On February 1, 2014, Alabama finalized its third-straight No. 1-rated recruiting class. Big picture-wise, it did this by being Alabama -- by having the country's most proven system, ridiculous athletic facilities, and so forth. But how it physically did this was in large part by having its coaching staff sprawl all around the country to recruit players.
AL.com put together the flight records of the private jet Tide coaches use (it did this despite being blocked from tracking those flights, a hallowed college football tradition), looking only at the two months leading up to and immediately following Signing Day, then made a visual:
Here's just one of the dozens of trips:
Jan. 21: The men go west, their longest trip of the two-month period. After heading to Mobile in the morning, [head coach Nick] Saban and [then-secondary coach Greg] Brown made the four-hour-21-minute flight to Long Beach, Calif. The next day they made a 17-minute flight to Oxnard, less than 10 miles from Ventura where 5-star quarterback Ricky Town lives. Saban and Brown left Oxnard for a 50-minute flight to San Francisco, which is close to eventual signee Dominick Jackson's junior college. They left for the return trip to Tuscaloosa at 11:10 p.m., arriving at 9:43 a.m. the following day.
Town committed, but is on course to wind up at USC in 2015. Alabama did land Jackson, the top 2014 JUCO offensive lineman. Sending two coaches across the United States and back seems like a whole lot of work for just one player, especially with so many other things for coaches to work on as well, but that trip counts as a successful investment.
Now imagine putting in the same work with similar resources and getting beaten by Alabama. Now imagine how much goes into the classes of mid-major schools, who can't offer near what the Tide can and don't have their travel resources. And even more rugged than that, there are those junior colleges that funnel players along to schools like Alabama:
For [Garden City (Kansas) Community College coaches] Rodriguez and Kelly, it meant getting in the van 45 minutes after losing 47-21 to Tyler Junior College in the Football Capital of Kansas Bowl and embarking on a 34-hour, 1,500-mile trip that would take them from Pittsburg, Kan., to Miami with a budget of only $2,500.
So much depends upon hordes of men in polos motoring across and above America and into the Pacific Islands and parts of Canada and specific European and African countries, burning fossil fuels and maybe subtly bad-mouthing each other to teenagers and grandparents as they go.