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Kirby Smart had some strong comments on recruiting.

Kirby Smart explains why the gap between the SEC and the rest of college football could be growing

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Why Kirby Smart was giving a warning to the rest of the country about recruiting

When Kirby Smart was making the rounds last week discussing Georgia football players and the 2020 NFL Draft, ESPN’s Paul Finebaum asked him a few questions about recruiting.

Most everyone picked up on the shot he was taking at a program that was using the SEC’s draft success against it on the recruiting trail.

“They’ll sell to a kid that it’s better to not go to the SEC because it’s too tough,” Smart said. “It’s too competitive, too physical, you might get banged up, you might not have the career there you’d have somewhere else.”

Related: Kirby Smart calls out opposing coaches

Naturally, everyone tried their best to suss out who Smart was calling out.  The reality is though that every school, yes even Georgia, uses negative recruiting tactics. It’s all in the game of recruiting and no one program is holier than another.

But there were other recruiting comments made by Smart that seemed to fly under the radar. And those should put far more worry into programs across the country.

“I mean yeah it’s like the SEC draft with two other teams in it. That’s the way it is going to be for a time to come,” Smart said. “You look at the recruiting of the teams in our conference, it’s just incredible. The separation to me is becoming greater and you have to be careful.”

Those comments were made the night after the SEC produced a record 15 first-round draft picks. In total, 63 players from the conference were taken. That’s double the ACC (27) and the Big 12 (21). The next closest conference was the Big Ten, with 48.

This all does tie back to recruiting. It’s all cyclical. Kids want to go to schools that have the best chance of putting them into the NFL. So the top prospects go to those schools. The schools with the best prospects win the most games and thus earn the attention of NFL scouts, who then take them in the NFL draft.

Smart also had another reason for why the conference is able to recruit better than any other.

Money. 

“You look at the SEC Network, Paul, and the shows you’re able to have and the amount of money we’ve been able to bring in and the amount of revenue we’ve generated from the television contract, the SEC Network and it creates all these things like facilities that kids want to choose to go and grow and play on these stages,” Smart said.

In addition to newer facilities and the ability to hire better support staff, more money enables schools to have greater recruiting budgets. The more teams are able to spend on recruiting, the more cross country trips they’re going to be able to take to see prospects.

Using USA Today’s database, the top three spending public universities when it comes to recruiting budgets are all in the SEC — Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Ten of the top 30 spending programs hail from the SEC, the most of any Power Five conference.

Now, to counter Smart’s point, the SEC didn’t bring in as much revenue as the Big Ten. Using the latest publicity available numbers, the SEC gave out $44.6 million to schools during the 2018-19 school year. The Big Ten, in 2018, gave out $54 million to each member school.

And since the SEC Network started in August of 2014, the SEC as a conference hasn’t gotten demonstrably better at recruiting compared to the rest of the country. The 2015 class saw 12 teams rank inside the top 30 in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Other than the 2018 cycle where that figure dipped to nine, the SEC has put 11 teams in the top 30.

In that time, the only other conference to put more than six teams in the top 30 of those rankings was the ACC back in 2018.

Teams in the top 30 of the 247Sports Composite rankings

Conference SEC ACC Big Ten Big 12 PAC 12
2015 12 5 4 2 6
2016 11 4 5 3 6
2017 11 5 5 3 5
2018 9 7 5 4 4
2019 11 5 6 2 5
2020 11 5 5 3 5

The 2020 cycle did see seven of the top 10 recruiting teams come from the SEC. But that success has been seen before —the 2014 recruiting cycle also saw the SEC claim seven of the top 10 spots — nor has it carried over to the 2021 cycle. At the moment, only Tennessee and Florida have top-10 classes, with the obvious understanding, there is a long way to go until National Signing Day.

The economic realities that stem from COVID-19 will certainly make athletic departments think more carefully about how they spend their money. Add in the name, image and likeness legislation making it’s way through college athletics now, and the finances for schools figure to look very different in the coming season.

Related: NCAA advances ball on player compensation for name, image and likeness usage

Still, the expectation that the SEC will continue to dominate the recruiting landscape and thus the NFL draft exists.

And unless the other conferences can begin to land a wider share of top recruits and recruiting classes, Smart thinks the trend will only continue to grow.

“If you’re not careful, that separation, outside of maybe two or three other programs, it’s getting greater,” Smart said.

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