College basketball recruiting can be a fickle beast — at least in regards to how much schools spend on the recruiting trail, the high school recruits that spending attracts and the number of wins that talent leads to.
While we found that there’s a fairly strong correlation between recruiting spending and recruiting class rankings in college football, there’s not an apparent sport-wide correlation in college basketball.
Stadium obtained the NCAA Financial Reports from the 2018 fiscal year for nearly 60 Division I schools — almost all of which play in the AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC — and these reports, which are submitted to the NCAA annually, outline detailed financial data regarding the operating revenue and expenses for each school’s athletic department.
We found that while a serious financial commitment to recruiting in college basketball can lead to highly ranked recruiting classes and NCAA Tournament success, it’s certainly not a prerequisite.
Of course, recruiting is based on relationships, and while there’s no stat or metric to quantify which coaches are the best at developing a strong relationship with a prospect, his parents and/or his high school coach, we can attempt to quantify the role that other factors like spending and winning play in recruiting.
Defending national champion Virginia spent roughly $281,000 on recruiting in 2018, while fellow Final Four participants Texas Tech and Michigan State spent $350,731 and $276,103, respectively. The spending of those three schools ranked 30th, 16th and 31st, respectively, among the schools examined.
For the sake of cross-sport comparison, 2018 College Football Playoff participants Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma ranked second, third and ninth, respectively, in football recruiting spending among the schools examined.
North Carolina, which is among the bluest of the college basketball blue bloods, only spent $159,501 on recruiting in 2018 (49th among the schools examined), and that spending led to a top-15 recruiting class that featured 5-star recruits and one-and-done talents Nassir Little and Coby White.
There are plenty of examples of men’s basketball programs, like the Tar Heels, that don’t break the bank for recruiting yet still assemble elite classes.
And there are all too many examples of schools that spend significantly — between $300,000 and $500,000 — only to enroll underwhelming freshman classes.
For example, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M both spent roughly $462,000 last year — the eighth and ninth most, respectively, among the schools examined — and ended up with 2018 recruiting classes that ranked 60th and 122nd, respectively, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
See how it’s tough to make sweeping generalizations about spending on college basketball recruiting?
Here’s a scatter plot showing the relationship, or lack thereof, between recruiting spending and recruiting class rankings in college basketball.
Contrast that graph with the college football graph of the same relationship — recruiting spending and recruiting class ranking — which is shown below.
The following chart shows the full breakdown of the 50-plus schools examined, listing how much each school spent on men’s basketball recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year, its 2018 and ’19 recruiting class rankings and how many blue-chip (4- or 5-star) recruits it enrolled in those two classes.
The spending rankings indicates where a school’s spending ranks among the schools examined.
UPDATE: After the publishing of this story, Stadium obtained the 2018 NCAA Financial Reports for Alabama, Auburn, Memphis, San Diego State, Virginia and Virginia Tech, which have since been added to the table below.
|Spending Ranking||School||FY18 Spending||2018/19 Recruiting Class Ranking||4/5-Star Recruits in the Last Two Years|
|6||Ohio State||$519,527||27th/13th||5 (5/0)|
|8||Oklahoma State||$462,735||60th/23rd||5 (5/0)|
|9||Texas A&M||$462,025||122nd/39th||2 (2/0)|
|11||NC State||$433,927||39th/35th||5 (5/0)|
|13||Penn State||$430,506||56th/82nd||1 (1/0)|
|16||Texas Tech||$350,731||33rd/16th||5 (5/0)|
|18||Iowa State||$323,930||28th/56th||2 (2/0)|
|20||Wichita State||$316,644||64th/41st||2 (2/0)|
|21||Kansas State||$315,064||101st/55th||1 (1/0)|
|22||Ole Miss||$314,836||53rd/45th||2 (2/0)|
|24||South Carolina||$303,699||55th/46th||3 (3/0)|
|26||West Virginia||$301,690||26th/38th||3 (3/0)|
|28||Virginia Tech||$293,585||54th/47th||2 (2/0)|
|31||Michigan State||$276,103||17th/26th||7 (7/0)|
|36||Mississippi State||$230,928||16th/60th||4 (4/0)|
|42||Washington State||$214,215||154th/78th||0 (0/0)|
|43||Georgia Tech||$209,920||47th/119th||1 (1/0)|
|47||Florida State||$193,882||121st/18th||2 (1/1)|
|48||Arizona State||$192,484||14th/37th||4 (4/0)|
|49||North Carolina||$159,501||13th/8th||6 (2/4)|
|51||Oregon State||$145,789||85th/65th||0 (0/0)|
|53||San Diego State||$128,323||72nd/140th||0 (0/0)|
|55||Boise State||$121,885||78th/164th||0 (0/0)|
|58||East Carolina||$84,553||108th/75th||0 (0/0)|
Note: Data for Arkansas and Tennessee are unavailable due to state records laws. Baylor, Butler, Creighton, DePaul, Duke, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Harvard, Marquette, Miami (FL), Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Stanford, Syracuse, TCU, USC, Villanova, Wake Forest and Xavier are private institutions, which means they’re exempt from public records laws. Pittsburgh and Temple are state-related institutions, meaning they’re exempt from public records laws.
