Examining the College Football Recruiting Investment by Group of Five Schools

    Check out this detailed breakdown of the financial investment that Group of Five schools put into recruiting.

    September 5, 2019

    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)
    4 UConn American $432,480 102nd 118th 23 (23/0)
    5 Boise State Mountain West $414,229 57th 50th 40 (36/4)
    6 Memphis American $411,452 80th 67th 40 (39/1)
    7 Nevada Mountain West $386,323 81st 93rd 30 (30/0)
    8 Cincinnati American $374,630 47th 79th 38 (37/1)
    9 East Carolina American $369,776 89th 78th 33 (33/0)
    10 Eastern Michigan MAC $366,858 110th 123rd 18 (18/0)
    11 Ohio MAC $346,579 121st 103rd 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)
    16 Toledo MAC $288,117 67th 73rd 43 (43/0)
    17 Old Dominion C-USA $286,487 128th 117th 14 (14/0)
    18 Charlotte C-USA $286,370 111th 132nd 10 (10/0)
    19 Marshall C-USA $283,931 74th 71st 45 (45/0)
    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)
    23 UTSA C-USA $270,286 85th 96th 32 (32/0)
    24 Buffalo MAC $269,552 136th 106th 12 (12/0)
    25 FIU C-USA $258,126 69th 88th 35 (33/2)
    26 Hawaii Mountain West $256,948 96th 116th 27 (27/0)
    27 Houston American $251,975 73rd 72nd 37 (37/0)
    28 Western Michigan MAC $249,215 76th 92nd 34 (34/0)
    29 San Diego State Mountain West $245,879 79th 91st 33 (33/0)
    30 UTEP C-USA $245,678 129th 112th 11 (11/0)
    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?

    Probably not.

    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
    Wyoming $494,085 $887,366 55.7%
    Texas State $294,642 $531,321 55.5%
    Ohio $346,579 $635,731 54.5%
    Appalachian State $270,308 $503,266 53.7%
    Boise State $414,229 $773,739 53.5%
    Toledo $288,117 $557,945 51.6%
    Florida Atlantic $339,748 $683,178 49.7%
    Memphis $411,452 $833,664 49.4%
    Western Michigan $249,215 $518,978 48.0%
    Southern Miss $324,634 $687,450 47.2%
    Kent State $272,132 $582,693 46.7%
    Marshall $283,931 $614,505 46.2%
    Buffalo $269,552 $585,562 46.0%
    East Carolina $369,776 $805,605 45.9%
    FIU $258,126 $562,206 45.9%
    Bowling Green $235,425 $526,245 44.7%
    Georgia State $187,257 $421,635 44.4%
    Charlotte $286,370 $650,398 44.0%
    Cincinnati $374,630 $856,882 43.7%
    South Florida $445,883 $1,029,164 43.3%
    UNLV $503,461 $1,173,505 42.9%
    San Jose State $173,212 $409,818 42.3%
    UTSA $270,286 $655,670 41.2%
    Nevada $386,323 $943,618 40.9%
    New Mexico $322,949 $803,502 40.2%
    Middle Tennessee $203,494 $509,279 40.0%
    Eastern Michigan $366,858 $920,072 39.9%
    North Texas $150,991 $378,188 39.9%
    Utah State $226,094 $592,703 38.1%
    UTEP $245,678 $658,861 37.3%
    Central Michigan $200,537 $549,165 36.5%
    Houston $251,975 $698,178 36.1%
    Northern Illinois $116,796 $323,570 36.1%
    San Diego State $245,879 $684,265 35.9%
    Old Dominion $286,487 $805,815 35.6%
    Louisiana-Monroe $74,012 $221,345 33.4%
    Miami (OH) $273,502 $830,375 32.9%
    Fresno State $212,791 $647,539 32.9%
    Western Kentucky $177,709 $562,304 31.6%
    Ball State $151,607 $479,643 31.6%
    Hawaii $256,948 $818,660 31.4%
    UConn $432,480 $1,406,823 30.7%
    Georgia Southern $113,511 $390,582 29.1%

     

    Conference comparison

    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
    American 6 $381,032
    Mountain West 10 $323,597
    Conference USA 11 $257,041
    MAC 11 $251,847
    Sun Belt 5 $187,946

     

    MORE: This Is How Much Power Five Schools Spend on College Football Recruiting

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