Commentary

Academies can't cash in on economy

Even in a sour economy, a great education, a job, and early retirement aren't always enough to lure recruits

Originally Published: July 14, 2009
By Chris Sprow | ESPN The Magazine

You're 17. You're smart -- real smart. You've got DI football talent. Let's just put this on the table and see what you think.

If you accept coach Charlton Warren's offer, your world class education will be totally free, you'll have a guaranteed job upon graduation even in this dismal economy. Moreover, that job will pay an impressive salary and you can -- listen closely now -- retire, with pay, at the age of 42. Oh, you'll also get to play for a nationally-ranked team with a decent Bowl history.

It's a serious offer -- especially the retirement option -- which would make you think football recruiting at the Air Force Academy, West Point or the Naval Academy would be a piece of cake in this nasty economic climate. But it's not.

"It's a mix," explains Warren, the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Air Force. "The parents love what we're offering; it truly sells. But you can't recruit the parents at the cost of alienating a kid. It's his future and a lot of kids have a hard time seeing what's coming next week. We're selling, in some ways, a life."

Kid is probably the key word here. The academies, says ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, rely on "a certain type of person and a certain type of student that knows what they want after college."

Air Force QB Tim Jefferson was also recruited by the likes of Georgia Tech, but started as a freshman after a year at the Air Force prep academy.

While the academies routinely target high school talent with GPA's well above 3.5 and SAT scores north of 1800, those same kids are confident they'd perform well at any college. Why grind away at Army when you can coast at a good school like Purdue? Tucker Waugh has seen the look. A defensive coach and the current recruiting coordinator at West Point, he was on the coaching staff at Stanford before heading east two years ago.

"The schools are actually pretty similar in terms of the recruiting environment," says Waugh. "They're both exceptional academic institutions, and in each case you want to see the transcript before you even see the tape. Bottom line though -- it takes a special kid [to come to West Point]."

To read this article, you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider