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Recruiting + Revenue: A Closer Look at What Success Looks Like in CFB

How tied are money and success in this sport?

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Ed. Note: We talk a lot about recruiting and all the tentacles of recruiting every day either on our site or in The Chamber, our forum. Mostly because it’s worth talking about given its importance within any college athletics program. But also because it’s fun. Sometimes-contributor and always-smart football guy, Adam Lunt, recently did some research that he shared on The Chamber, but I wanted to pop on our site for all of you to see. Here it is.

I did a bunch of research on recruiting last year. Basically the summary is that money is almost everything, and OSU can’t win a national title with the current landscape. These numbers are dated since I did this about 13 months ago (December 2018). I think Clemson is at $120m in revenue for last numbers reported. But they’re the outlier. The principals of the thing remain true despite the datedness.

First, let’s look at the recruiting ranking over last six recruiting cycles via 247, and how successful those schools were over that time period.

Tier 1: Average recruiting ranking of 1-10.99

• Alabama
• Georgia
• Ohio State
• LSU
• USC
• FSU
• Auburn
• Clemson
• Oklahoma

Now some facts. Remember, this was done in December 2018, in case you’re wondering why the numbers don’t totally match to January 2020.

1. This group has an average recruiting ranking of 1-10.99
2. This group has won all five CFP championships
3. This group has occupied 16 of the 20 available spots in the CFP
4. This group has made 19 conference title games (2.11 CCG appearances/team).
5. This group is 16-3 in conference title games.
6. This group has an average revenue of a little over $150 million and average revenue ranking of No. 9 with no team generating less than $113 million.
7. This group averaged 10.5 wins/season

Tier 2: Average recruiting Ranking of 11-25.99

• Texas A&M
• Florida
• Tennessee
• Notre Dame
• Miami
• Stanford
• Ole Miss
• Texas
• UCLA
• Michigan
• Oregon
• Penn State
• South Carolina
• Washington
• Mississippi State

Now some facts. Remember, this was done in December 2018, in case you’re wondering why the numbers don’t totally match to January 2020.

1. This group has an average recruiting ranking of 11-25.99.
2. This group has won 0 CFP championships.
3. This group has occupied 3 of the 20 available spots in the CFP.
4. This group has made 9 conference title games, 0.6 CCG appearances/team.
5. This group is 5-4 in conference title games.
6. This group has an average revenue of just under $150 million, with no team generating less than $100 million.
7. This group averaged 7.95 wins/season.

Tier 3: Recruiting Rankings of 26+ with coaches that have been there 4+ years and consistent bowl teams (similar to OSU)

• Virginia Tech
• Michigan State
• Oklahoma State
• Wisconsin
• TCU
• Washington State
• Iowa
• Northwestern

Now some facts. Remember, this was done in December 2018, in case you’re wondering why the numbers don’t totally match to January 2020.

1. This group has an average recruiting ranking of 26+ (plus a tenured coach and unique playing style).
2. This group has won 0 CFP championships.
3. This group has occupied 1 of the 20 available spots in the CFP.
4. This group has made 8 conference title games, (1 CCG appearances/team).
5. This group is 1-7 in conference title games.
6. This group has average revenue of just over $100 million, with no team generating less than $64 million.
7. This group averaged 8.78 wins/season.

My Takeaways

1. There are zero teams in the top 25 in recruiting rankings that are outside of the top 31 in revenue rankings. Direct correlation with revenue being a condition to be able to recruit well. Good revenue doesn’t always mean good recruiting (Iowa, Wisconsin for example), but that is the exception, not the rule.

2. To recruit at top-25 level you need to hit $116 million threshold.

3. To recruit at top-10 level you have to win AND hit the $140 million threshold. Clemson is the exception, recruiting at an average ranking of 10 at $113 million. Be like Clemson.

4. To win a national title you need to recruit at top-10 level and be top 15 in revenue. The floor is around $140 million. Exception is Clemson. Be like Clemson.

5. Tier 2 average revenue is essentially the same as Tier 1, even if you take Texas and TAMU out they still average $140 million. Which means execution establishes the difference between Tier 1 and Tier 2, not resources.

To make a conference title game, there are no real correlations between any recruiting rankings or revenue thresholds outside of the Tier 1. You’re twice as likely to make a conference title game recruiting at a top 10 level, and you’re actually more likely to make a conference title game if you have program stability and player retention with low revenue, than recruiting at 11-26 level and poor execution. Meaning better execution (teams in Tier 3) are able to make up the difference to a certain threshold, but when you mix money and execution, the gap is too large.

Additionally, I went back and looked at classes from 2014 and 2015 to figure out how many players stayed around for 3-4 years, and how many transferred or were dismissed from the program.

My Takeaways

1. Teams that are doing more with their classes are only losing 20-25 percent of their class to transfer. Penn State, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State all had significantly lower-ranked classes than Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee but ended up with higher win total over the six-season period I tracked (9.5 vs. 7.6) because they retained a higher percentage of their players of the course of their career.

2. This means that player development/retention is more important than recruiting at a good (not great) level.

3. Player retention has become even more important given the 25-player class limits set by NCAA.

4. Being a transfer-friendly program will become as important as recruiting. You need to be on cutting edge of transfers because even top recruits are more willing to consider programs in the Tier 3 after spending a few seasons at a blueblood. Recruits become more practical in their decision-making process once they transfer — finding places that make sense for them instead of falling for what is fanciest at the moment.

Were talking about 17-18 year old kids making decisions vs. 20-21 year olds making decisions. Big difference.

5. Alabama is winning on all levels. They’re recruiting at the highest level and retaining/developing their players.

This was small sample size, transfers are a problem at all programs. But as you can see they’re program killers at some. A few programs are able to replenish quickly, and other programs are able to retain players and become transfer destinations and are thriving.

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