The phone was ringing off the hook at the Romney household in 2017 as college recruiters from across the country set their sights on signing wide receiver Gunner Romney, who received his first college offer his sophomore year of high school.
Offers from across the country only exploded from then on. With top schools across the country chasing him, Romney chose to commit to BYU early during his junior year because of his dislike of the recruiting process.
“BYU was my dream school growing up, but I obviously considered other schools,” he said. “My top three in the end were BYU, Oregon and Arizona State.”
This was the start of Romney living his dream of playing college football, and many other athletes like him achieve that same dream on National Signing Day every year. BYU has signed many promising players from across the country since then, but the game of recruiting is not easily won.
Universities across the country have massive fan bases — and massive bank accounts. Many university athletics programs run like small, or in some cases, rather large businesses. Football is the greatest revenue generator and simultaneously has the greatest following among fans, followed closely by basketball for most NCAA Division I schools. BYU athletics is no exception.
BYU generated $38.5 million in revenue from men’s team sports alone during 2017 according to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis. Compared to the rest of Division I schools, BYU ranked 66th in overall revenue generated by men’s athletics, with rival school University of Utah generating over $27 million more.
The top schools generally found at the top of football rankings each year, include University of Alabama, University of Michigan, University of Texas and Ohio State University. These schools are also at the top of the men’s team sport revenue list, bringing in well over $100 million a year, with University of Texas leading bringing in $170.4 million in 2017 alone.
Recruiting has become an integral part of these businesses, but it is not free. Millions of dollars each year go toward acquiring the best athletes by funding scholarships, recruitment efforts and referral programs.
There is a direct correlation between a university’s recruitment expenses and the quality of the recruits. The top schools in recruitment rankings will almost always spend the most money in recruitment expenses. The correlation between financial investment and ranking is clearly shown in the below graph comparing yearly recruiting expenses acquired from the EADA to recruitment rankings published by Watch Stadium.
These numbers are simply gross revenue without other expenses like operating costs taken out. The expenses required to run massive programs like those at top schools are incredibly high. Recruiting is one expense that can see a direct return on investment, as more recruiting expenses typically mean better prospective athletes for university athletics.
Recruitment program rankings are put out each year based on the number of commits, the star value of commits and the point value associated with those commits. The top football programs attract top high school athletes from all across the country and have high recruitments, but they pay the price — usually over $2 million a year.
Not all programs are like these top universities. BYU, in contrast, ranked 81st of 127 Division I football programs and spends around $850,000 a year in recruiting expenses.
Stacking up around the state, the University of Utah ranked 42nd and spends about $1.5 million a year on recruiting. The difference in recruiting and the influence that schools have across the nation could stem from more than just money. It could also be attributed to the fact that BYU is independent while most other Division I schools are in a conference.
In comparison, the University of Utah left the Mountain West Conference and joined the PAC-12 Conference in 2010 after its undefeated 2009 season that ended in a Sugar Bowl win.
The difference in financial standings between BYU and these top programs should not be ignored. Using data from the EADA comparing the 2016 and 2017 financial reports on athletic spending between BYU and Utah alongside athletic powerhouse Alabama, BYU has the greatest increase in revenue at 17.6%, yet it decreased its recruiting expenses by 16.2%.
Both Utah and Alabama increased their recruiting expenses as their revenue increased. BYU also experienced a slight increase of 2.4% in the cost of athletic aid, while both Alabama and Utah increased a larger percentage.
BYU does not have a higher percentage of financial burden concerning athletic scholarships and pays less per student than most Division I schools. BYU Football is allotted 85 athletic scholarships a season, which usually include tuition, housing and books.
BYU’s athletic scholarships require less money since BYU’s tuition is substantially lower. Male athletes attending BYU on average get $9,467 a year, which makes up just 9.2% of the men’s team’s yearly revenue. Most Division I programs spend within 4% of what BYU makes in yearly revenue and rank higher in recruiting.
Choosing which school to commit to is about a lot more than just money for many high school athletes going through the recruiting process. BYU sophomore and wide receiver Dax Milne passed on scholarship opportunities at multiple Division II schools to come to BYU as a preferred walk-on.
“I’ve always wanted to be playing at the highest level,” Milne said. “It was nice to get offers, but I always wanted to play D1 ball which made me look to my preferred walk-ons.”
Milne had recruiting contact with BYU and knew that choosing to play for the school as a preferred walk-on would mean playing without a scholarship, but he said it was worth the experience of playing at the level he always wanted to. He chose BYU largely because of his personal relationship with wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake.
Both Milne and Romney are now full scholarship athletes at BYU after walking away from similar offers around the country. BYU also signed four-star recruit Jacob Conover — a player recruited by major schools like Alabama — out of Chandler, Arizona, in 2018.
So how does BYU compete with these programs in the game of recruiting? The answer is legacy. Major Division I schools rely on their reputation and financial power to recruit top players, while BYU relies on legacy and community ties.
“BYU was actually my first offer my sophomore year,” Romney said. “I have had family members come through here, so when I did get that offer, all of my extended family and all of my friends were stoked because it’s a legacy school for me.”
Programs with deep pockets have the advantage in the recruiting game due to facilities, coaches and clout within the football community. For players, the glamour of national and conference championships will always be a draw because they have dedicated their lives to their sport.
However, BYU will always have the advantage of legacy that often makes the game for players, like Romney, more meaningful.