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Big Ten football recruiting costs rising, Wisconsin remains lowest

While the conclusions are largely expected, a couple of intriguing looks into college athletics financials were released this week.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

We've spilled plenty of ink on Wisconsin's recruiting methods and philosophies over the last few years. Quite simply, no matter how much Gary Andersen's staff expands the boundaries of the Badgers' targeted areas (and they are expanding) the lifeblood of UW's program is the in-state talent it holds onto and develops into NFL-caliber prospects (see: J.J. Watt, Travis Frederick, etc.).

One additional benefit of the heavy in-state lean: presumably lower expenses. Wednesday, The Cedar Rapids Gazette published an in-depth look at the football recruiting expenses of Big Ten schools. Conference-wide (minus Northwestern, which is not bound to state open-records laws), expenses have grown by nearly 57 percent over the last two seasons. In each of the past three seasons, Wisconsin has spent the least of any Big Ten school on football recruiting, though the figure has increased each year.

Illinois 545,363 614,529 791,972 1,951,864
Indiana 270,134 393,764 402,262 1,066,160
Iowa 307,226 403,305 477,455 1,187,986
Michigan 577,633 493,464 664,492 1,735,589
Michigan State 383,448 421,944 627,592 1,432,984
Minnesota 348,609 543,994 648,755 1,541,358
Nebraska 478,554 752,681 818,509 2,049,744
Northwestern N/A N/A N/A N/A
Ohio State 320,938 344,987 564,152 1,230,077
Penn State 258,800 443,022 736,739 1,438,561
Purdue 428,805 404,385 480,168 1,313,358
Wisconsin 204,181 212,045 256,967 673,193

It's worth mentioning that recruiting methods could vary between these separate institutions. Regardless, it seems accurate to conclude Wisconsin continues to get the most "bang for its buck" in football recruiting. UW's 2014 recruiting class ranked fifth in 247 Sports' composite rankings, and was also tied for the Big Ten's second-largest with 26 commits.

Other interesting observations from the Gazette's report:

  • Nebraska spent the most in 2013 at $818,509. That's up from $752,681 in 2012 and $478,554 in 2011. Those two most recent numbers each led the Big Ten, while its 2011 figure was the third-highest. Over that three-year span, Nebraska is the only conference team to eclipse $2 million in football recruiting spending.
  • Penn State nearly tripled expenses from 2011 to 2013 ($258,800 to $736,739).
  • Illinois spent the second-most behind Nebraska over the last three years, more than traditional recruiting powerhouses like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State, which rounded out the conference's top 2014 classes in that order. The Illini's 18-member 2014 class was ranked the lowest by 247 Sports' composite rankings, and finished ninth in 2013 and 13th in 2012.

Also noted in the Gazette's report, and very worthwhile to recall: Big Ten teams have made concerted efforts to expand their recruiting resources, with 13 of the 14 schools employing some sort of director of player personnel. Comparatively, however, every SEC school has at least two non-coaching recruiting directors. The expanded effort is critical as the Big Ten continues to flounder come bowl season, though it's hard to argue progress isn't being made.

Regarding broader figures, published an excerpt Monday from an ESPN The Magazine piece delving into the states of college athletics programs across the country. For the 2012-13 season, Wisconsin brought in the second-most revenue at $149 million, behind only Texas ($166M). Fifty million of the Badgers' total came from football, while $19 million resulted from basketball. The remaining $80 million was categorized as "Other" by ESPN, and it's not surprising to see nearly 54 percent of Wisconsin's revenue coming from hockey plus other non-revenue sports. That "Other" figure was the highest, by far, among the nine other programs ESPN provided graphics for.

Elsewhere in the ESPN report, Wisconsin had the second-highest expenses in 2012-13 at $146.7 million, once again behind Texas ($146.8 million). A drilldown of the costs lends some insight: Wisconsin spent more than everyone but Michigan on travel costs at nearly $9.6 million. In terms of money spent specifically on visiting teams, Wisconsin also had the third-highest figure at just under $4 million. Interestingly enough, four of the five highest-spending programs in this category come from the Big Ten (Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan State).

So what's it all mean? Again, the conclusions largely fall in line with conference- and country-wide narratives, fair or not. Wisconsin doesn't necessarily need to outspend rivals for recruits, though the notion of an "arms race" throughout college football is certainly legitimate. That might be clearest in the Big Ten, where the explosion continues to coincide with bowl-game struggles and the fight to level the playing field with the SEC.