Behind-the-scenes: Cincinnati

How do successful programs win on smaller budgets?

That is the subject of a story I wrote today, looking behind the scenes at what it takes to win championships without spending $100 million on athletics. As you probably already know, the Big East does not break the bank when it comes to spending in athletic departments.

The six public schools that competed in the league from 2010-11 spent an average of $58.97 million on their athletic programs. That ranked last among the six automatic qualifying conferences. Cincinnati, for example, spent $43.7 million on their athletic program to rank No. 5 of the six Big East teams that provided financial data. The Bearcats also rank third to last in athletics spending among all public schools in AQ conferences.

Compare that to neighbor Ohio State, which just spent $122.3 million on athletics.

Despite the smaller budget, the Bearcats have won a Big East championship in three of the past four years. I had a chance to speak with coach Butch Jones about how he gets the most out of his program. One example he pointed to is the 1200 Club, which he created when he arrived in December 2009. Those who donate at least $1,200 to the football program become members of the group.

The club has added 225 members in two years. Money raised through this club has gone to renovating the players' lounge, coaches offices and creating a nutrition bar for the players.

In addition, the club also has the coaches' circle for those able to donate $12,000. Former players Derek Wolfe, John Hughes and Isaiah Pead have already pledged to join the coaches' circle, Jones said.

"First of all, we can never let the word budget become an excuse," Jones said. "You've got to find a way. What it does is it tests your creativity. You have to find creative ways to bring revenue into your football program. The age-old thing is building relationships, selling your program, getting more out of your boosters, getting fans to get emotionally invested in your program. I think one word that describes everything is creativity. We have to do more with less. I will never let a shortage in the budget be a reason. We're going to find ways to make it work."

Jones points to two areas that are never short-changed: recruiting and the development of student-athletes. A strong commitment in those two areas have helped the Bearcats win because they are finding under-the-radar players they can develop into NFL draft picks.

"People are our greatest asset, our greatest resource," Jones said. "We may not get the four- or five-star guy on a consistent basis, but even the four- and five-stars need to be developed. That's what makes me exceptionally proud of our coaching staff and players. It's where we've come in a very short period of time. It's all about developing. You'd be hard-pressed across the country to find a program that's had more success this year, especially in the NFL draft. It goes back to the development process, developing our players to meet their fullest potential. That's the difference-maker, trying to get every ounce of potential out of every individual that’s in your football program."

Cincinnati has embarked on facility upgrades, is in the planning stage of expanding Nippert Stadium, and allowed Jones to hire more in the way of support personnel. He just received a raise and contract extension as well, up to $1.575 million in 2012. Though the budget is not in the stratosphere, the Bearcats are absolutely committed to fielding a high-quality football program.

They already have proved you don't need to spend gobs of money to win.