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Wisconsin football recruiting: are the Badgers cheapskates?

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In the ever elevating arms race that is college football recruiting, where do the Badgers stand?

2019 Paris Air Show in Le Bourget Photo by Marina Lystseva\TASS via Getty Images

College football recruiting is a funny thing. It is nearly impossible to predict what a 15-year old kid will have for lunch and yet there are dozens upon dozens of people trying to project what height and arm strength the same kid will have in two and a half years. It’s wild to me...and I take it all far too seriously.

I have a 247Sports account. I have a Rivals account. I try and summon meaning from logo orders on Instagram posts from recruits that say “in no particular order.” Following my strict “never tweet” policy, I definitely don’t tweet at recruits and you shouldn’t either. I watch grainy Hudl highlight films with terrible soundtracks and think to myself “he has good hip movement” which I think sounds like a smart football guy thing to say. My wife makes fun of me because...I take this all too seriously.

Recruiting was, and still is, my favorite part of playing NCAA Dynasty Mode, which is probably where this whole sickness started. My friends and I would spend hours playing NCAA and nary play a single game (unless we were matched up in a bowl game or something crazy). We’d just sim until we could recruit. The one version of NCAA where you could rack up recruiting violations was the best one, and any new game needs to have some sort of compliance officer in it...that you resoundingly ignore, because you are taking your team’s success on a video game all too seriously.

All of this being said, I read the report in USA Today from two days ago that listed the Badgers as spending the least amount of money on recruiting football players during the fiscal year 2018 and thought “is Wisconsin taking recruiting seriously enough?”

The next closest team still spent over $100,000 more than the Badgers did! WHAT THE HELL!?!? From the article:

The NCAA defines recruiting costs as including “transportation, lodging and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits,” and the “value of use of institution’s own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation.”

Were potential recruits being served gruel sandwiches under a highway overpass after having walked to Madison from their hometown?

There has to be more to this story, right? Wisconsin can’t be outspent in recruiting nearly 3x over by Minnesota and still beat them 14 out of the last 15 times on the field, right? It’s time to do some research/ask the staff here who is good at math to make me some freakin’ graphs and charts!

SB Nation’s Matt Brown has a wonderful newsletter that he’ll put right into your inbox for free if you sign up and discussed this very topic on Wednesday morning. How fortuitous! There are a couple of main factors that Brown notes as to why there is a wild variance between schools and their reported recruiting budgets.

First there is this: “The single biggest recruiting department expense, I’m told, is usually travel.” Secondly there is this: “The other, and this is key when looking at athletic budgets generally, is accounting differences.”

Brown goes on to write:

What was stressed to me is that different schools may categorize different aspects of the hosting process as operations, or salaries under a different department, which will show up differently on a budget. A school with a smaller recruiting department that has to spend more on outside vendors might also show an artificially high recruiting spend number. Making a true apples-to-apples comparison is almost impossible without itemized budgets.

A number of Badgers fans commented on Twitter that Wisconsin has use of private planes from boosters that wouldn’t count against their recruiting budget. There is even a Madison.com story from 2016 that says as much.

To be fair, our original tweet was a joke reply to another joke reply about finding all of our recruits at airport Chili’s. But the Gard Appreciator’s point stands! If Wisconsin is getting one of these major expenses taken care of by another source, well, that’s great! The Badgers are saving money that they can then reinvest into the program and other recruiting expenses...right?

(I am struck by the line from the block quote above that says “value of use of institution’s own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation.” Why isn’t the in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation counted for Wisconsin?)

Well, it doesn’t really seem like it based on their reported numbers, unless! Unless the Badgers athletic department is very, shady isn’t the right word, but conscious of where they put each expenditure. Athletic director Barry Alvarez said this in that Madison.com article:

“There are a lot of different accounting methods,” Alvarez said. “Everybody does their accounting differently. So to look at the bottom line in someone’s accounting and say that this is how much they spend in recruiting and this is how little you spend, it’s comparing apples to oranges.”

Head coach Paul Chryst said, “I’ve never felt at Wisconsin we couldn’t do everything we needed to do to recruit someone.”

Another AD, from an SEC school, offered this:

In budgeting ahead for recruiting, administrators can often be in a tough spot. They don’t want to offer a blank check, so to speak, but “you’re not going to tell them to stop recruiting,” said Tennessee athletic director and former football coach Phillip Fulmer.

”Of all the things that we do, that’s probably the No. 1 thing that we have to do,” Fulmer said, ”short of supporting them academically when they get there.”

First of all, LOfreakingL Fulmer with your “supporting them academically” nonsense. Second of all, it seems like every Power-5 school doesn’t really say “no” to their football program in regards to recruiting.

So, why doesn’t Wisconsin spend more money on recruiting that can be reported as “spent on recruiting?” I don’t really know the answer to that, but maybe Wisconsin doesn’t need to spend more money? They get a large number of players from in-state (7-of-13 so far in the 2020 cycle) or nearby states (one from Illinois, one from Minnesota and one from Michigan) which wouldn’t require a lot of travel expenses. But Mississippi State has 14-of-23 from in-state and still outspent the Badgers by that $100,000.

Does money spent on recruiting directly correlate to success against your conference mates?

Matt Rock

Well, Georgia, Alabama and Clemson spend an awful lot of money on recruiting and they win. Like, a lot. Tennessee? Well...perhaps they’re the exception that proves the rule? Let’s look at just the B1G.

Matt Rock

So, Northwestern being a private institution doesn’t have to disclose these numbers which is why they aren’t on here. Just to get that out of the way. Oregon State is on here because Rock sometimes forgets to delete things from certain graphs. Let the man, live!

Also, there are five teams in the Big Ten that outspent Ohio State and Wisconsin, the top two teams in conference wins since 2013, so it would appear that in the B1G at least...money spent on recruiting doesn’t always matter.

Are the Badgers cheap when it comes to football recruiting? The answer is...maybe. Which is frustrating end to this 1200+ word post. It would seem, even if they are “cheap” it hasn’t changed the results on the field. However, if the Badgers are ever going to truly try and break through into the next level of college football they will need to recruit better and that will mean spending more money. Seriously.

Maybe I’ll try and break into Alvarez’s office and steal some documents.