Recruits cannot legally accept money to be lured toward a school. So universities looking for an edge take donor money, pour it into facilities and other whistles, and invite recruits to come enjoy their playground for 4-5 years. And you know what? It works.
It's one way of promising incoming players that they will be spoiled, even if it's not in direct compensation outside of a scholarship. More and more, recruits visit campuses and factor in how nice the facilities are as one of the reasons for committing. The beauty of their environment plays more of a role than you might think, especially at the higher levels.
Here's one example on the baseball front. In this article in the LSU student newspaper, Ole Miss coach Mike Biancoexplains that a nice stadium on campus is huge for recruiting. Interestingly enough, having nice stadiums throughout the SEC makes a difference, too. "When a kid is choosing to go play baseball, is he gonna go to Billings, Montana, and play in an old, beat-up minor league park, or is he gonna go to the Southeastern Conference where it is not just Ole Miss or LSU, but there are 12 nice stadiums?" Bianco told the paper.
Strange. Your heated rival could help you land the recruits needed to beat them.
There's also the other side of the coin. I played baseball at a big-city junior college several years ago. My high school field was in much better shape than the juco digs. Our "clubhouse" in college was a little storage closet next to the dugout, and it was broken into about six times in the year I was there (one good shoulder into the door would snap the lock in half). Our "locker room" was the men's room of the community recreation center at the other side of the parking lot (it had two showers!)
You want to think that student-athletes choose a school because of academic opportunities, playing time and player-coach relationships. In a lot of cases, they do.
But this is one way big schools can throw their money around and create an edge. They call it the "arms race" in college athletics, and whether it's backed by good intentions or not, recruits are loving it.
After all, if you can't be compensated as an amateur, you might as well be pampered.