Florida Schools Spend Top Dollar to Sign Prize Athletes
When college football became big business, it wasn’t just the schools and the coaches – or even the hotels and restaurants on home-game weekends. Everything that surrounds college football became more lucrative.
For Exhibit “A” look no further than recruiting.
In the quaint days when football coaches made less than college presidents (or the President of the United States), coaches drove around their own and neighboring states and brought some players in for a relatively low-key weekend of campus sightseeing. Coverage of recruiting was left primarily to the local newspapers and television sportscasts. There were a few subscription recruiting newsletters, but some had a print quality only slightly better than a high school mimeograph.
A coach/recruiter from that era would wake up today and feel as if they had been transported to a different planet. Schools now spend millions – literally – each year to recruit student-athletes to their campuses.
Last summer, Forbes did an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data on recruiting for the 2013-14 academic year, and the results might surprise even the most jaded follower of the college football-industrial complex. According to the analysis, the schools that opened this past season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll spent an average of more than $1 million on recruiting for men’s sports. As Forbes noted, one can assume that the largest portion of that spending was on college football, with the lion’s share of what was leftover going to basketball.
(In fairness, these sports also generate the most revenue, so it’s not exactly unfair that they get to spend the bulk of the recruiting budget.)
While Forbes looked at 2013-14 data nationally, FORWARD Florida examined a more recent Education Department report (for 2014-15) and looked at spending patterns for the five Florida universities that play in college football’s highest division.
Not surprisingly, the three schools playing in the so-called “Power Five” conferences spent the most. UF led the way with $1.24 million on men’s sports; Florida State was second at $937,000 and Miami third, with $852,000. Among the schools playing in the so-called “Group of Five” conferences, USF spent $647,000; UCF spent $406,000; Florida Atlantic, $334,000 and Florida International, $304,000.
So, who got the most bang for their buck? Well, assuming spending in the current academic year as 2014-15, we can look at how the Florida schools fared this past Wednesday (Feb. 3), which was national signing day.
To get an initial assessment, we turn to yet another aspect of college football’s financial standing: the plethora of subscription websites dedicated to covering recruiting. These often profitable ventures have largely replaced local newspapers and TV stations as the “go-to” information sources for rabid fans looking to see how well their teams recruited. Almost all of them rank recruiting classes, and Florida universities did quite well this past Wednesday (Feb. 3) when the bulk of high school athletes signed letters of intent to play college football.
Most ranked Florida State’s recruiting class second nationally (behind Alabama). CBS put out a composite ranking, and Florida came in at 13th. It’s a sign of the Southeastern Conference’s strength that 13th nationally left the Gators with the sixth best class in the SEC. Miami was 21st nationally (third in the Atlantic Coast Conference).
New UCF Coach Scott Frost also acquitted himself well in his first season, with a class ranked 66th nationally, good for fifth in the American Athletic Conference. USF was third in the same conference.
Ultimately, though, it’s the wins and losses across the next four years that will determine the real worth of the class, so let’s reserve final judgment until we see the Final 2019 AP Top 25.
Lions at Lake Nona
Phil Rawlins, president of Orlando City Soccer, last Friday announced a new 23-acre training facility to be built at Lake Nona.
“This development in Lake Nona is another great example of the Club’s expanding footprint and the resulting economic benefit, throughout Central Florida,” said Rawlins in a team statement. “It complements the construction of our new home in downtown Orlando, and provides our MLS and USL teams with a great training facility also featuring a host of synergistic amenities in Lake Nona. We are thankful for this partnership with Tavistock and Lake Nona, who have been longtime supporters of Orlando City and the sport of soccer, and we look forward to a successful, championship future together.”
The facility will include six practice fields, training and fitness centers, a players’ clubhouse, locker rooms and a rehab and injury center.
It will be home to Orlando City, their USL side Orlando City B and the club’s U.S. Soccer Development Academy teams. While the Lions will be at Lake Nona, the Orlando Pride (National Women’s Soccer League) will be at the club’s current Seminole County facility.
Construction is expected to begin soon and it will be complete in 2017. The Tavistock Group, which owns Lake Nona, will serve as developer.
Meanwhile four hours south, David Beckham and the Miami MLS ownership group released a rendering of the club’s proposed stadium in the Overtown section of Miami. While a spokesman said it was “still a work in progress,” futuristic and ambitious seem certain.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer proclaimed Jan. 31 India Day. For the fourth year, the Indian-American Chamber of Commerce presented the day-long celebration of Indian culture, which included a conversation with Bollywood superstar and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Madhur Dixit on “Powerful Indian Women” at 2 pm on center-court at the Amway Center and continued through the evening with the Orlando Magic playing the Boston Celtics. A street festival in downtown Orlando drew large crowds outside the Amway Center and a colorful opening ceremony took place before the game. Bollywood permeated the half-time show’s entertainment with performances by the Bollywood Dance Academy and the Orlando Magic Dancers.
This cultural tradition was officially recognized by the NBA as the “Best Heritage Night in the NBA” in both 2014 and 2015.
And the Magic beat the Celtics, 119-114.
Photo Credit: Top image by John David Mercer via USA TODAY Sports.