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Spend less, win more: the Texas Tech way

Some schools spend millions in recruiting while others rely on a more grassroots approach

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Texas Tech Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

August is a nice period: some people on holiday, recovering from year-long efforts, and some other people working on articles about recruitment costs. It’s an interesting dichotomy that, at some level, will pervade this writing, too.

Everything starts from an interesting study made by, in which the author analyzes the expenses of 51 schools (46 coming from P5 conferences. plus Boise State, Connecticut, Cincinnati, East Carolina, and Houston) in the recruitment field.

He obtained NCAA Financial Reports for these schools and isolated the data concerning expenses the various schools had while hosting potential student-athletes. This was intersected with the effective results of the schools into their competitive performances.

This inspired some reflections, starting with the numbers listed below:

Note: data from Baylor and TCU concerning specific football costs were not available.

I think we have to do a little step behind: what does recruiting spending mean and include? And how can a school like Georgia spend 4 million on it? We’re talking about all the costs a university has while hosting recruits. It includes, among many other items, air travels, hosting groups and guests, meals, transportations, cell phones, rentals, advertising, and other categories you can name.

In 2018, six schools spent more than three million dollars in this particular section: four are from SEC (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M), one from Big Ten (Michigan), and one from Big 12 (guess what, Texas). No school from ACC hits this list despite both Clemson and Florida State exceed 2.5 million. No Pac 12 school gets past the two million marks.

There’s an apparent connection between expenses and results, but not everything is the way it looks. We could hazard there’s a close connection between expenses and hype around the program, but we’ll talk about this later.

The question is: where did Texas Tech rank in this symphony of numbers?

Talking about general expenses, the Red Raiders rank in the middle of the conference, in the big group including West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Baylor. These schools are well behind Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

The thing sticking out is the percentage of money Texas Tech spent on football recruits in 2018, only 29.1%. This is dead last in Big 12, well below second-to-last Kansas State (36.6%). Even Kansas used half of its budget on football (49.0%). Most of Big 12 teams are over 40 %, with Texas leading also this particular standing (56.9%).

This 29.1 in an incredibly low percentage and these $ 535,362 spent for football recruits have to be intended in the same way. It’s not a matter of numbers themselves, but if we consider the importance the game of football has in Lubbock (and in Texas, generally speaking - the narrative of this concept already came in Italy, too), it is surprising that an amount so high is in favor of other sports.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-National Championship-Virginia vs Texas Tech Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Now, these numbers must be put in another perspective, maybe the most important perspective: victories.

Does spending so much money in recruits reflect in many wins (both in football and in other sports) that justifies these expenses? In part.

In the top-20 of schools spending most of their recruiting budget in football there are, among others, Clemson (63.8% - National Champions in 2016 and 2018), Boise State (53.5% - six conference titles since 2008), and Oklahoma (49.7% - 12 conference titles since 2000), but what about the remaining universities?

The ranking is led by Georgia, leading the nation both in money spent on football recruits ($ 2,626,622) and percentage (65.8%). Results? A lot of hype around the program, a lot of national interest, but merely three SEC titles in the new millennium.

Also, in the top 20 we find:

  • Colorado (55.5%): 12 seasons with negative records in the last 13 years;
  • Iowa State (52.9%): no season with 9+ victories since 2000;
  • North Carolina (52.2%): five combined victories in 2017 and 2018;
  • Kansas (49.0%): in Italy, we say we shouldn’t shoot at the Red Cross, but 16 total wins since 2010, never better than 3-9 in that span;
  • Oregon State (46.7%): no positive record since 2013.

We don’t need the genius to understand that spending money on football doesn’t mean automatically success on the gridiron. Considering Texas Tech fortunes over the new millennium, things could be worse (by far, I add).

Additionally, increasing football budgets for recruitment, hosting higher-profile players, doesn’t automatically mean that:

  1. the recruit will sign with the school;
  2. the player will be translating his performances on the field. I’d like to kindly remind that according to 247sports the best recruit in Texas Tech history is DE Breiden Fehoko, closely followed by DT Michael Starts, DE Delvon Simmons, and ATH Dominique Wheeler. The only player in the top-5 who made something (very) good is current OL Jack Anderson.
NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The last section of this form comes from another obvious axiom: If Texas Tech spends 29.1% of its recruitment budget in football, it means the remaining 70.9% goes to other programs. At the moment Texas has 14 of them, six men’s sports and eight women’s sports. Football is the 15th program.

The other 14 programs average 5.06% of the recruiting budget each. To put it into perspective, there are 19 sports at Georgia. Considering football takes 65.8% of the recruitment budget, the remaining 18 programs average 1.9% of this.

Football is the sport in which schools spend the most on recruitment, at least because every FBS school can offer up to 85 scholarships for this sport. Baseball programs can offer up to 11.7 scholarships, softball up to 12, women’s soccer up to 14, women’s basketball up to 15, and men’s basketball up to 13.

Texas Tech’s distribution of percentages is very similar to the one we find at Connecticut, Kentucky, and Indiana. What can link these three schools? They are (or were, in case of the Hoosiers) basketball powerhouses. Or, at least (if you don’t buy this rhetoric after only two years of national prominence), schools that don’t bet only on a single horse but divide their stakes on different races.

Do you recognize the guy in the picture above? (ok, it’s written on the breastplate, I know...)

He’s Divine Odururu and he’s (probably) the main reason for which the Red Raiders became national champions in track and field this year. This achievement was the highlight of the year, alongside with the basketball team reaching its first ever national final.

We can’t stop with these two sports, as many highlights happened during the season:

  • baseball reached its first ever national semifinal:
  • men’s golf won two tournaments;
  • men’s tennis finished 18th in the NCAA ranking;
  • women’s soccer lost in the second round of the national tournament;
  • softball lost to #10 LSU in the regional finals of the tournament
  • volleyball is rising after many negative seasons.

Recruiting quality players in every sport is expensive, so it’s important (and very wise, in my opinion) spreading the investments over different sports, looking for national rilevance in as many as possible of them.

It’s common knowledge the football program is the one making the biggest numbers in Lubbock, the one with more tradition, more memories, more history. But on the other hand having success in football, in this specific period, is something very hard. I’m not talking about being a perennial contender for the national title but, let’s say, a consistent presence in the top 15/20.

Is it worth?