Over the summer, we analyzed how much various schools spent on college football and men’s basketball recruiting during the 2018 fiscal year, and we found that Wisconsin spends less than almost every other power conference program in both sports. Yet the Badgers have made a bowl game every season since 2002, including five top-10 finishes in that span, and they’ve made the NCAA Tournament in 21 of the last 22 seasons.
We found that Wisconsin spent $350,695 on football recruiting, which ranked 50th among Power Five schools examined and less than at least 10 Group of Five schools, and its $86,770 investment into men’s basketball recruiting was 57th among 59 schools examined, more than only East Carolina and Auburn, the latter of which had a self-imposed, six-month recruiting ban that year.
Stadium filed a public records request to see exactly where Wisconsin’s recruiting spending went, how its allocation of resources compares to the top spenders in the two sports and how the Badgers are able to maximize their return on investment.
The following data came from Wisconsin’s response to Stadium’s public records request.
Note: The itemized expense totals provided by Wisconsin differ from the total recruiting expenses listed on the school’s 2018 NCAA Financial Report.
During the offseason, we broke down LSU’s itemized recruiting expenses.
The Tigers spent more than $149,000 on recruiting meals (plus another $17,000 in per diems for their coaches), $57,144 on lodging, $140,322 on airfare, $37,939 on rental cars and $20,880 on charter buses.
And that’s despite nine of LSU’s 24 enrollees in its 2019 recruiting class coming from the state of Louisiana, while only three of Wisconsin’s 19 enrollees this year were in-state recruits.
For the sake of comparison, Kentucky, which ranked No. 3 nationally in recruiting spending in 2018 among the schools Stadium examined, averages more than $44,000 per month on recruiting flights and Wisconsin spent roughly $5,000 less than that on transportation over the course of an entire year.
At Big Ten Media Day in early October, I had the chance to ask Wisconsin Head Coach Greg Gard about Wisconsin’s spending and how the Badgers have been able to have an impressive return on investment.
Gard highlighted Wisconsin’s recruiting footprint, scouting and player development.
“I think you look at the footprint of where we recruit, it’s the Chicagoland area, it’s Wisconsin, it’s Minnesota, so a lot of it’s drivable and that is the best way to get there,” Gard said. “It goes through cycles. There’s years when you have to be out more, you have more scholarships available. There’s other years where maybe your roster doesn’t preclude you to do that. I don’t know if it’s always apples to apples on who spends how much money, if that makes a big difference in it.
“I think it’s a lot of where you’re recruiting, what your footprint is and where you spend a lot of your time.”
The Badgers only had one high school enrollee in their 2019 recruiting class, forward Tyler Wahl of Lakeville, MN, so it won’t be much of a surprise if Wisconsin’s 2019 NCAA Financial Report shows that the school spent even less on basketball recruiting in 2019 than it did in 2018.
Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class featured three players — center Taylor Currie (Clarkston, MI), point guard Tai Strickland (St. Petersburg, FL) and center Joe Hedstrom (Hopkins, MN) — including two who were from a neighboring state. All three players were labeled as three-star recruits, ranked between No. 200 and No. 400 nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
“We try to crystal ball guys — so to speak — and that’s worked pretty well,” Gard said. “I think it’s also a credit to our guys, maybe some of our guys over the years have been a little undervalued, you know, based on what shoe company team they played for. You had some guys who played for an off-brand (company) or didn’t play in maybe the biggest stage, and also their development.
“It’s been a process of understanding what makes Wisconsin successful and what the recipe is at Wisconsin, so recruiting is an inexact science. The stars that come behind the names don’t necessarily always translate. They try to use it as a predictor, but we’ve had a lot of guys that have been not highly heralded coming out of high school that have been very impactful at the college level.”
Then there’s the potential issue, or discrepancy, of each school being responsible for its own accounting. That’s not to suggest anything nefarious occurring behind the scenes but the identifying and labeling of expenses could vary at different schools, as could the operational procedures of how a four-person coaching staff tackles on-the-road recruiting.
“Is everything compared the same? Some schools buy charter plane hours or private plane hours, other schools get them donated,” said Gard. “So it’s not always apples to apples from school to school.”
Gard believes recruiting is an inexact science, and so is figuring out how Wisconsin has had so much success on the football field and hardwood despite spending so little on recruiting.
Whatever the answer is behind the Badgers’ modest spending and recruiting class rankings, you’d be hard-pressed to find a school with a better return on investment than Wisconsin.