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Has NIL REALLY improved parity in college football?

It depends on how you define parity. Buuuuuuut probably not.

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It’s been taken as a bit of an article of faith that NIL and the transfer portal have improved parity in college football. On3 wrote about it recently, specifically citing the Missouri Tigers. Jay Bilas has argued NIL has led to talent being more spread out. Stewart Mandel recently argued that NIL and the transfer portal are even specifically a reason for TV ratings being up.

The conventional wisdom is that these two factors have created an environment that makes it harder for top programs to hoard talent, which increases parity.

The argument makes a lot of intuitive sense. I even argued that was likely to happen before NIL became a thing.

But is that what is actually happening? I’m…much more skeptical. Let’s try to look at some numbers.

Has the distribution of elite college football talent meaningfully changed in the NIL era?

One of the most useful metrics I’ve seen to explain how college football actually works comes from my old colleague Bud Elliott over at 247Sports. Bud created the Blue-Chip Ratio theory, which states that for a team to win a national title in the four-team CFP era, at least 50% of their high school recruits must be ranked as a consensus blue-chip (four or five-star).

The vast majority of teams that have ever qualified for the College Football Playoff have come from Blue-Chip Ratio recruiting programs, as has every single winner. It’s a pretty rarified group, and typically, only around a dozen programs recruit at that clip each season. You can probably guess which ones.

For 2023, these are the Blue-Chip Ratio programs:

Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Texas A&M, Clemson, LSU, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon, Notre, Dame, Florida, Miami, Penn State, Michigan, USC, and Auburn

Tennessee, Florida State, and UNC sit just outside that 50% ratio mark.

In the 2024 recruiting class, just 23 of the top 100 recruits are committed to programs outside of those 16 blue-chip schools. Of those, five are committed to Florida State. The bulk of the others are typically players who decide to stay home (i.e., the best players in Nebraska and Arkansas electing to play for those programs.)

That’s a pretty typical ratio. Last year, just 23 top 100 recruits signed with schools outside of that list of Blue-Chip programs. In 2022, only 16 did.

So in the post-NIL era, we’re looking at between 20-25% of truly elite football recruits going to the same handful of programs. Before NIL?

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