Last month college football programs around the country announced their signing classes. There were thousands of hours invested leading up to this culmination that’s become possibly the biggest day of the college football offseason. Months and sometimes years on the recruiting trail led to players putting pen to paper and officially joining the program of their choice, but there was also plenty of money invested. This is no different at IU.
According to six years of financial reports obtained by Crimson Quarry through public records requests, between 2013 and 2018 the Hoosiers spent just over $3 million on football recruiting. For the purposes of these reports, the NCAA considers recruiting expenses to be “transportation, lodging, and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits, telephone call charges, postage and such.” In the fiscal year 2017, the average Big Ten university—without Michigan, which was an outlier with a spending total of over $1.5 million—spent about $725,000. Extrapolate that average across the six-year span and the average Big Ten university spent approximately $4.5 million.
The spending that the Hoosiers did led to some pretty average results, as they cracked the top 50 in the 247 Sports national rankings just three times during that span and brought in just one four-star recruit after signing four of them in 2013. During that span, Indiana had years in which they spent more money and years in which they spent less, but ultimately it didn’t appear to make a direct impact on the outcome.
In the chart below, you can see Indiana’s recruiting expenses bouncing up and down as well as the steady marginal decline of the program’s 247 Sports class ranking until 2018 when IU brought in its best class during the period. In fact, the year during this period in which the Hoosier spent the second-most money, 2017, they had their worst rated class at just a 167.99—the 62nd best class in the nation and the 13th best class in the Big Ten. The only conference foe that the Hoosiers ranked higher than that year was Purdue.
The class grades could have slipped for a number of reasons. Perhaps 247 weights getting high-end talent such as four- and five-star players highly, which Indiana mostly did at the beginning of the period. Perhaps 247 also places some sort of weight on the total number of players in a class or the number of players in the class that are either two- or one-star recruits.
IU’s overall class grades might have slipped for much of this period, but another interesting trend is that the average grade of IU’s signees seemingly didn’t.
Where there was a slight dip in the class grades over the course of the years, IU’s average recruit rating is practically a flat line. In fact, the largest deviance from the standard average—approximately 83.40—came in 2014 when IU’s average recruit rating dipped to 81.47. This shows that despite the decreasing class grades and the fluctuations in spending, IU was seemingly still getting the same level of players overall. For reference, recent IU signees that were rated near that average include Stevie Scott, Whop Philyor, and Britt Beery. The three-star designation ranges from 80-89 for 247, so the average Indiana recruit over this span was a low-to-mid range three-star player.
In 2017 IU’s recruiting expenses jumped over 40 percent from the previous year’s total despite the class grade continuing to slip. What could all of that money be spent on? Why the sudden spike? An easy hypothesis is that the spike was caused by the promotion of Tom Allen to head coach.
Allen has shown that he has connections in the state of Florida, particularly in the southern part of the state. This is probably partially due to his time working as South Florida’s defensive coordinator, but he actually started his coaching career in Tampa. He spent a handful of years as a high school coach in the area at Temple Heights and Armwood.
Here you can see that in 2017 there was a significant jump in Floridian signees for IU, the amount tripled from the previous year’s total going from three to nine.
Florida is, of course, one of the country’s great hotbeds for football talent, but recruiting the state could come at a cost. Between sending assistant coaches on scouting trips to coaches going to games and having in-home visits one could imagine that it isn’t cheap to go back and forth from Indiana to Florida, especially if you’re doing so enough times to triple the number of recruits you get from the state.
The fruit of that labor, and that spending, may not be apparent if you just look at ratings. In 2017 the nine Floridians that Indiana brought in were all three-star recruits. In 2018 each of the eight Floridians that signed with IU were three-star recruits as well. Doesn’t seem too impressive, right? Well within that group of 17 players the Hoosiers have brought in their quarterback of the future in Mike Penix, one of their top receivers in Whop Philyor, and a handful of exciting young players who have shown some promise including Juwan Burgess, Devon Matthews, and Thomas Allen (who does happen to be the coach’s son).
Another part of this to consider is that with a larger amount of attention being placed on Florida, there was a possibility that IU’s in-state recruiting would suffer. That hasn’t been the case so far.
In 2017 the Hoosiers brought in two of the top 10 and four of the top 15 recruits in the state. 2018 saw two top 10 in-state recruits sign to play in Bloomington including that year’s Mr. Football, Reese Taylor. In 2019 Indiana signed a trio of four-star recruits from the state as well as another top 15 in-state recruit. Even with the increased focus on Florida as a recruiting ground, the Hoosiers are still reeling in local recruits at an admirable level.
So what does all of this mean? What do all of the numbers and lines and bars amount to?
In a world where we sometimes hear phrases like “Mo’ money, mo’ problems” and “Scared money don’t make money”—perhaps the money doesn’t matter sometimes, or at least it isn’t the driving factor. Perhaps when you’re trying to influence the decisions of teenagers there’s only so much you can do financially (within NCAA regulations anyway).
Now, this isn’t to say that spending on recruiting is bad. Spending money can be a good way to show your fans that you’re committed to building a program that can be competitive. In fact, plenty of Hoosier fans have wanted the university to spend more money on football whether it be coaching, facilities, or anything else and recently there has been some money thrown around. The new south endzone complex is one example of that. Kalen Deboer becoming IU’s highest-paid coordinator in history earlier this year is another.
Perhaps those are better areas to spend money in. If you want to make a splash do it with facilities and coaching upgrades. Maybe don’t worry about spending on recruiting quite as much. Maybe in the world of recruiting it’s just as much about the skill of your staff and luck as it is how much money you spend.