Courtship series: Recruiting budget determines options

Sunday, December 26, 2010
Purdue coach Matt Painter questions a call against IPFW during their game Tuesday in West Lafayette, Ind. (MICHAEL CONROY ~ Associated Press)

The amount University of Texas men's basketball coach Rick Barnes and his staff spent on rental cars during recruiting last year equaled more than half of Southeast Missouri State's entire recruiting expenditures over the same period.

Barnes and his staff shelled out $25,849.12 to rent vehicles, while Redhawks coach Dickey Nutt tried to stretch $50,221 as far as possible.

Purdue coach Matt Painter and his staff spent $13,867.91 on recruiting subscriptions last year, which was 27.6 percent of Nutt's total budget.

Men's basketball coaches at mid-major programs must try to compete with limited recruiting resources while the nation's premier programs reap the benefits of budgets as much as seven times greater than their brethren competing in less prestigious conferences.

The odds of landing top-tier recruits are stacked against mid-major programs because of budgetary constraints, but the coaches with fewer resources argue that wisely using what's available provides the key to success.

Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt talks with his team during a timeout against Hannibal-LaGrange earlier this month at the Show Me Center. This is Nutt's second season as the Redhawks' coach. (Laura Simon)

"Our budget is fine," Nutt said. "We go just about anywhere we want to go, but we have to be very smart. We can't make any mistakes. We have to be very organized."

The Southeast Missourian used the Freedom of Information Act to request recruiting expenditures for 2007, 2008 and 2009 from all the public universities in the Ohio Valley, Big Ten, Big 12 and Southeastern conferences as well as the public universities that reached the Sweet 16 in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Of the 54 possible schools that fall into those categories, 30 provided the requested information, which is reported each year to the NCAA. Of the 30 schools, six belong to the OVC, six are Big Ten members, seven are in the Big 12 and five are SEC schools. The remaining six schools are from other conferences but reached the Sweet 16 in at least one of the previous three NCAA tournaments.

A study of the data provided reveals that Southeast Missouri State falls at the low end of the spectrum when compared to the teams that reached the Sweet 16 in the previous three years. But Southeast's men's basketball recruiting resources fall in line with the OVC schools that accommodated the request for information.

The NCAA provides specific requirements for what universities are required to report as recruiting expenses. Those expenses are defined as "transportation, lodging and meals for prospective student-athletes and institutional personnel on official and unofficial visits, telephone call charges, postage and such. Include value of use of institution's own vehicles or airplanes as well as in-kind value of loaned or contributed transportation."

"What's the most important thing you can spend money on for your program?" said Providence coach Keno Davis, a former Southeast assistant. "I can't see how recruiting can't be at the top of the list. I've been at schools where the funds haven't been what we've liked. No matter how good a coach you are, you're not going to win without players."

Texas coach Rick Barnes, center, talks to his team during a stop in play against North Carolina during their game earlier this month. (CHUCK BURTON ~ Associated Press)

Southeast reported spending $46,898 in 2007, which was more than Tennessee Tech, Tennessee Martin and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, but SIU-E competed at the Division II level and wasn't a member of the OVC yet. But the nine schools that made the Sweet 16 in 2008 and provided the requested information all enjoyed more recruiting resources than Southeast in 2007. Kansas, which won the national championship, reported spending $210,703 in 2007.

Southeast spent $73,741 in 2008, which was the most of any OVC school that provided information. The Redhawks even topped regional rival Southern Illinois-Carbondale, which reportedly spent $60,881. But it didn't compare to 2009 national champion North Carolina, which dished out $130,379 in 2008.

Only Murray State outspent Southeast in the OVC in 2009, when the Redhawks reported $50,221 to Murray State's $54,929. Southeast finished 7-23 and Murray State went 31-5 last season.

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford knows the budgetary restrictions OVC coaches face. Ford was the Eastern Kentucky coach from 2000-01 through 2004-05. He led the Colonels to the 2005 NCAA tournament before leaving for the University of Massachusetts then Oklahoma State.

