Stop me if you've heard this one before: Alabama changes its philosophy, employs an aggressive and expansive recruiting philosophy and then reaps the benefits as talented young people that never would have considered the Crimson Tide are now pouring in to the Tuscaloosa campus, raising the school's reputation considerably.
The story of Alabama's hiring of Nick Saban is also the story of how colleges are now fanning out to recruit regular students. As state legislatures have steadily dropped state funding of public universities, the New York Times explains, those universities are now making up for the lost revenue by aggressively recruiting out-of-state students. In turn, those students not only pay higher fees, but they also have greater academic profiles than the local students that populated these schools up to a decade ago -- which allows the university to recruit students with even higher credentials.
Tell me this passage detailing an Alabama regional recruiter isn't different than what Tide offensive line coach Mario Cristobal wouldn't do in the same situation:
The University of Alabama has 45 recruiters — 36 outside of Alabama, including Dee McGraw-Hickey, a Tuscaloosa native living on Long Island. Last spring, she tweeted as her recruits committed. In August, she held a send-off lunch at her home with sweet tea, lemonade and a game of corn hole in the backyard. Her schedule includes 80 events between September and Thanksgiving. She loves to mention merit aid at them because so many from her region — New York City, Long Island and Connecticut — qualify, giving Alabama a competitive edge.
In the past six years, in Ms. McGraw-Hickey’s region, applications to Alabama rose from 193 to 903. At Alabama, recruiting assignments go all the way to the top. Dr. (Stuart) Bell, the president, routinely travels to meet parents and students, recently telling a young man in Dallas not to visit campus without stopping by. “He came to my office on Friday with his dad,” Dr. Bell said.
Alabama isn't alone. South Carolina has focused its recruiting efforts on Massachusetts, and seen its applicants leap from 335 to 881 in a 5-year period, while enrollees jumped from 57 to 156. Miami (Ohio) accepted 41 applicants from Greenwich High School in Connecticut, and another 33 from Mira Costa High School in California.
Alabama's state funding has fallen 36 percent since 2008, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and state funding now contributes only 12 percent of the university's overall budget. Because of that, Alabama hones in on out-of-state students -- who pay $16,000 more a year than their in-state counterparts -- and tend to arrive with better grades.
“Everybody wants the kids from the Northeast and California,” one expert said. “They are wealthy and they tend to be good students.”
As a result, Alabama's enrollment has boomed to 37,665, a 58 percent jump since the year prior to Saban's arrival, while the average GPA has risen from 3.4 to 3.66 and the top quarter of incoming freshmen averaged 31 on the ACT, up from 27.
And as Alabama collects these wealthy, well-equipped students who live in Tuscaloosa's apartments, eat at Tuscaloosa restaurants and drink Tuscaloosa's beer, they eventually become graduates who not only turn around and donate to Alabama, but many of them stick around and become Alabama residents.
That process is “one of the biggest drivers of growth in our state,” Alabama president Bell said.
And while, in Alabama's case, much of this aggressive recruiting would've been necessity no matter who coached the football team, Nick Saban has provided one heck of a foot in the door.