Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham continually speaks about the importance of recruiting, and the Utes' commitment is more than just talk.
Utah spends more than $1 million per year to recruit football players. That’s roughly $40,000 for each scholarship athlete who joins the program and is the biggest investment of any of the 10 public schools in the Pac-12, according to public records studied by WatchStadium.com for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“I'm happy to hear that, because that's the most important thing we do,” Whittingham said.
Oregon’s well-funded athletic program is the only one that comes close to Utah’s figures among the public schools in the Pac-12 (Stanford and USC are exempt from financial reporting as private schools). Even in the big-spending Southeastern Conference, only four schools exceeded $1 million in recruiting expenses — although Georgia spent $2.6 million.
Ute assistant coach Freddie Whittingham, the staff’s recruiting coordinator, labeled the report “a manifestation that our money is where our mouth is, in recruiting.”
Utah’s $1.05 million recruiting budget is not broken down on the school’s website, but Oregon’s example suggests that about two-thirds of costs are associated with air travel and hosting of prospects. Schools are allowed to bring in 56 recruits annually for official visits and can sign up to 25 players in December and February. Utah’s football program accounts for more than half of the Utah athletic department’s $1.9 recruiting expenses in 2017-18, partly explained by the team’s having 85 scholarship athletes.
The return on the Utes' investment is not supported by football recruiting rankings. Utah's hallmark is developing players who exceed their projections. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley is proud, for example, that 10 Utah defensive backs have been drafted into the NFL in this decade, and only one was a four-star recruit.
But it takes time, effort and money to identify, evaluate and sign the players the Utes get. Utah’s expenses are justified by the program’s revenue. Even factoring in the private schools, Utah ranked fourth in in the Pac-12 in football income in 2017-18, according to pennlive.com. Utah took in $55.8 million, trailing only USC, Oregon and Washington ($81.1 million) in the conference.
Freddie Whittingham, Kyle's brother, formerly operated the program's on-campus recruiting efforts for four years as director of player personnel. Investing the most money in the conference in recruiting is “not something that we set out as a goal,” Whittingham said. “All we're trying to do is get a lot of content in front of prospects.”
The expenses are partly explained by Utah's wide recruiting range, compared with California schools. “We have a good home base for recruiting,” Whittingham said, “but we're going to Florida, we're going to Texas, we're going to California … we're going all over the place.”
Overseas trips, such as to Australia or the Pacific Islands, are not unheard of either.
Utah's football support staff salaries of $2.6 million are not included in the recruiting expenses, and not all of those staffers are involved in recruiting. Yet the recruiting department has grown considerably since Kyle Whittingham's arrival on campus in 1994.
“When I first got to Utah 25 years ago, it was one guy who did recruiting in operations, and he wore about five different hats,” Whittingham said. “Now we have a separate recruiting department on its own that’s staffed by about eight to 10 people, and three or four guys in operations.”
Whittingham added, “The one place that you can always use the help is recruiting. I mean, the more eyes you have out there and people studying film and scouring the country for talent ....”
And then the Utes usually make those players better, once they get them.
Football recruiting expenses in the 2017-18 fiscal year, among public schools in the Pac-12:
Utah – $1,052,271.
Oregon – $997,019.
UCLA – $764,620.
Washington – $714,872.
Oregon State – $674,239.
California – $647,842.
Colorado – $635,077.
Arizona – $545,968.
Arizona State – $531,807.
Washington State – $523,791.