It’s July, a relatively slow time for Central Indiana sports, right?
Not for college basketball coaches trying to make the most of four-day opportunities to watch recruits play — what the NCAA calls “evaluation periods.”
From Wednesday night until Friday night, this was the charter flight schedule of Indiana University coach Tom Crean: Bloomington to Chicago to Atlanta to New York to Washington, D.C., to Milwaukee to St. Louis to Dallas.
“If we had to try to do that commercially, it’s impossible,” deputy athletic director Scott Dolson said. “You can’t. You just can’t.”
That fast pace helps explain, in part, why IU’s recruiting expenses for men’s basketball were by far the highest in the Big Ten for 2013-14, the latest figures available. The Hoosiers spent $673,708. (The school said its itemized recruiting expense report, which lists $716,888 in expenses, included charges that shouldn’t have been attributed to recruiting.)
That’s well ahead of the next-closest team, Illinois ($431,327). IU spent more than three times as much as Purdue ($197,208) and more than 10 times as much as Wisconsin ($62,082).
And the Badgers made it to last season’s national championship game.
Dolson and a national recruiting expert, however, say those numbers don’t mean the Hoosiers are working harder than everyone else or spending indiscriminately.
Dolson said the Indiana University Foundation stopped maintaining its own airplanes about seven years ago. That forced the athletic department to pay more for charter airplanes or to find donors willing to donate airplane time.
A Purdue spokesman said the school uses university-owned planes for recruiting, but the head coach must be on the plane and the trip has to be approved by the athletic director.
Brian Snow, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said Crean does more in-season recruiting than most head coaches.
Asked whether Crean’s frenetic style on the sidelines during games carries into recruiting, Snow said, “He certainly has a little of that reputation, as far as always recruiting, always wanting to recruit more. But at the same time, not to the extent that it would affect their expenses. … Coaches go to the same events. It’s not like there are so many days to recruit. I think it’s probably bookkeeping.”
Despite attempts over several years to achieve consistent accounting among schools filing the NCAA report, Dolson said schools might differ.
“It’s hard to say if you’re comparing apples to apples,” Dolson said. “I would guess not.”
Yet IU’s own men’s basketball recruiting expenses, as reported to the NCAA, quadrupled from 2010-11 to 2013-14.
The Hoosiers have expanded their recruiting to the east coast, just as the Big Ten has expanded in that direction. Dolson said, however, that recruits of interest to IU, from Indiana, were at each of Crean’s stops Thursday and Friday.
“We’ve got great support from people, but we’re in Bloomington, a smaller market, and the availability of private air isn’t what it is in some of the bigger cities in terms of the donor planes,” Dolson said.
IU’s itemized recruiting expenses in 2013-14 included $569,817 for chartered airplanes.
Dolson said Crean is “extremely conscientious, making sure we’re efficient budget-wise as well. He might even jump in with another coach, believe it or not, on their airplane, or have another coach fly on ours, even though they’re competing.”
Other examples of expenses include $3,848 for airfare for three people on the official campus recruiting visit of Goodluck Okonoboh, who signed with Nevada-Las Vegas, and $13,155 for subscriptions to recruiting publications with names such as PrepTracker E-News, Illinois Prep Bulls-Eye Recruiting Service and DunkDog.com Scouting Service.
Putting aside any questions about whether recruiting expenses are proper in a university environment, sports economist Brad Humphreys of the University of West Virginia said they make perfect sense strictly in terms of the college sports business.
“Recruiting expenses will naturally be high in intercollegiate athletics because athletes are not paid a salary,” Humphreys said. “Schools cannot compete for players by offering them more compensation, because it is explicitly not allowed. So schools compete on a (non-salary) basis. One way schools compete on a (non-salary) basis is by spending more on recruiting.”
IU basketball brought in $22.2 million in 2013-14. Dolson said the athletic department has no concerns about recruiting expenses.
“I think we’re spending very efficiently,” he said. “We’ve made and continue to make — like the Assembly Hall renovations — sound, prudent investments in men’s basketball, as we should. It’s the premier high-profile sport for us. We want to give them the resources to succeed.”
BIG TEN MEN’S BASKETBALL RECRUITING EXPENSES, 2013-14
1. Indiana: $673,708
2. Illinois: $431,327
3. Nebraska: $416,096
4. Minnesota: $359,056
5. Iowa: $291,811
6. Michigan St.: $256,167
7. Michigan: $234,090
8. Ohio St.: $226,226
9. Purdue: $197,208
10. Rutgers: $111,178
11. Maryland: $104,889
12. Wisconsin: $62,082
Source: NCAA financial reports
Note: Northwestern is not included because it’s a private school and is not subject to public records laws. Penn St. is a public school, but Pennsylvania law does not require disclosure of the NCAA financial report.