What do you need to get great recruits? Besides lots of money?
A few recent studies have tried to quantify that. You need more than money! But yeah, you also need money.
Before we get to the sports news, I want to add a quick #personal #news note.
One of the questions I got the most after this project launched in May was “wait, why isn’t this on SB Nation?”
That makes sense, since I work for SB Nation, and wrote for both their various team sites and SBNation.com on a regular basis. A lot of these newsletters sure looked like the kind of posts I used to write.
But yesterday, my colleagues announced a new venture called Banner Society. This new project will replace the college football coverage on SBNation.com. Since that project was in the works this summer, there was no real place for any of this on SBNation.com. I wanted to keep writing, and so Extra Points was born.
I’m personally very excited about Banner Society, and I suspect many of you are too. But if you look on that masthead, or read any of the promotional materials, you will not see my name.
For a lot of reasons, I’m not currently involved in Banner Society. My day job is to run SB Nation’s college team brands, and I will continue to do that.
I know some of my previously published work is being ported to Banner Society, and at least two stories that I began early in 2019 will eventually be published in some fashion with a joint byline. Whether I contribute to this project at some point in the future, or elsewhere on SBNation properties, is out of my hands.
What I can tell you is that I plan to continue Extra Points, which as of right now, is not affiliated with Vox Media, SB Nation, or any other property. If any of you would like me to freelance for you, or if you would like to syndicate, partner with or submit content for Extra Points, I’d love to chat. I’m at @MattSBN, or MattBrownOhio@gmail.com
TL;DR, my pals are making cool college football stuff. Maybe I’ll be there too someday. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll write for places that are not Vox Media outlets. Maybe I won’t. But I will keep writing here. And if you want to be a part of that in some way, let’s talk!
Okay, enough of that boring stuff. Let’s talk college football.
Does spending a ton on recruiting lead to better recruits?
You may have seen this recent post from Stadium. They FOIA’d several dozen schools to figure out what the relationship is between recruiting spending and quality of recruiting classes. It’s been going around college football Twitter for a bit.
Generally speaking, this study confirmed what you probably suspected: teams that spend a lot of money on recruiting typically sign better recruiting classes than teams that do not.
But that relationship isn’t nearly as direct and linear as the relationship between elite recruiting and national titles, or even recruiting well and winning, generally. The exceptions are pretty interesting. Here’s the top 15, for example:
At the top of the table, you see several schools that typically sign lots of elite prospects, like Georgia, Clemson, Texas, LSU, etc. But Kansas?!? The Jayhawks haven’t played in a bowl game at all in a decade, and they’ve been FCS-bad the last few seasons. Minnesota, Iowa State and Utah combined have added fewer blue chip recruits than Nebraska, the 10th place team on the list.
And Ohio State, routinely one of the best recruiting programs in the country, isn’t on this list—they’re 18th.
If you scroll down, there are other weird outliers. UConn spent about as much as the cheapest P5 programs, but signed one of the worst recruiting classes in the country. The lowest spending P5 program was Wisconsin, and they’re certainly not the worst recruiting school.
A big issue, I think, is the lack of rock-solid consistency in how schools may categorize an expense. “Recruiting” spending here refers to things like travel, recruit dinners, software services, professional photography, etc. It’s fair to say that nobody is giving the recruits ramen noodles on their official dinners, and feeding offensive linemen ain’t cheap. When you consider how many people are involved in official recruiting visits, and how many prospects may visit a cycle…all of that can add up quickly.
The single biggest cost tends to be travel, and you’d expect a lot of variance depending on the geography of the school and where you’re recruiting. A place like Oregon needs to fly almost every recruit in, since they’re not going after two many kids within 2 hours of campus. Ohio State, on the other hand, recruits the Midwest pretty hard. Same with a school like Mississippi State that recruits locally. Not many kids are interested in going from Seattle to Stark Vegas, after all.
Maybe somebody ought to audit the recruiting expenses at Kansas a little closer, but I suspect a few of the major outliers in either direction may have certain expenses just categorized differently. I’m not sure Minnesota is a wasteful program or that Maryland has discovered the secret key to thrift.
There’s an awful lot that goes into recruiting beyond paying for the extra fancy paper at Kinko’s for those mailers that get thrown up on Twitter. Take facilities, for example.
Who has the nicest stuff?
It feels like virtually everybody in FBS is either building, renovating, or planning to build or renovate something related to their football program. Coaches and fans holler about the importance of having competitive facilities, even though one study says they don’t really directly impact recruiting very much.
Who has the nicest facilities is subjective, but that didn’t stop 247Sports from ranking them anyway. At the top is Clemson, your defending national champs, and the school that will almost assuredly sign this year’s top recruiting class. But again, the relationship between fancy buildings and on the field success isn’t totally linear. Oregon and Texas A&M are the next two, and while both are solid programs, neither have been in the national title conversation for a while, nor do they sign truly elite recruiting classes annually. Perennial Outback Bowl-type participant South Carolina is 6th. Tennessee and Kentucky are in the top 15. Oregon State and Northwestern are in the top 25.
