Big Spending on Recruiting Pays Off for Georgia and Alabama: Data Viz

·3 min read

The College Football Playoff championship game once again features two of the sport’s biggest spenders. Alabama and Georgia, however, separate themselves from the country’s richest teams in one particular category: recruiting.

For three straight years, the SEC foes have been the two most extravagant spenders in recruiting. The only other school to exceed even two-thirds of Georgia’s $9.04 million spent during that timespan is Alabama ($7.08 million), which in turn has spent a million more than Tennessee ($5.87 million), the next closest program.

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Those numbers come from budgets that schools submit annually through the NCAA’s Membership Financial Report System, and which have been gathered in Sportico’s Intercollegiate Finances Database. In the recruiting category, schools are instructed to report expenses for “transportation, lodging and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits, telephone call charges, postage and such” and to “include value of use of the institution's own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation.”

That said, accounting practices are not identical for all athletic departments, so comparisons are not necessarily apples to apples. Georgia did not own an airplane during those years like some other schools, and therefore had to pay for expensive charter flights for its coaches to reach many prospects across the country in a short period of time.

Finances aside, the quality of the two 2021-22 CFP finalists’ recent recruiting classes reveals a clear organizational investment by both. According to 247Sports rankings, Alabama and Georgia have both drawn top five classes in each of the past three cycles.

Georgia’s rise to the top of the recruiting power rankings in 2018 was a change from the first half of the 2010s, when the program finished outside of the top 10 multiple times. That was back when the Bulldogs spent less on recruiting: a mere $583,000 in 2013, for instance. Over the following five years, no Power Five school increased its recruiting expenses by a larger percentage.

Granted, high school prospects are attracted to programs due to many factors, the expenses for which are not always listed under the recruiting category—most notably, coaches. Indeed, Alabama and Georgia took big jumps in the recruiting class rankings in the years directly following the hirings of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart, respectively. Both schools pay their head coaches more than $7 million annually.

And athletes' NIL earnings potential may factor into future recruiting decisions. At least that's what Smart thinks. "You're going to have the haves and have-nots and the separations that's already there is going to grow larger," Smart said on Sunday. "And the schools that have the capacity and the ability and are more competitive in the NIL market are going to be schools that step ahead on top of other schools. So I don't want decisions to be based on that, but ultimately a lot of young men want to make their decision based on that."

The actual recruiting expenses category, as defined by the NCAA, is small, accounting for less than 6% of Georgia’s overall football budget and less than 4% of Alabama’s, but the on-field results, at least, show that an investment in this area has paid dividends for both schools. Perhaps just one tasty filet mignon can have a big enough impact on a prospect visiting campus to turn him into a commit—and a future starter in a national championship game.