IOWA CITY — Urban Meyer arrived at Ohio State 14 months ago with a national title pedigree and a penchant for recruiting excellence. As expected, the two-time national championship coach has shook up the Big Ten’s football culture, and the league’s recruiting costs have skyrocketed.
Meyer has turned the Buckeyes from a regional powerhouse into a national recruiting behemoth. According to Rivals, Meyer 24-member 2013 class ranks second nationally. It includes 11 players from Ohio, down from 14 two years ago under former coach Jim Tressel. Meyer picked off top-tier talent in Georgia, Texas, Florida and the Carolinas as well as his former home turf in Florida.
His cutthroat style is in direct contrast to the Big Ten’s previous recruiting image. But that’s what the league needed, national football recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said.
“Urban Meyer, I think, is the best thing to happen to the Big Ten in a long time,” Lemming said. “He came from the Southeastern Conference, and he understands what it takes to be an elite team.
“He understands you can’t let down in recruiting. You have to have a great year every year if you want to be able to compete. I think with him doing that and trying to dominate the Big Ten — which he did this year, he was 12-0 — the other schools have to follow suit or take a chance on embarrassing themselves. I think they’ll follow suit.”
The Big Ten’s football programs already have followed suit financially. At least eight Big Ten programs increased football recruiting expenses in the 2012 fiscal year, according to records supplied by 10 league schools to The Gazette via the Freedom of Information Act. Only two schools did not send information to The Gazette: Northwestern and Penn State. As a private school, Northwestern is not required to submit financial information. A Penn State official said the school is waiting for auditors to certify the report.
Overall, the 10 league schools saw their recruiting expenses increase by a combined $720,177 from 2011 to 2012. Iowa’s recruiting costs soared by more than $96,000 to a program-high $403,305. That’s nearly double what the Hawkeyes spent on football recruiting in fiscal year 2010. But that’s still lower than at least six other Big Ten programs.
Both Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta and football coach Kirk Ferentz downplayed the increase.
“We tried to do what we have to do,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know where it ranks with other teams, but it’s not getting any cheaper, obviously. And I would imagine it’s a big expense for everybody right now. And it’s probably a bigger challenge when you have to travel more to get to prospects.”
Nebraska’s recruiting expenses surged by nearly $275,000 to a whopping $752,681. It was by far the most recruiting dollars spent by any Big Ten school in the 2012 fiscal year.
Nebraska’s cost explosion coincides with it joining the Big Ten in 2011. Sean Callahan, publisher of Rivals’ HuskerOnline.com, said the school maintained its traditional recruiting bases and now scours Ohio and other Big Ten venues for prospects. Nebraska averages around 1,100 to 1,200 miles covered per recruit, Callahan said.
“Very few schools recruit everything: California, Texas and Florida, along with the Midwest,” Callahan said. “You don’t see a lot of the other Big Ten teams do all three.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of ground in which Nebraska tries to cover because they are the smallest populated state in the BCS.”
Minnesota bumped up its recruiting expenses by more than $195,000 and Indiana’s grew by $123,630. Illinois spent the second most among league schools at $614,529 and its costs increased by nearly $70,000. Only Michigan and Purdue saw recruiting expenses shrink, but both spent more than $400,000. Ohio State’s growth in fiscal-year expenses — half of which Meyer accumulated — was modest at $24,049.
Of the 10 reporting schools — plus future Big Ten members Rutgers and Maryland — only three-time league champion Wisconsin spent less than $333,000 on recruiting. The Badgers’ total was $212,045, up by $7,864 from 2011.
Future expenses expect to inflate after the NCAA voted last month to deregulate several key components in recruiting. Schools now will be able to hire separate recruiting staffs rather than embed those duties with a current assistant. Every coach now can leave campus, rather than one staying home at all times. Starting July 1, restrictions are lifted on the method and frequency of contact between school representatives and potential recruits. Contact between schools and prospects now can begin before the recruit’s junior year.
Schools also can send unlimited recruiting materials to recruits. Previously it was restricted by size and volume.
“The NCAA sort of threw their hands up, ‘We can’t monitor all of this, so we’ll just allow everybody to do what they want,’” Lemming said. “So July 1, you’ll see some schools with 12 or 13 people in their recruiting department.”
Traditional Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan taking advantage of the new regulations, Lemming said. If the league has yet to embrace Meyer’s recruiting prowess, it will do so very quickly, he said. That includes everything from aggressiveness to cost.“I think the urgency will come once Ohio State gets off probation and dominates the league along with Michigan,” Lemming said. “Michigan has that sense of urgency. It has to keep pace with Ohio State. All of the rest of the schools have to do that or suffer the consequences.”