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Recruiting Game: The rich continue to get richer

Six days later, after tales about the cost of scholarships and the difference between signing letters and oral commitments, about small schools and club sports and social media’s gargantuan presence, about how cheating still exists in the pursuit of young stars, we have come to this in our series on recruiting: Why hasn’t anyone built a roller coaster directly through a college football team’s on-campus facility?

What is taking Oregon so long?

At its most basic form, recruiting refers to the process of attracting, selecting and appointing suitable candidates for jobs within an organization. In the world of college athletics, that means convincing young male and female athletes to choose your school based on those advantages you believe it holds over other suitors.

And what says advantage more than football players who can go from a state-of-the-art practice field to their private bowling alley?

At the highest level, this part of the recruiting process begins with a whole lot of bells and whistles, not to mention those hydrotherapy pools with TVs embedded within the walls.

The arms race that has become an ocean the size of the Pacific in terms of opulence and luxury and extreme indulgence when it comes to facilities used to entice the egos of 18-year-olds has no foreseeable ending. It’s a war of dollar signs waged between the nation’s largest athletic departments within Power 5 conferences.

There are no fairy tales anymore at the elite level of recruitment and the riches that define it. All the little guys were long ago deleted from the process. Money from TV contracts and bowl games split Division I into haves and have nots, and most of that cash is directed back into football, which then creates this battle for bigger, better, brighter facilities.

“I would love to say that I was one of those who saw this coming, but I can’t,” said Jim Livengood, the former UNLV athletic director who has worked in intercollegiate athletics for 35 years. “I’m shocked. Years ago, it was really only about having a nice weight room. But now, especially with football, it’s amazing to see what schools are doing with facilities.

“Athletic directors have incredibly tough jobs when it comes to keeping up with others at that level. How do you balance having the best facilities against how far you want to get into the debt part of the arms race? Everyone loves to be associated with a great athletic department and winning football teams and wear all the T-shirts and sweatshirts and hats, but at what cost? It never seems to stop. There doesn’t appear to be any end game.”

Which begs the question: How can non-Power 5 teams compete?

Simple. They can’t.

A recent report by The Washington Post found that in 2014 “48 schools within Power 5 leagues spent $772 million combined on athletic facilities, an 89 percent increase from $408 million spent in 2004, adjusted for inflation. Those figures include annual debt payments, capital expenses and maintenance costs.”

Most of these modern-day Taj Mahals are financed through private fundraising and selling bonds, and paying off the latter has become a major part of athletic department budgets. One way to pay down the debt is to impose ticket surcharges on fans for football games, meaning those wearing the T-shirts and sweatshirts and hats also get to pay for the quarterback and his teammates to soak in a sauna while watching TV on 70-foot screens.

Ain’t life grand?

Most school officials — with a straight face, amazingly — tell you such extravagance is needed to allow players a place to bond and grow as a team on campus when not in class.

Insert punch line here.

The NCAA forbids athletic dorms in an effort to remove perceived special privileges for athletes so they can be treated more like regular students, even though I’m fairly certain the 5-foot-5-inch kid in freshman biology isn’t playing mini-golf one minute and laser tag the next and watching “SportsCenter” in a 24-seat HD theater the next day like Clemson football players will when their new on-campus facility opens in February.

Call it what it is: More than needed sanctuaries for athletes to congregate and finish homework while charging their iPhones in a digital media production room and grabbing a bite to eat at a personal nutrition center, the arms race in facilities is about gaining every possible edge when recruiting those impressionable 18-year-old minds.

“It’s an ego thing, a status thing,” Livengood said. “And when you see the millions and millions of dollars Power 5 conferences are now netting with their television contacts, the (extravagance) part of it won’t stop any time soon. Facilities have become big business, and when it comes to recruiting and landing that big football or basketball recruit, schools are looking at others saying, ‘What have they got to offer and how can we be better?’

“You look at the typical campus and know there are needs for faculty and staff and research facilities, and there is often very little money at the state and legislative levels to find all of it as normal parts of the cost of higher education. But when it comes to these athletic facilities, there appears to be no ceiling.”

He’s right, because when it comes to recruiting, I’m pretty sure Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world, but if you throw in 30-foot-long hot tubs and a foosball table for the football team, all the better.”

Or something like that.

Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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