday usually finds me with three screens going with a CIS game on one and a pair of NCAA games going on the other two. Most of the time it's about 80 hours a week going on in the business.
A.B.: How do you choose what schools to promote players to?
K.R.: The first part is the pick of the student-athletes, their wish list, so to speak. The second part is the area of study that the student athlete is looking for. If you want to be a doctor, then that school had better have a pre-med program. The third part is the realistic goals; while every basketball player wants to go to Duke or North Carolina, only a handful will ever get to, so let's evaluate the ability with a sharp eye. The goal is to have the athletic ability pay for at least a portion of your schooling.
A.B.: If a top prospect asked you for advice on what schools to look into, would you recommend NCAA ones, CIS ones or both?
K.R.: Both. There's plenty of benefit to both scenarios. It does the family a disservice to only focus on one side of the border.
A.B.: What do you see as the ideal distribution of talent between the NCAA and CIS (should it be all top prospects going south, all top prospects staying in Canada, or something in between)?
K.R.: The only way for CIS to keep the top talent in Canada is to offer more in the way of scholarships and improve the promotion of their sports. Every week, we are proving with the TSN ratings [for the CFL games-AB] that the interest is growing. Now we just need to take that interest and translate it to support for CIS. Duane Forde has done a great job during the games he broadcasts in mentioning the Canadians and where they went to school. It will take some work, some partnership between the CFL and CIS, some investment, but it is realistic. I've been crowing on this for years.
A.B.: What do you think about the talent level in Canadian high schools at the moment? What could be done to further improve it?
K.R.: Our talent is amazing right now. There are more camps, football schools, and training opportunities than ever before. Plus, they aren't just in the major centres any more. Looking through the CanadaFootballChat.com-sponsored Top 25 Poll, it's amazing what these schools are getting done. There are two high schools on undefeated runs stretching back to 2007. Overall, to continue the improvement, it will require the coaching in our high schools to constantly improve. I am nervous about changes to the NCCP program and things being done that could take some coaches out of the system until they get additional certification. The worst-case scenario could set up programs to take a fall if they can't organize enough training sessions to get coaches certified.