While there isn’t necessarily a sport-wide correlation between spending and recruiting class ranking in college basketball, there appeared to be a potential correlation for schools that spent at least $500,000.
Of the seven schools that spent at least $500,000 on recruiting during the last fiscal year — Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas, Ohio State and LSU — six enrolled a top-25 recruiting class in 2018.
Five of the seven landed a top-10 class and enrolled between six and 10 players who were labeled a 4- or 5-star recruit in the last two classes.
If you’re curious where the money schools spend on college basketball recruiting actually goes, here’s an in-depth look at Kentucky’s financial and travel commitment to recruiting. Hint: There’s a lot of private jets.
The seven schools examined that spent at least $500,000 last year are labeled in the graph below.
However, for every school that spent at least $500,000 on recruiting for a top-25 recruiting class, there are almost twice as many examples among the schools examined that spent less than $300,000 for a similarly rated class.
Maryland, North Carolina and Arizona State spent less than $200,000 on recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year and each school enrolled a top-15 recruiting class. Oregon spent $286,799 and landed the No. 3 class.
When contrasting the spending-to-recruiting-class-ranking relationships between football and men’s basketball, it’s worth remembering the biggest difference between the two sports: volume.
A football program will enroll somewhere between 17 and 31 players annually (typically 22-27), while it’s not unheard of for college basketball programs to occasionally enroll just one, two or three high school prospects in a given class.
Tennessee, for example, had a one-player recruiting class in 2018 and the veteran-laden Volunteers spent four consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 last season in January and February.
Since recruiting class rankings are often based on quantity, a college basketball recruiting class like Nevada’s last season was ranked 52nd nationally even though one of the Wolf Pack’s three signees was 5-star forward Jordan Brown.
Another example: Kansas’ 2018 recruits had a higher average ranking than LSU’s 2018 recruits, but since the Tigers enrolled seven players compared to the Jayhawks’ four, LSU’s class was ranked higher.
Speaking of Nevada, the Wolf Pack have been one of the programs to really embrace the transfer market in recent years, showing there are more ways to build a roster than by exclusively recruiting players from the high school ranks. Those transfers aren’t factored into traditional recruiting class rankings.
As referenced earlier, spending is just one part of the formula. The current state of a program and the level of success it has had in its past play important roles, too.
Besides Ohio State, every school among those examined that has finished in the top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll more than 15 times enrolled a 2018 recruiting class that ranked in the top 15 nationally, according to 247Sports. The Buckeyes, which have had 16 top-10 finishes, had the No. 27 recruiting class last year.
The other schools in that elite group are listed below, along with their number of top-10 finishes and their 2018 recruiting class rankings.
- Kentucky: 44 top-10 finishes; No. 2 recruiting class
- North Carolina: 38 top-10 finishes; No. 13 recruiting class
- Kansas: 30 top-10 finishes; No. 5 recruiting class
- UCLA: 26 top-10 finishes; No. 6 recruiting class
- Indiana: 17 top-10 finishes; No. 10 recruiting class
While you don’t need to be on the short list of the most accomplished college basketball programs of all time in order to land a nationally ranked recruiting class, a comparison of the relationship between AP top-10 finishes and 2018 recruiting class rankings tells us that those historic programs are typically going to have top-25 recruiting classes.
If historical success plays a role in recruiting, how much does recent success matter?
Do programs that win 30 games in a season inherently recruit higher-rated recruiting classes the following season as compared to teams that win 20 games?
A comparison of teams’ 2017-18 win totals to their 2018 recruiting class rankings shows no relationship.
The same is generally true over a longer time frame. The next scatter plot compares schools’ win totals over a four-year span (from the 2014-15 season through the 2017-18 season) to their 2018 recruiting class rankings.
However, similarly to the number of top-10 finishes a school has, you can argue there’s a relationship that suggests the more games a team wins over a period of time, the higher the floor is for its next recruiting class.
For example, the worst 2018 recruiting class ranking for a program that won between 118 and 124 games during our examined time period was much higher than the worst recruiting class ranking among the programs that won between 78 and 84 games during that span.
As proof that you don’t necessarily need to win big in order to recruit elite players, just look at the cluster of schools that won 68 to 70 games from 2015 to 2018 (not even 18 wins per year, on average), but still landed a top-20 class in 2018.
Ultimately, college basketball recruiting proves tough to make sweeping generalizations about success in recruiting class rankings or wins. Gonzaga won 130 games from the 2015-16 to 2018-19 seasons, including 12 in the NCAA Tournament, despite an average recruiting class ranking of No. 80 from 2015-18.
