Stand By Your Fran And Basketball Recruiting Budgets

Friend of the Pants Scott Dochterman wrote an interesting article about the basketball team yesterday, one loaded with information and well worth your time. There are a few points that particularly stood out, though, and warrant a little more focused discussion.

One, about that "Chairgate" incident...

McCaffery’s fire has spilled over to the court. He’s earned seven technical fouls this year and grabbed headlines for slamming a chair following a technical at Michigan State. The incident drew national attention and prompted a letter from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany.

Barta said he’s received "incredible feedback" on the subject, many of which called for McCaffery’s firing.

"I got just as much feedback and just as passionate about the fact that I didn’t support him enough," said Barta, who later added, "we’ve moved on. It’s over." (emphasis added)

I still think Barta's handling of "Chairgate" was fairly terrible -- the fact that he didn't utter a peep about it until B1G grand poobah Jim Delany groused about it makes him look like nothing more than Delany's stooge and a guy who won't stand up for his coaches in public. If he wants to tell McCaffery to tone it down in private, fine. But in public he should stand by his man -- not back up the bus after Jim Delany has already thrown his coach under it. (It's even more baffling that this incident earned a public rebuke from Barta when Rhabdogate earned no public criticism of either Ferentz or Doyle. Of course, Delany himself was also fairly mum on that one, so there's little ability for the marionette to move when the puppetmaster is motionless.)

But more importantly... some people actually wanted Barta to fire McCaffery for that incident? Are you fucking kidding me? I suppose he should have just done this instead; it would have been the more gentlemanly way to behave. It's one thing to debate the tactical merits of McCaffery's technical(s) or to grumble about the minor public embarrassment they might bring... but to want him fired for that? I can't even comprehend the mindset of those fans -- nor do I want to.

Meanwhile, the other most interesting point in the article concerned recruiting budgets:

Iowa has helped McCaffery improve with an earnest recruiting budget. Iowa basketball spent $147,593 recruiting in McCaffery’s first year, about $71,000 more than what was spent during former Coach Todd Lickliter’s final year at Iowa.

BASKETBALL RECRUITING EXPENSES

  • 2011 — $147,593
  • 2010 — $76,547
  • 2009 — $117,320
  • 2008 — $124,201
  • 2007 — $117,524

McCaffery and Barta both say there was no recruiting budget increase. It was simply about allowing McCaffery and his staff to pound the pavement every allowable day. That also has paid off.

Almost two years (and several energizing Frantastic wins) later, I admit I'm ready to move on from the Lickliter era: it was a costly mistake and he was a miserable fit, but it's probably time to get past all that. But then I see figures like those and I'm just dumbfounded. What the hell was he doing while he was here? Recruiting expenses went down every year Lickliter was here, dropping a stunning $40K between 2009 and 2010. There's an argument to be made that Iowa isn't spending enough on recruiting, period, considering that a) recruiting athletes to Iowa is hard and b) Iowa ranks just 9th in the Big Ten in recruiting expenses (ahead of only Indiana, Northwestern and, strangely, Wisconsin), but Lickliter's cut-rate spending on recruiting is shocking. It's the equivalent of going to Aldi's to do your shopping while your rivals go to Whole Foods and then both of you trying to prepare the same meal. You might be able to make a meal as good as theirs, but it's going to be a lot harder and your special spices system better be gangbusters.

Moreover, recruiting is an endeavor defined by activity, not passivity. Maybe in Indiana you can afford to sit around and wait for quality talent to fall in your lap when half the kids there grow up dreaming of becoming the next Jimmy Chitwood, but that approach doesn't fly in Iowa. Lickliter would have had to run over Matt Gatens' dog and set his mom on fire to get him not to come to Iowa, but (unfortunately for us) kids like Gatens are few and far between. Most recruits require some actual wooing and that requires getting out and pounding the pavement. McCaffery didn't land guys like Adam Woodbury and Mike Gesell by sitting back and hoping -- he got them by being tenacious and spending as much time as possible watching them and interacting with them.

Part of McCaffery’s strategy he said in November — and reiterated on Monday — was to attend every summer league game that included Woodbury and Gesell, who play for Iowa-based Martin Brothers. That meant using every method of transportation, from commercial to private planes.

Lickliter may have saved a few pennies in the short-term for the Iowa athletic department with his less aggressive approach to recruiting, but it had long-term cost to the talent base of the program -- one that we're still feeling the effects of now.

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