What recruiting budgets tell us about each Big Ten football program
Nationally, no football program pours more money into recruiting than Georgia. And the proof has been in the pudding with the Bulldogs winning back-to-back national championships.
But it also doesn’t guarantee success on the recruiting trail or on the field, as we can glean from USA Today’s recent analysis of Power 5 recruiting budgets. (Data is only available for public universities, so you won’t find anything about Northwestern here.)
In the Big Ten, there are quite a few surprises.
2022 Big Ten football recruiting budgets
- Michigan: $2,240,064
- Rutgers: $1,609,032
- Penn State: $1,486,521
- Maryland: $1,380,974
- Ohio State: $1,292,799
- Illinois: $1,157,460
- Minnesota: $1,127,389
- Nebraska: $1,020,050
- Michigan State: $955,303
- Purdue: $878,651
- Wisconsin: $857,490
- Indiana: $826,713
- Iowa: $577,589
Average annual recruiting budget, 2017-22
- Michigan: $1,353,431
- Penn State: $1,240,848
- Nebraska: $937,279
- Minnesota: $904,139
- Rutgers: $879,494
- Ohio State: $845,113
- Illinois: $749,850
- Michigan State: $721,879
- Maryland: $683,200
- Indiana: $606,147
- Purdue: $602,360
- Iowa: $459,128
- Wisconsin: $392,724
Big Ten and national recruiting rankings, Class of 2023
- Ohio State (5th nationally)
- Penn State (13th)
- Michigan (17th)
- Michigan State (23rd)
- Nebraska (24th)
- Maryland (36th)
- Iowa (40th)
- Illinois (43rd)
- Minnesota (44th)
- Northwestern (46th)
- Rutgers (57th)
- Wisconsin (58th)
- Purdue (67th)
- Indiana (72nd)
Ohio State: The brand that sells itself
Perhaps the most surprising revelation is how Ohio State continues to dominate the Big Ten in recruiting without overspending.
The Buckeyes had the top-ranked signing class in the Big Ten despite “only” spending $1.2 million in 2022, which ranked 5th among league members.
With the exception of 2019, when Ryan Day took over for Urban Meyer and created a temporary ounce of uncertainty, Ohio State has inked the B1G’s top class every year since 2017-18. Yet over that same period, the Buckeyes are somewhat surprisingly 6th in overall recruiting budget.
This would suggest that the Buckeye brand largely sells itself. And whatever official visit swag Ohio State is lacking compared to, say, Rutgers, is more than made up for when guys know they’ll be picked in the first round in 3 years.
Iowa: The ultimate bang for your buck
There’s a line from The Music Man that feels pertinent to Iowa’s recruiting budget. From the song “Iowa Stubborn”:
What the heck, you’re welcome
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Some 65 years after that was written, the nature of Iowa hasn’t changed much. Nice place. Just don’t expect anybody to splurge to impress you.
The Hawkeyes spent 12th of the 13 available schools in 2022, and are dead last in the category over the 5-year average. No word on whether recruits had to pack their own sack lunches.
Yet Kirk Ferentz still turned that into the Big Ten’s No. 7 signing class in 2023. And Iowa has never finished worse than 8-5 in the past 5 years. You can always count on the Hawkeyes doing more with less.
Though you can’t help but wonder what might happen if Iowa ever tried doing more with more.
What is Rutgers spending money on here?
From those who do more with less to those who do less with more.
The phrase jaw-dropping comes to mind for Rutgers. Because it literally happened in this case. Rutgers was not the school I expected to see right after Michigan for the most money spent on recruiting.
But it makes sense. There’s sort of a “nerdy millionaire pays for a mail-order bride” element to the thing given the desperation of the situation. And Greg Schiano earned a reputation as a heck of a recruiter the first time he turned the Scarlet Knights around in the 2000s.
But only signing the Big Ten’s No. 11 class after spending $1.6 million to woo those players is a bit of a letdown. Iowa signed a better class on one-third of Rutgers’ budget. And Ohio State spent less recruiting the nation’s No. 5 class than Rutgers did on the nation’s No. 57 class.
Mel Tucker can talk you into anything
Mel Tucker isn’t a particularly dynamic speaker when he’s in a press conference. But he must have a completely different personality when talking to recruits and their families, because he’s squeezing a lot of juice from Michigan State’s budget.
The Spartans have signed the Big Ten’s No. 4 class 2 of the 3 years he’s been in East Lansing. But Michigan State’s recruiting budget was only 9th in the B1G in 2022 and 8th over the past 5 years.
Minnesota a surprising spender
Even after looking at the 5 years of data compiled by USA Today, I found myself triple-checking to make sure Minnesota has spent more on recruiting than Ohio State over the past 5 years. For football. The Golden Gophers have literally never signed a 5-star recruit.
But it makes sense. Minnesota is doing what Rutgers is attempting to replicate — overspending its way to respectable signing classes. And when it works, it’s no longer overspending. It’s investing.
PJ Fleck is doing what it takes to keep a program that hasn’t won the Big Ten in 56 years competitive.
What’s going on, Wisconsin?
Wisconsin finally boosted its recruiting budget in 2022, moving up to 11th in the B1G with $857,490 spent. But over the past 5 years as a whole, the Badgers are shockingly behind their peers in the department. Wisconsin’s average recruiting budget is $60,000 a year behind 13th-place Iowa.
And remember, that’s with a pretty significant 2022 boost. When you remove 2022 from the budget, Wisconsin averaged $374,714 per year on recruiting. That’s by far the least of any Power 5 program. And presumably behind several Group of 5 programs.
Expect that to change with Luke Fickell running the show. It’s unlikely he would have left Cincinnati without permission to do so.