Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Balancing the recruiting budget
By Mitch Sherman
Colorado hired football coach Jon Embree in December 2010, a major shift in the structure of its program. Six months later, in a change announced before Embree's hire, the Buffaloes moved from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, one domino in a landscape-altering era of colossal change in college athletics.
Which move made a bigger impact on recruiting for CU, specifically the cost of recruiting?
That's easy. The coaching change.
"A change in coaching staff throws things out of whack," said Cory Hilliard, Colorado's associate athletic director for business operations.
Elsewhere, it's more complicated. Conference realignment, coaching moves, schematic adjustments and philosophical changes affect recruiting budgets in ways that wins and losses and signing-day success stories cannot measure.
ESPN.com gathered budget data from 99 of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs for the 2011 and 2010 fiscal years. Private schools such Notre Dame, USC, Stanford and Miami did not report figures, in addition to colleges in Pennsylvania, where laws do not require public schools to disclose data.
The numbers, from one program to the next, raise eyebrows.
For instance, why did Army and Memphis rank among the top spenders in football recruiting when their revenues paled in comparison to schools from the Southeastern Conference and other power leagues?
Or how is it that Ohio State, No. 2 in football revenue at more than $78 million last year, LSU, eighth in revenue, and No. 10 Oklahoma each fall outside the top 20 in spending on football recruiting?
The answers can be found within the circumstances, most of which are complex. When it comes to assigning dollars for football recruiting, no foolproof formula exists.
"Every school and situation is different," second-year Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. "Everybody's home base is going to yield a different number of recruits. Your budget has to fit your philosophy and your plan."
Lembo dealt with the fourth-smallest recruiting budget, at $84,268, among FBS programs in his first year at Ball State. Only Louisiana-Monroe, Kent State and Nevada spent less.
The coach cut expensive trips to nearby Indianapolis for lodging on the night before Ball State home games. The Cardinals now stay at a hotel near campus in Muncie, Ind., and eat their pregame meals at the football stadium.
It fosters a sense of community and keeps the entire roster together for a longer time -- and it helps recruiting. Lembo re-allocated the money saved to bolster his recruiting budget.
"We've had to do more with less," he said, "and at the end of the day, we've got a larger number that we need to hit. Recruiting is just a piece of that."
That's one extreme. Colorado ranks somewhere in the middle.
When Embree arrived in Boulder, the Buffs were six months into preparation for the conference switch.
CU spent $470,355 on football recruiting in 2011, the 19th-largest budget nationally, although its football revenue of just less than $26 million ranked well outside the $37 million threshold for the top 20.
This year, according Hilliard, Colorado bumped its recruiting budget to about $550,000, a figure that would vault it six spots to No. 13 when compared to the 2011 data.
But the increase had little to do with the Pac-12 move. In fact, Hilliard said he hoped the Buffs' new league affiliation would allow it to reduce recruiting costs as CU focuses more heavily on the same markets that it recruited as a member of the Big 12.
"Now we're in San Diego, Los Angeles and Phoenix with a bigger bat," Hilliard said, "So, we have a better ability to grab five prospects from one area. Before we were pecking at certain areas and hoping to land one particular player."
Embree and his assistants slimmed the roster in the months after taking over, a common practice. In February, CU announced a signing class of 27 new players, not including two grayshirts left over from the 2011 group.
"The biggest factor in shaping a budget is the number of scholarships that we expect to offer over a two-year cycle," Hilliard said. "The budget ebbs and flows based on that information."
At Colorado and many programs of its size, assistant coaches often know little about the recruiting budget.
"They could care less," said Darian Hagan, a former Colorado assistant who now works to shape the recruiting budget as Embree's director of player personnel. "All they want to do is get to the next city and get to the next kid."
Conference realignment plays a more significant roles at other schools.
At West Virginia, for example, coaches may look west in recruiting and increase travel costs as the Mountaineers move to the Big 12. Same thing at Missouri, only to the south in an attempt to compete in recruiting with its new league mates in the SEC.
Texas Tech spent $611,910 on recruiting in 2011 from its outpost in Lubbock. Cash-rich Texas came in at $577,976.
"We are removed from major metropolitan areas, but we're always going to try to compete for championships," said Bobby Gleason, senior associate athletic director at Texas Tech. "There's a lot of variables that come into play.
"What you hope your coaches do is realize that we do have a limited amount of resources. You do want to be wise, but you have to recruit where you have your best ties."
Programs spend money to save money, too. Travel time and costs invested during the spring evaluation period -- April and May of a prospect's junior year -- pay off months later. Coaches learn of academic risks and personal issues that halt the process.
"You don't want to be out there chasing ghosts," Hagan said.
One oversight might cost a program thousands of dollars in recruiting costs if a signed or committed prospects goes astray.
The construction of a budget extends beyond travel and scholarship projections. On-campus visits and mailings eat chunks of the budget. How much depends on the wants of the coaching staff.
Schools get creative with their mailings. Design and distribution costs money.
"When our stuff is on the floor in a [prospect's] room next to Michigan's and Oklahoma's," Hilliard said, "we want CU to stand out within the tight restrictions of the NCAA. You've got to play that game and determine how best we can get their attention. We try to be unique."
Unique. Efficient. And, of course, effective at identifying and signing the best players. It's all in a day's work for those with an eye on the recruiting budget.