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Which Colleges Spend the Most and Least on Recruiting for Men's Athletics?

Amy DaughtersFeatured ColumnistJanuary 20, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 02: Justin King #38 of the Tennessee Volunteers celebrates a defensive play during the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Iowa Hawkeyes at EverBank Field on January 2, 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Did you know that FBS schools spent an average of $700,000 last year on men’s team recruiting expenses?

That's according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education, which accumulates and reports athletic revenues and expenses by institution, including recruiting spending for men’s and women’s team sports.

Recruiting expenses are defined by the Equity in Athletics Disclosure as:

All expenses an institution incurs attributable to recruiting activities. This includes, but is not limited to, expenses for lodging, meals, telephone use, and transportation (including vehicles used for recruiting purposes) for both recruits and personnel engaged in recruiting, and other expenses for official and unofficial visits, and all other expenses related to recruiting.

The Department of Education website includes data from the 2013-14 fiscal year for every FBS school with the exception of Air Force, Hawaii and Navy.

Though it doesn’t provide a football-only recruiting spending figure, it does give us a gauge for which departments spend the most and the least from an overall perspective.

The Top 10 Spenders

Top 10 Spenders: Men's Recruiting Expenses 2013-14
1TennesseeSEC$2,096,236
2AuburnSEC$2,061,288
3Penn StBig Ten$1,972,696
4AlabamaSEC$1,708,683
5NebraskaBig Ten$1,566,742
6Notre DameInd$1,535,545
7IndianaBig Ten$1,468,216
8IllinoisBig Ten$1,419,475
9MichiganBig Ten$1,348,482
10DukeACC$1,312,741
U.S. Department of Education

Though it’s no surprise that three of the top five spenders hail from the SEC, it’s intriguing that five are from the Big Ten. 

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Missing completely are the Big 12 and the Pac-12. The Big 12’s biggest spender, Texas Tech, comes in at No. 11 nationally with a cool $1.29 million. For the Pac-12, it’s Oregon at No. 18 with $1.15 million.

What may at least partially explain the Red Raiders’ shocking outlay is their geographic isolation in the Texas panhandle. Still, you have to wonder how Tech managed to spend $314,158 more than the University of Texas.

Duke’s powerhouse basketball program is likely the reason for its No. 1 rank among ACC schools, outspending its nearest competitor North Carolina State, which shelled out $1.10 million for the No. 20 rank overall.

The Bottom 10 Spenders

Bottom 10 Spenders: Men's Team Recruiting Expenses 2013-14
1Louisiana-MonroeSun Belt$96,310
2North TexasC-USA$152,769
3Eastern MichiganMAC$153,510
4Georgia SouthernSun Belt$212,833
5Louisiana TechC-USA$213,296
6TroySun Belt$213,441
7Kent StMAC$225,591
8Northern IllinoisMAC$240,241
9Louisiana-LafayetteSun Belt$240,475
10Miami (Ohio)MAC$250,949
U.S. Department of Education

The MAC and the Sun Belt both have four representatives in the bottom 10. Of note is Northern Illinois at No. 8 lowest, a program that has posted five consecutive double-digit-win seasons, earning a 57-13 record since 2010.

Also worth mentioning is the state of Louisiana, with three of its five FBS schools in the bottom 10. Add in Tulane at No. 89 nationally ($383,573) and LSU at No. 10 of the 14 SEC programs ($892,996), and Louisiana wins the battle for the most frugal state. 

The Power Five program that spent the least on recruiting expenses in 2013-14 was Oklahoma State, reporting a mere $491,511. This means the Cowboys spent less than South Florida ($495,496), Old Dominion ($507,018) and New Mexico ($509,501).

TEMPE, AZ - JANUARY 02:  Linebacker Seth Jacobs #10 (C) of the Oklahoma State Cowboys prepares to take the field with teammates for the start of the TicketCity Cactus Bowl against the Washington Huskies at Sun Devil Stadium on January 2, 2015 in Tempe, Ar
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The next-most frugal Power Fives are Maryland ($524,021), Washington State ($563,478), Colorado ($607,407) and TCU ($608,804).

Average Spending by Conference

Here’s a look at recruiting expenses by conference, including the number of member schools that spent more than $1 million and the number below the national average of $700,000.

