Recruiting evaluation

College football fans need something to do in January, so the football gods ordained January a time for recruiting. It is a nice bridge from the crazy bowl season into the frenzy of spring practice. And it is important too. Some research shows a direct correlation between getting top recruits and winning percentage; there certainly is a correlation between top recruits and the NFL draft.

With recruiting being so important, the only thing for a football fan to do is make sure he follows it. Closely. But which site is the best for Alabama recruiting information? There are three major national players in the battle for recruiting subscribers: Scout, Rivals and ESPN, and one major local player TiderInsider.com. Each Alabama site has its strengths.

One thing to keep in mind, much of the content is replicated on each site. In other words, you get similar coverage regardless of which provider you pick. In picking a site, what one should focus on is the style and attitude of the operators, culture of its message board and the methodology of the recruiting analysts. Here are a few quick takes on what you’ll find on each service; impressions taken from a weekend of reading the sites.

Looks, accessibility, user friendliness—Rivals has the most attractive look and feel of any of the sites. Its database is better than Scout’s or ESPN’s due to its look and the information contained on the research page is presented in a handier format. All it takes is a glance and you see the player rating. Scout’s system is a bit more cumbersome, but it contains more information including a handy scouting summary with strengths and weaknesses when you research a specific recruit. That quick reference is one of the best resources to learn where the player needs development.

ESPN’s affiliate websites like crimsonconfidential.com suffer from the worst web design of the three national players. The page appears cluttered and information isn’t organized—the text on the page doesn’t breathe and each page is loaded with excessive graphics, thus distracting from the experience and making it harder to find what you are looking to read.

TiderInsider.com has a more minimalistic, throwback approach. The design is simple and therefore, attractive. But it can be difficult to find information that is not on the front of the site or near the front of the message board. It contains what could be the easiest to read layout, but the least functionality. Tider Insider’s player database is adequate, but below any of the other sites.

General Sports Information—Perhaps the most critical element is the quality of information provided on the sites. Each covers the major sports at Alabama. Each provides breaking news and updates. It seems that Rivals files the most stories, but there isn’t much difference between the services. While Rivals might file the most stories, Scout’s Alabama site provides the best features with its stable of experienced writers. From a prose standpoint, Creg Stephenson of Crimson Confidential is the best writer. Tider Insider provides coverage of events about on par with a typical newspaper’s coverage of the Tide.

Where Tider Insider and the recruiting sites excel is coverage of, I’m sure it isn’t going to be a shock, recruiting.

Recruiting Information— Rivals and Scout were the major players in recruiting information for years, and still are regarded as the experts in the field of player analysis. Each of these services have a reputation—and there is no better way to judge the proficiency of a service than on its past record. These services pioneered the star system of ranking recruits, which is a handy shorthand way of categorizing a player’s ability.

ESPN’s recruiting service led by Tom Luginbill provides a slightly different path—the service provides a numerical rating for a player. Consensus fire-star Dre Kirkpatrick is assigned a Scouts Grade of 92 by ESPN. The best part of ESPN’s system is the information provided on a player like Kirkpatrick. It lets you know what the scouts liked and didn’t like about the recruit. It is the most exhaustive information provided by any of the services. Scout.com comes next with Rivals trailing significantly. You know why ESPN and Scout like a player much more easily than Rivals.

Tider Insider doesn’t provide evaluation or star rankings instead concentrating on providing information on who visits campus, commitments and other useful information also provided by the three major players like player stats from the most recent seasons.

Message Board—The best message board or forum is Tider Insider. The discussion is lively, fast and comprehensive. Scout’s message board follows next in that it looks and functions strongly; Scout’s Alabama message board also contains interesting discussions. Rivals’ message board would be third due to its less elegant functionality, and less diverse Alabama discussion. It would seem more people read Rivals message board than post there. Being the youngest, Crimson Confidential seems less developed; in time every message board develops its own culture.

Where Rivals and Scout excel is the way the Alabama sites provide useful updates for subscribers on the message boards. It provides a quick and easy way to monitor what is happening thanks to push-pin topics. That is one drawback of Tider Insider’s message board, it can be difficult to find staff updates on the message board as topics are quickly buried due to the rapidity of posts.

Price— Scout costs $10.95 per month or $34.95 for 3 months or $119.95 for a full year.

Rivals costs $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year.

ESPN’s Crimson Confidential costs $9.99 per month or $99.95 per year (special sale now for $79.99).

Tider Insider costs $48 per year. No monthly plan.

Future recruiting players—It will be interesting to watch the development of newspaper recruiting coverage. It seems most of the major dailies are making greater efforts to cover recruiting—an area long neglected by the mainstream media.

(editor’s note: This continues a series on recruiting begun this week on the Capstone Report.)
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