If we can’t (legally) pay players, making them comfortable is nice, sure. But these improvements are enormously expensive (e.g. Northwestern’s new Moon Base Palace of a facility cost over $250 million dollars) and carry non-trivial opportunity costs for athletic departments, especially ones that don’t get huge TV checks every year.
I understand the appeal. Having the fanciest anything on the block takes away a potential objection in recruiting and football coaches are famous for being control freaks that don’t want to deal with any possible hiccup they can’t immediately change. Plus, having scores of amenities in the football building make it easier to keep football players under your control. They can’t get in as much trouble if they’re chowing down on free food and taking a nap in your SLEEP PODS or whatever.
It’s interesting that such isolation from the general student population has been a desire of coaches since the 1890s and one that worried academics and administrators. Like, go read some of the old stories about training tables. People were worried you wouldn’t get the true college experience if you got extra boiled mutton at dinner or whatever.
These costs don’t show up as “recruiting” on the end of year athletic department audit, but make no mistake, they’re built, in large part, with recruiting in mind. You show off the barbershop, the leather seats, and the waterfalls to try and entice the next elite kid to visit campus.
Honestly, just about everything in college football is recruiting. Who you hire as coaches is recruiting. The PR staff, the social media staff, the folks making recruit edits and memes and stuff? That’s recruiting. Academic support? In a way, that’s kind of recruiting too.
Acquiring talent is the most important part of building a successful college football program. There are great coaches who can evaluate and develop talent very, very well, but who will not win a national title in a four-team playoff, because they just don’t have the dudes. If you do, you could be Gene Chizik and still win a title. It isn’t the only thing that matters. Just the most important thing.
I know that’s frustrating if you root for a school that likely won’t get those elite recruits. I hear about this from Big Ten West fans every year. Let me kick it to Special Extra Points Correspondent Macho Man Randy Savage:
Thanks, Macho Man.
Anyway, if there’s any real takeaway from that data, it’s that recruiting is important enough for schools to spend at least hundreds of thousands of dollars on, plus hundreds of millions on capital projects, and then more millions on coaching and support staff salaries. It’s almost as if individual players have worth, or value, if you will. Hmmmm…..
Fancy dinners, comfortable seating, sleeping pods with more buttons than my Nintendo Switch, all of that is part of the recruiting game. But those alone won’t give you elite recruits on a sustainable level. To do that, you need history. You need success. You need to demonstrate you can keep kids eligible and get them into the NFL.
There are no shortcuts to that. You can’t just write a check. We know. SMU and Ole Miss tried (folks!). If you build it, they will come is a fun quote from a movie your dad likes. But it isn’t 100% gospel truth in recruiting.
Here are two other quick notes I’d like to share:
1) Under advisement from the Rice Commission Report, the NCAA now has a new rule-enforcement arm comprised of independent investigators. Would this be the absolute worst Law and Order reboot ever? Yes. LAW AND ORDER: INDIANAPOLIS. SOMEBODY IS TRANSFERRING WITHOUT THE PROPER PAPERWORK, AND BY GOD, THEY’RE THREATENING TO PROFIT OFF THEIR OWN NAME AND LIKENESS.
Anyway, this group includes names you may remember, like former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Tom Mars, the lawyer everybody tried to call to help them transfer without sitting out a year. The involvement of either of these individuals will absolutely not make any fanbase angry. No sir. If it makes anybody feel any better, boy, there are a lot of lawyers on this thing.
Will this be a good thing? I’m not sure what the NCAA needs here is “better cops”, exactly. It’s the rules that are the problem. But we’ll see!
2) One UConn state Senator, Len Fasano, is supportive of UConn’s conference change. But he doesn’t want students, directly or indirectly, to foot any of the assorted bills that will come with that change. He’s said:
“I believe AAC departure expenses should not be shouldered by students or taxpayers. Money that students pay to UConn, whether it be for tuition, meals, housing or any other service, should not be misdirected,” Fasano wrote.
UConn says that UConn Foundation, which is where Sen. Fasano would like the money to come from, can’t be used for such a purpose by law, but that it would welcome third party donations to help cover costs for stuff like exit fees. And personally, I think that’d be for the best. UConn seems to think that moving to the Big East will spur alumni engagement. I agree! Time for everybody to put up the money and prove it now.
Essentially, I think it’s usually bad policy to make students directly pay for athletics. And while UConn may be right in that this move is an investment that will pay off in the long run, that’s cold comfort to the sophomore who is in school now and won’t tangibly enjoy those benefits. If there’s literally any other way to avoid passing those costs down, schools ought to take it, even if it is hard.
Thanks for supporting Extra Points. It means more than you know. If you enjoy the newsletters, feel free to send out a tweet, a Facebook post, or even take out a billboard ad near a busy highway, ideally one near 90/94 in Chicagoland so I don’t see to see Brian Urlacher’s hair regrowth ads or Northwestern proclaiming themselves Chicago’s Big Ten Team. Tips, questions, comments, complaints, business questions or wrestling promos should be send to Matt.Brown@SBNation.com or on Twitter @MattSBN.