Average Men's Team Recruiting Expenses by Conference: 2013-14
Avg. Spent1 Million PlusUnder 700K
1SEC$1,197,06981
2Big Ten$1,092,82183
3Big 12$949,35842
4Ind.$944,30611
5ACC$922,54851
6Pac-12$814,73314
7American$464,5850ALL
8MWC$423,2250ALL
9C-USA$334,0680ALL
10MAC$311,6050ALL
11Sun Belt$273,9030ALL
U.S. Department of Education

The only SEC school under the FBS average is Mississippi State ($683,487). For the Big Ten, it’s Rutgers ($673,523), Wisconsin ($631,243) and Maryland ($524,021). It’s worth remembering that the Scarlet Knights and the Terrapins were still members of the American Athletic (formerly the Big East) and ACC, respectively, when the reporting began in 2013.

In the Big 12, TCU ($608,804) and Oklahoma State ($491,511) are under the average, while in the ACC, it’s just Syracuse ($640,519). In the Pac-12, Oregon State ($699,144), Utah ($697,175), Colorado ($607,407) and Washington State ($563,478) each spent less than the average.

Not only did the Pac-12 underspend the other Power Five leagues by an average of $225,000, it has only one million-dollar spender: Oregon at $1.15 million. Traditional powerhouses USC ($888,232) and UCLA ($852,521) spend more like West Virginia ($881,260) and Virginia Tech ($845,535) than Georgia ($1.14 million) and Ohio State ($1.03 million).

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 01:  Utah Utes players gather near the Pac 12 logo during a timeout of a college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Whether it’s due to the geographic isolation of the conference, causing teams to conduct their searches closer to home, or a lack of national media coverage, making going further afield not worthwhile, the Pac-12 spends far less on recruiting.

Also highlighted is another clear dividing line between the haves and the have-nots in major college football: The Power Five conferences spent more than twice what their counterparts in the Group of Five leagues did.

Return on Investment

Though the reported expenditures are compelling on their own, when combined with recruiting results, they provide a gauge for which programs get the most bang for their buck.

Utilizing Rivals’ average team recruiting rankings from 2011-14, here are the FBS programs—or athletic departments—which have managed to get the biggest return on their investments.

Top 10 Return on Recruiting Investment 2013-14
SpentAvg Rec Rk '11-14
1Oklahoma StBig 12$491,51130
2Louisiana TechC-USA$213,29686
3South CarolinaSEC$758,93117
4MarylandBig Ten$524,02141
5LSUSEC$892,9968
6USCPac-12$888,2329
7UCFAmerican$315,86369
8TCUBig 12$608,80437
9San Diego StMWC$313,16077
10CalPac-12$728,93929
U.S. Department of Education/Rivals

Oklahoma State earned, on average, a top-30 rank in recruiting from 2011-14 despite spending well under the FBS average. Compare that to Kansas State, which spent a whopping $962,268—or double that of the Cowboys—for an average ranking of No. 59.

The biggest winners are LSU and USC, each spending less than $900,000 and averaging a top-10 rank in recruiting.

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08:  Anthony Jennings #10 of the LSU Tigers calls a play in the first quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Stack those results up with Auburn, which spent $2.06 million ($1.16 million more than LSU) for a No. 6 average rank and Notre Dame at $1.53 million ($647,000 more than USC) for a No. 9 average.  

On the flip side of the equation, take a look at the programs who have made a sizeable financial commitment to recruiting but don’t have much to show for it.

Bottom 10 Return on Recruiting Investment: 2013-14
SpentAvg Rec Rk '11-14
1DukeACC$1,312,74163
2ArmyInd$576,100118
3UMassMAC$605,588114
4IllinoisBig Ten$1,419,47556
5IndianaBig Ten$1,468,21651
6MinnesotaBig Ten$1,159,50560
7UNLVMWC$605,461104
8Iowa StateBig 12$1,006,72063
9KansasBig 12$1,176,97652
10Penn StBig Ten$1,972,69635
U.S. Department of Education/Rivals

Duke, Indiana and Kansas deserve further consideration here because of their big-time basketball programs, a difference-maker when dealing with men’s team recruiting expenses versus football-only numbers.

That said, other schools like Ohio State, Louisville and Arizona also field great basketball teams (and better football teams than the Blue Devils, Hoosiers or Jayhawks) and still manage to get more value for their recruiting dollar.

The Buckeyes spent $1.03 million on men’s team recruiting expenses during the 2013-14 fiscal year, averaged a No. 5 rank in football recruiting from 2011-14 and also have a men’s basketball team that hasn’t missed the NCAA tournament since 2008.

The program that really stands out is Illinois, a Big Ten school that is ranked No. 8 in the FBS in recruiting expenses. All this for a football team that has managed a No. 56 average ranking in recruiting and hasn’t produced a winning record since going 7-6 in 2011. 

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