In July, we analyzed the financial investment required to land one of the top recruiting classes in college football and we found that there’s an arms race, or perhaps more accurately a check-writing race, on the recruiting trail that’s led by the SEC.
Georgia, which landed the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018, led all schools by spending upwards of $2.6 million during the 2017-18 fiscal year — roughly $300,000 more than Alabama, which spent the second-most nationally.
Heck, even perennial Big 12 basement dweller Kansas spent $1.1 million!
And while our original story included Group of Five schools like Boise State, Cincinnati and Houston, it focused on Power Five schools because, let’s face it, those are the schools that most frequently land four and five-star recruits, and top recruiting classes.
But that doesn’t mean that Group of Five programs aren’t also making considerable financial investments into recruiting. This analysis focuses exclusively on schools that play in the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West or Sun Belt, which are collectively guaranteed one spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game.
Stadium has obtained the NCAA Financial Reports for the 2018 fiscal year for more than 40 Group of Five schools. These reports are submitted to the NCAA annually, and they list detailed financial data regarding the operating revenue and expenses for each school’s athletic department.
As a reminder, NCAA Financial Reports are unavailable for private schools, state-affiliated schools or schools that are located in states where one must be a resident in order to submit a public records request.
One interesting observation from the table below is that Boise State has landed almost as many blue-chip recruits (four) in the last two recruiting cycles as the rest of the schools combined (five).
|Group of Five Spending Ranking Among Schools Examined||School||Conference||Football Recruiting Expenses in FY18||2018 Recruiting Class Ranking||2019 Recruiting Class Ranking||3/4-Star Recruits in Last Two Classes|
|1||UNLV||Mountain West||$503,461||99th||100th||24 (24/0)|
|2||Wyoming||Mountain West||$494,085||126th||97th||18 (18/0)|
|3||South Florida||American||$445,883||65th||77th||44 (44/0)|
|5||Boise State||Mountain West||$414,229||57th||50th||40 (36/4)|
|7||Nevada||Mountain West||$386,323||81st||93rd||30 (30/0)|
|9||East Carolina||American||$369,776||89th||78th||33 (33/0)|
|10||Eastern Michigan||MAC||$366,858||110th||123rd||18 (18/0)|
|12||Florida Atlantic||C-USA||$339,748||75th||60th||43 (43/0)|
|13||Southern Miss||C-USA||$324,634||83rd||82nd||40 (40/0)|
|14||New Mexico||Mountain West||$322,949||124th||120th||18 (18/0)|
|15||Texas State||Sun Belt||$294,642||107th||136th||12 (12/0)|
|17||Old Dominion||C-USA||$286,487||128th||117th||14 (14/0)|
|20||Miami (OH)||MAC||$273,502||130th||89th||24 (24/0)|
|21||Kent State||MAC||$272,132||100th||102nd||22 (22/0)|
|22||Appalachian State||Sun Belt||$270,308||113th||101st||26 (26/0)|
|26||Hawaii||Mountain West||$256,948||96th||116th||27 (27/0)|
|28||Western Michigan||MAC||$249,215||76th||92nd||34 (34/0)|
|29||San Diego State||Mountain West||$245,879||79th||91st||33 (33/0)|
|31||Bowling Green||MAC||$235,425||91st||129th||20 (20/0)|
|32||Utah State||Mountain West||$226,094||109th||90th||29 (29/0)|
|33||Fresno State||Mountain West||$212,791||92nd||87th||(30/1)|
|34||Middle Tennessee||C-USA||$203,494||104th||86th||26 (26/0)|
|35||Central Michigan||MAC||$200,537||120th||104th||16 (16/0)|
|36||Georgia State||Sun Belt||$187,257||95th||98th||26 (26/0)|
|37||Western Kentucky||C-USA||$177,709||84th||87th||38 (38/0)|
|38||San Jose State||Mountain West||$173,212||94th||119th||24 (24/0)|
|39||Ball State||MAC||$151,607||119th||125th||18 (18/0)|
|40||North Texas||C-USA||$150,991||101st||75th||35 (35/0)|
|41||Northern Illinois||MAC||$116,796||93rd||108th||26 (26/0)|
|42||Georgia Southern||Sun Belt||$113,511||90th||115th||21 (21/0)|
|43||Louisiana-Monroe||Sun Belt||$74,012||118th||128th||15 (15/0)|
NOTE: Financial data for SMU, Tulane, Tulsa and Rice are unavailable since they’re private institutions; for Temple because it’s a state-related institution; for UCF because the UCF Athletics Association is a direct-support organization of the university, which means its records are exempt from public records laws; for Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, Troy and South Alabama due to state records laws; for Louisiana-Lafayette due to the cost associated with fulfilling the request; for Navy, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, UAB, Akron, Air Force and Colorado State because they’ve yet to respond to public records requests.
NOTE: This story has been updated to include Fresno State and North Texas’ recruiting data.
For perspective, Wisconsin spent $350,695 on football recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year, which was the lowest amount among the 50 Power Five schools examined, and the Badgers would rank 11th in spending among the Group of Five schools examined.
We found that there was a correlation between recruiting expenses and recruiting class rankings among Power Five schools, but there was no such correlation among Group of Five schools, as you’ll see in the scatter plot below.
You could make an argument that a spending-to-ranking correlation doesn’t exist in Group of Five recruiting for several reasons.
One is that 21 of the 43 Group of Five schools examined spent between $200,000 and $300,000 on recruiting in 2018, so there’s a smaller overall financial investment in recruiting and smaller differences between what individual schools spend.
Would you expect the fact that Western Michigan spent roughly $14,000 more on recruiting than conference foe Bowling Green to lead to a significant advantage for the Broncos over the Falcons?
Another reason such a correlation doesn’t exist is geography.
Wyoming, which spent the second-most among the Group of Five schools examined and which spent the highest percentage of its athletic department’s recruiting budget on football, only signed one in-state recruit among its 22-player recruiting class in 2018.
Twelve of the players in that class were from California, so Wyoming’s coaching staff likely had to spend more money on air travel to recruit players from more talent-rich states.
When we took a deep dive into LSU and Oregon’s itemized recruiting expenses, we found that roughly 23 percent ($272,000) of Oregon’s recruiting expenses during the 2018 calendar year were on airfare and nearly 17 percent (almost $150,000) of LSU’s recruiting expenses last year were on special recruiting meals, so a significant portion of a school’s spending on football recruiting goes towards airfare, rental cars, hotels and food.
Being located in a remote area — at least in regards to where talented high school football players are located — only adds to those travel expenses.
Q: How big of a priority is football in an athletic department?
A: The table below lists Group of Five schools in descending order of what percent of their overall recruiting spending was dedicated to football.
|School||FY18 Recruiting Spending on Football||FY18 All-Sport Recruiting Spending||% Spent on Football|
|San Jose State||$173,212||$409,818||42.3%|
|San Diego State||$245,879||$684,265||35.9%|
Here’s a look at how much every Group of Five conference spent on recruiting per school, on average, in 2018.
|Conference||Number of Schools Examined||Avg. Recruiting Spending|