Duke and Kentucky enrolled the top two recruiting classes, in some order, in each of those years, while it was Villanova (average recruiting class ranking of 27.8 from 2015-18), North Carolina (29.3) and Virginia (57.5) that won the last four national titles.
If high-level spending doesn’t directly correlate to a highly rated recruiting class ranking, and if a highly rated recruiting class ranking doesn’t directly correlate to a high win total or NCAA Tournament success, then that’s just another indication that both scouting and player development are critical to program success.
Quantifying “basketball schools”
It’s not an exact science, but one way to determine whether a university is a “basketball school” is to compare its recruiting spending in basketball to its spending on football recruiting. Football rosters are obviously much larger than basketball rosters with 85 scholarships compared to 13, so almost every school that fields a team in both sports will spend more on football recruiting than basketball recruiting.
But some schools actually spend a comparable amount on recruiting for the two sports.
The following chart shows the 10 schools that have the smallest differences between their spending on football and men’s basketball recruiting, among those examined.
Note that some schools, like UConn, Houston and Cincinnati, have smaller recruiting budgets, which inherently creates a smaller difference between their spending on recruiting for the two sports.
|School||FY18 Football Spending||FY18 Basketball Spending||Difference|
The following chart shows the five schools with the biggest differences between their spending on football and men’s basketball recruiting. Of course, the schools in the chart below have bigger athletic departments, which means bigger budgets and more money to spend.
But they’re definitely not shy about prioritizing football.
|School||FY18 Football Spending||FY18 Basketball Spending||Difference|
Here are some of the biggest takeaways when comparing how much schools spent on men’s basketball and football recruiting last year:
- Indiana is the only school among the 50-plus schools examined that spent more on men’s basketball recruiting than football recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year. It’s not surprising that it’s a blue blood basketball school with little tradition on the gridiron that fits that criteria, but it’s pretty wild to think that the university spent more in 2018 to land its five-player basketball recruiting class than it did to assemble its 27-player football recruiting class.
- Illinois spent the second most on men’s basketball recruiting and 24th in terms of football spending, among the schools examined. However, the Fighting Illini haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and they haven’t played in a bowl game since 2014. In light of their recent financial investments on the recruiting trail, you have to ask when will the wins finally come?
- North Carolina ranked among the bottom five schools in terms of its basketball recruiting spending-to-football recruiting spending ratio — $159,501-to-$984,871 — which was a shock for a blue blood basketball school that has won three titles in the last 15 years. But it makes sense when you realize that the Tar Heels are situated in a talent-rich area with many top basketball recruits coming from North Carolina, Virginia and the D.C. area — and by not actively recruiting one-and-done talent in recent years (Nassir Little and Coby White notwithstanding), the Tar Heels haven’t had to engage in many costly recruiting battles against foes like Duke and Kentucky.
- Michigan also appeared in the bottom five schools in terms of its basketball recruiting spending-to-football recruiting spending ratio ($258,458-to-$1,397,784, or roughly $1 spent on men’s basketball recruiting for every $5.50 spent on football recruiting). Despite the difference in spending, the Wolverines’ basketball team finished as the national runners-up twice this decade while their football team only had one AP top-10 finish. Former Michigan Head Coach John Beilein was great at developing future pros in Ann Arbor, and you wonder what the Wolverines’ potential (and recruiting budget) could be if Juwan Howard goes big-game hunting on the recruiting trail and tries to land recruits akin to those from his days with the Fab Five.
Here’s a look at which schools in each conference spent the most on men’s basketball recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year. They’re listed in ascending order of how much they spent in recruiting across all sports for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
While we were unable to obtain the NCAA Financial Reports for both private schools and schools located in states like Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Virginia due to state records laws, we were able to identify how much those schools spent on recruiting across all sports from their publicly available Equity in Athletics Data Analysis forms that are submitted to the U.S. Department of Education.
Enjoy the message board fodder below.
American Athletic Conference
Basketball recruiting data for SMU, Tulane and Tulsa is unavailable since they’re private institutions. Memphis’ data is unavailable due to state records laws. Data for Temple is unavailable since it’s a state-related institution. The University of South Florida has yet to respond to a public records request from Stadium.
Basketball recruiting data for Boston College, Duke, Miami (FL), Notre Dame, Syracuse and Wake Forest is unavailable since they’re private institutions. Data for Pittsburgh is unavailable since it’s a state-related institution. Data for Virginia and Virginia Tech is unavailable due to state records laws.
Basketball recruiting data for Baylor and TCU is unavailable since they’re private institutions.
Basketball recruiting data for Northwestern is unavailable since it’s a private institution.
Basketball recruiting data for Stanford and USC is unavailable since they’re private institutions.
Basketball recruiting data for Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee is unavailable due to state records laws. Data for Vanderbilt is unavailable since it’s a private institution.