An in-depth SB Nation investigation has uncovered a conspiracy between major college coaches to make football players slower. The hours-long investigation compared the 40-yard dash times given to high school recruiting sites by 203 players with the 40-yard dash times recorded by those same athletes at the NFL Combine.
The results were staggering:
- 157 of the 203 players are as fast or slower than they were in high school, according to their claimed 40 times.
- The average college football player is nearly a tenth of a second slower (e.g., a NFL Combine 4.5 after a high school 4.4) after four to five years in a college strength and conditioning program as he was when he entered that program.
- 93 players ran a sub-4.5 second 40 yard dash in high school. By the time they finished college, just 40 players were capable of breaking the 4.5-second mark.
Some of college football's biggest programs were the biggest participants in the conspiracy.
LSU offensive lineman P.J. Lonergan, who reported a 4.78 second 40 yard dash in high school, ran a 5.38 at the Combine, a difference of more than a half a second. Florida State offensive lineman Menelik Watson saw his time increase from 4.72 to 5.29 seconds. Oklahoma, Penn State, Ohio State, LSU, and Florida State each had two players lose 0.3 seconds or more from their 40 yard dash time. Georgia, Alabama, UCLA, South Florida, Arizona State, Pittsburgh, Clemson, Missouri, and West Virginia are also heavily implicated in the scandal.
Landry Jones, a man running on broken glass
Landry Jones was one of the most coveted high school quarterbacks in the country when he left Artesia High School in Artesia, NM for Oklahoma. He received four-star ratings from Rivals and Scout and was ranked as the sixth-best quarterback in the Class of 2008. He was 6-foot-5, 215 pounds with a Howitzer for a throwing arm and unparalleled composure in the pocket. He also reportedly ran a 4.78 second 40-yard dash.
The Oklahoma coaching staff improved on Jones' passing skills, but paradoxically changed his running style from "top high school athlete" to a style that could charitably be described as "barefoot on a sun-drenched beach":
Despite spending the last five years in a near-professional strength and conditioning program, Jones ran a 5.11-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, nearly a half-second slower than he ran in high school. This sort of thing does not happen by accident.
In fact, Jones is not even the only Sooner to get markedly slower during his time in Norman. Oklahoma linebacker Tom Wort ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash in high school, a time that was 0.05 seconds faster than the fastest NFL linebacker prospect at this year's Combine. That was clearly too fast for the Sooners, who took this world-class athlete and slowed him down. Wort ran a pedestrian 4.78-second 40-yard dash at the Combine, a 0.36 second increase in four seasons. If he had redshirted and spent a fifth season at Oklahoma, Wort might not have broken five seconds.
Four Sooners ran the 40-yard dash at the Combine this week, and three of them -- Jones, Wort, and safety Tony Jefferson -- were more than a quarter-second slower than they reported in high school. Wide receiver Kenny Stills was 0.02 seconds faster than his high school time, likely because he only spent three years under the thumb of Bob Stoops and his noted "slow football down" mantra.
Oklahoma's philosophy has permeated the entire Big 12. Of 18 former Big 12 players who had published high school 40-yard dash times and ran at the Combine, 13 of them were slower now. The average Big 12 senior was 0.12 seconds slower now than he was when he left high school. The only three players to improve by more than a tenth of a second were West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin and quarterback Geno Smith, and Texas wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, whose work with the U.S. Olympic Team offset Mack Brown's insatiable desire to make everyone slower.
The day SEC speed died
Of course, one conference prides itself on speed above all others: The SEC, which is so fast that conference blog titles are speed puns. Yet even in the speed-obsessed SEC, coaches are slowing players down.
The average SEC enrollee added 0.07 seconds to his 40 time while in college. All 12 SEC programs that had a player qualify for the study had at least one player run slower than he did in high school, an obvious sign that SEC coaches are colluding to slow their players down.