"There's no question my recruiting budget is a hell of a lot more than it was at Eastern Kentucky," Ford said. "When I was there, I didn't think about I didn't have enough money or anything like that. ... Whatever you had, you made the best out of it and didn't spend much time thinking about what everybody else had."

Missouri coach Mike Anderson watches his team against Central Arkansas during a game earlier this season in Columbia, Mo. (L.G. PATTERSON ~ Associated Press)

Purdue's Painter also spent time perfecting his coaching technique in the OVC. He worked as an assistant at Eastern Illinois from 1995 to 1998 then moved to Southern Illinois, where he first was an assistant then the coach before landing at Purdue. In 2009, Purdue reported spending $133,035, while SIU came in at $105,656 and EIU at $22,957.

"You obviously have more resources to fly and to see guys," Painter said about the advantages of a larger budget. "But at all those places, at Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois and even at Purdue, we mainly stay in our area. We'll branch out and recruit some prep school kids and some junior college kids at times, but for the most part, we really stayed in our area at Eastern Illinois."

Most coaches agree that the key to stretching a budget, whether EIU's $22,957 or Kansas' $380,548, is to channel the resources into a coach's knowledge base.

"Our budget doesn't affect us because we're smart enough to know where we need to recruit at," SIU coach Chris Lowery said. "We could blow money and go places we don't know as well or we can do it the right way and target areas we've had good success with like St. Louis and Chicago."

Missouri coach Mike Anderson spent 17 years as an assistant at Arkansas before taking the reins at Alabama-Birmingham and now Missouri. He's proud of mining his players from limited regions.

"The area that we live in, we have a chance to recruit our state," he said. "We have three or four guys from the Kansas City area. Recruiting, it's a cycle. There are certain places. Memphis was good to us at Arkansas and we have a kid from Memphis on our basketball team."

But harvesting talent from familiar areas only goes so far. That's one way to stretch limited resources, but when a program like Kansas enjoys seven times more recruiting resources than a program like Southeast, it's almost impossible to compete.

The University of Kentucky, one of the winningest programs in the nation, reported spending $242,221 in 2008. The Wildcats' cost for communication alone -- telephones, postage and freight -- hit $45,557. That's just $28,184 less than Southeast's entire expenditures that year.

Alabama, which finished 17-15 last season, spent $196,516 on recruiting in 2009, and $20,517 was just for postage. It spent another $11,790 on food and catering to entertain recruits.

The University of Texas reached the Sweet 16 in 2008 under Barnes. It reported spending $194,323 in 2007. The university's expenditures report for that year is filled with car rental receipts and airplane tickets from around the country.

Painter said that the biggest advantage to the increased resources is the ability to change directions quickly and take advantage of more flights, even on short notice.

"You do have a little bit more resources and a little bit more money in terms of following guys and sticking with guys and being able to do some travel maybe at the last minute," he said. "Maybe that's kind of the difference. At those places, especially Eastern Illinois, when you set your travel, any time there was a change, there was a fee change and you just can't do that."

Recruiting budgets that topped $100,000 weren't required to advance to the Sweet 16. Of the nine teams in the 2008 round of 16 that responded, Wisconsin's $58,308 and UCLA's $83,602 were the two that remained below $100K. One of the five teams in the 2009 Sweet 16 that responded, Michigan State's $92,758 barely stayed south of $100K. Two of the seven 2010 Sweet 16 teams that responded reported spending less than $100K, and Northern Iowa's $43,824 actually was $6,397 less than Southeast's expenses that year.

Nutt, who is in his second year at Southeast, acknowledges his role in the budget allotment.

"Sure, everybody would like more money, but at the end of the day it's all about winning," he said. "When we win we draw more fans and your budget becomes better. Before I start asking for things we have to put a winning team on the floor."

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