LEXINGTON, Ky. — Signatures are at the finish line in college football’s recruiting race and Kentucky has devoted more resources to acquiring them during Mark Stoops’ tenure than ever before.
The Kentucky athletic department devoted an annual average of $514,483 to football recruiting in fiscal years 2013-16, according to NCAA membership financial reports obtained by SEC Country. The cost is more than $150,000 higher on average per year than what the school was spending from 2010-12, the three years before Stoops’ first recruiting class.
Schools self-report their line-by-line expenses each fiscal year to the NCAA. Recruiting expenses, as stated in the reports, encompass the following: “Transportation, lodging and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits, telephone call charges, postage, value of use of institution’s own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation.”
The numbers under Stoops are a significant increase even factoring inflation. The $279,006 spent on recruiting in 2010 would equal roughly $307,092 in 2016, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor inflation calculator. But Kentucky spent $469,804 on football recruiting in 2016 and that elevated number was still down almost $100,000 from the $568,873 spent in 2015.
SEC Country did not obtain membership reports from the other schools in the conference to serve as a comparison, but the most recently reported 2014 numbers as obtained by the Chronicle of Education shows Kentucky’s current recruiting costs are lower than older numbers of some institutions.
Auburn spent $1,280,265 on football recruiting in 2014 — the most in the SEC. The Tigers were followed by Alabama ($1,275,684), Georgia ($717,092) and Arkansas ($686,514).
While still behind the aforementioned conference colleagues, Kentucky has seen recruiting class rankings rise along with the costs involved. Stoops’ 2014 class was ranked No. 22 nationally by 247Sports — the program’s best recruiting class since rankings were implemented.
Kentucky has a chance to equal or better that mark with the 2017 class. The Wildcats currently sit 23rd nationally and eighth in the SEC with National Signing Day approaching on Feb. 1. But the correlation between more money spent on recruiting leading to better recruiting classes may not be causation.
Like resources, relationships are also a factor in recruiting and that’s a facet Stoops and his staff focus on.
“I think it starts with the head coach,” tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow said. “Where we come up, we’re from Youngstown, (Ohio). It’s always been a blue-collar town, two-parent homes. Didn’t make a lot of money, went to church — we just did stuff as a family. I think Stoops took that thing right to here and that’s what he believes when we recruit.”
His home state of Ohio is where Marrow shines as a recruiter. Four of Kentucky’s top six commitments in its 2017 class hail from the Buckeye State. All four were recruited by Marrow, who was named the second-best recruiter in the conference by SEC Country.
Florida is home to seven of Kentucky’s 2017 commitments — more than any other state. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran just finished his first season in Lexington but has already made significant recruiting inroads in Florida.
While there’s no science to say with certainty, Stoops and his staff are most likely a more prominent factor in Kentucky’s recent recruiting surge than the influx of funds dedicated to recruiting. But despite a dip in expenses from fiscal years 2015 to 2016, the athletic department has shown a willingness to spend more on recruiting with Stoops at the helm than it did for his predecessors.
Kentucky will secure another collection of signatures on Feb. 1. Each will come at a cost.
More than $2 million has been spent on recruiting in Stoops’ four years at Kentucky — about $21,000 per signee.