It was linemen who truly suffered massive slowdowns in the SEC. LSU offensive lineman P.J. Lonergan suffered the nation's largest loss of speed; his 5.38 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was 0.6 seconds slower than the 4.78 he reported in high school. Another LSU lineman, Sam Montgomery, was 0.37 slower than the completely believable 4.44 second 40-yard dash he ran four years before. Alabama offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, who ran a 4.9 second 40-yard dash in high school despite weighing 350 pounds and perpetually looking like he smelled fish, added 0.41 seconds to his 40 time by the end of his four years with Nick Saban.
B1G life, B1G stage, B1G 40 times
Unsurprisingly, the world's slowest football conference has set the gold standard for slowing its players down. Big Ten attendees at the NFL Combine were, on average, 0.18 seconds slower than they had been in high school.
All but three of the 22 players the Big Ten sent to the NFL Combine were as slow or slower now than they were when they entered college. When hypothetically reached for comment, conference commissioner Jim Delany probably explained that the legends and leaders the league sent to the combine were simply weighed down with the additional brain matter they had cultivated while at Big Ten institutions.
Penn State defensive lineman Jordan Hill suffered the most regression among Big Ten players. Hill's 4.82 second 40-yard dash in high school would have placed him 13th among all defensive linemen at this year's Combine, but he ran a 5.23 Monday, good for a tie for 30th. In fact, only five defensive linemen ran slower than Hill.
Despite having three coaches over the playing careers of the athletes at this year's Combine, Ohio State was one of the nation's top perpetrators of the slow-down conspiracy. All six Buckeyes at this year's Combine clocked in more than 0.15 seconds slower than they were in high school. Ohio State lineman Reid Fragel crammed 0.4 seconds onto his 4.74-second 40-yard dash time in high school, possibly due to his conversion from tight end to tackle. OSU running back/linebacker Zach Boren, who ran a completely believable 4.61-second 40 in high school, could not break five seconds at the Combine.
Surprisingly, the nation's slowest programs did not register such significant declines. Illinois, whose coach is probably too new and naive to really understand the conspiracy, has two of the three players who were faster now than in prep school. Michigan State sent two players to the Combine who ran at or near their high school levels. And Iowa's two participants were only barely slower now than they were before coming to Iowa City. When maybe asked for comment, coach Kirk Ferentz could've told reporters that Iowa recruits slowness and ushers it to its slightly slower conclusion through excessive huddling and horizontal passing.
For the devout, speed is forbidden fruit
At the nation's top two religious independents, Notre Dame and Brigham Young, slowness is a virtue.
All five Notre Dame players at this year's Combine were slower than the 40-yard dash times provided for them in high school. Running back Theo Riddick ran a 4.68 dash, 0.28 seconds slower than he ran before coming to South Bend. Highly-acclaimed safety Zeke Motta had slowed from 4.6 to 4.83 seconds. And Manti Te'o, who could run a blistering 4.6-second dash in high school, was so slow that he left Ravens coach John Harbaugh doing this:
BYU did not have a slowdown, per se, but offensive lineman Braden Brown was unable to improve on his already-turtlelike 5.2-second high school 40-yard dash.
The only possible explanation
Every football fan knows that speed is key to success, and coaches profess to understand that a fast football team will generally beat a slow football team. So why is it that so many of the nation's top head coaches are recruiting these fine-tuned high school athletes, players capable of running sub-4.5 times in the 40-yard dash, and slowing them to rather average speeds?
Why are they collaborating to keep these players out of speed conditioning and fill them full of pizza rolls and beer?
Television money, of course. A slower team runs fewer plays. Fewer plays during the course of a game allows for more dead television time. More dead television time allows networks to show more ads for the very corn chips and fancy pies that coaches use to make their players slower. More advertisements means more money in the coffers of the conferences and teams, which means bigger raises for the coaches who fatten the players up. It's a vicious cycle, eventually joined by every coach and every program, and it's slowly -- very slowly -- killing the sport.
The only other explanation is that almost all high school 40 times are bogus, but there's no way that's true.
More in College Football: