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Joe’s Corner

In this week’s edition of Joe’s Corner, Joe Misulonas discusses Northwestern’s partnership with the Cubs, as well as the football team’s newest recruiting class.

The Strange Dichotomy of Northwestern Football

There were two big stories in Northwestern football this week. First, Northwestern and the Chicago Cubs announced a five-year partnership that will include five future football games at Wrigley Field. Second, Northwestern announced its recruiting class of 2013.

The Wrigley Field deal was surprising and yet not surprising at the same time. Jim Phillips has made a clear effort to enhance the prestige of the football program. He’s scheduled games against the nationally televised Notre Dame Fighting Irish, begun construction on new practice facilities on the lakefront for the team, and been a behind-the-scenes bulldog working Big Ten officials to give Northwestern a stronger presence in the conference (although this admittedly failed to get NU into the Capital One Bowl).

So scheduling games in the nation’s oldest baseball stadium is no surprise. Surely these games will garner publicity, and perhaps even another College Gameday visit (I’m fully convinced this deal was made almost entirely to make sure Notre Dame does not cancel its deal with Northwestern football. The Irish can’t pass up the possibility to play a game in Chicago, which is the source of its most rapid fans).

However, the Wrigley Field story has completely overshadowed the Northwestern recruiting class. And I believe there needs to be a conversation about this class, because I’m not impressed.

I’m told the new recruits will be great fits for the Northwestern system. Matt Alviti is a Northwestern wet dream. He has the legs of Kain Colter and the arm of Trevor Siemian. Experts are saying that I should be happy with this class. CBS Sports Network analyst Tom Lemming said, “It’s a typical Northwestern class. They’re all smart, overachiever types with better athletic ability than people give them credit for.”

Northwestern’s class is ranked 51st in the composite recruiting class rankings, which is a combination of rankings from Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN and 247 Sports. That is actually a higher recruiting class than Northwestern has had in recent years.

But I’m not satisfied. Northwestern finished 17th in the AP final Top 25 poll. Their recruiting class finished 51st. That is a considerable difference. We might have a top-25 team now, but we’re not recruiting talent to keep us in that top 25.

Consider this, Ole Miss finished 7-6 last season. They were nowhere close to the AP Top 25 at the end of the season. And yet, they signed three top 20 recruits, two of whom were in the top 5, including the top ranked ESPN recruit, DE Robert Nkemdiche. They finished with the number five recruiting class in the nation (according to ESPN).

How is it that a garbage team like Ole Miss can get the no. 5 recruiting class in the nation, and a top-25 program in Northwestern only gets the 51st recruiting class? Shouldn’t we expect better?

I know what the arguments against this question will be. Northwestern holds itself to a higher academic standard than other football programs, meaning our recruits have to have strong academics as well as strong football skills. Yet, from 2010-2012, Stanford’s recruiting classes each ranked in the top 25 in the nation, and their academic standards are comparable to NU’s.

Then there’s the character argument. Northwestern is looking for recruits with good reputation who are not likely to get into trouble off the field. Again, I believe Stanford has similar aims, and they haven’t found any problem recruiting a highly rated class.

Others will say that it’s more important to find the right parts for your system and you shouldn’t worry about getting big name recruits. It’s hard to believe that there aren’t higher rated recruits in the nation that can also fit the Northwestern system. Good football players should be good football players no matter what system they’re in.

There’s also the conference prestige question. People will argue that the Big Ten is not as marketable as the SEC. They’ll argue it’s easier to attract big name recruits to mid-tier SEC teams than Big Ten. Maybe this is true. There seems to be a prevalent belief that a mediocre SEC team is superior to a mediocre Big Ten team. If there’s anything to learn from Northwestern’s Gator Bowl win, it’s that the middle-tier SEC teams are overrated. Mississippi State had no business being on the same field as Northwestern that day. So while I admit that people seem to believe that being in the SEC gives a team more attraction to recruits, I believe a great recruiter can overcome these obstacles.

This is the dichotomy of Northwestern football: We expect greater football facilities and more television/media exposure, and yet we seem to be completely fine with having a low-rated recruiting class. We are demanding our athletic department spend millions upon millions of dollars to build extravagant practice facilities, but we don’t demand highly rated recruiting classes?

People will say the practice facilities will help enhance our program and make us more attractive to highly rated recruits. I understand that, but I don’t fully buy it. Sure, recruits might be impressed with state-of-the-art facilities, and they’ll like that they won’t have to go two miles off campus to go to and from football practices. But I think recruits care more about a program’s competitiveness in its conference and its recent success than nice buildings. Players want to win more than anything else (or at least they should).

Also, there is a strong possibility that next year’s Northwestern class will be greater since the team can use it’s 10-win season in a pitch to new prospects. I’m sure that the Class of 2014 will be higher than 51st in the nation. But how much higher? If we bring in the 50th class in the nation next year, will we buy the same “system” argument as we did last year? I hope not.

We keep saying we want Northwestern to take the next step as a program. This is why we applaud the facility construction and the Wrigley partnership. But if we don’t demand that same level of improvement from the football team’s recruiting efforts, then it won’t matter how much superficial improvement we do, the team will never be the type of team we want them to be. If Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting top-ten recruiting classes, Northwestern can never hope to contend.

Northwestern is on the upswing, but we need to keep putting pressure on the team to improve, otherwise all the program’s recent successes will be for naught.

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About jmisulonas

I'm a student at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism and political science. I have written a weekly column in The Daily Northwestern, have hosted shows on the student radio station, and I am the producer of a weekly sports talk show, The Sportsvoice, on Northwestern's student radio station.

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