Online Recruiting Industry Helps Fulfill Dreams
[New York Times, 1 March 2009]
By RICHARD MORGAN
A Super Bowl ad last year showcased Chester Pitts, bagging groceries in San Diego before he was spotted by a coach, invited as a walk-on at San Diego State and later signed by the Houston Texans. Fernando Perez played for Columbia University’s lackluster baseball team, trudged through the minor leagues and ended up in the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays last season. And, perhaps most famously, Daniel Ruettiger was thrice rejected by Notre Dame before forging the legacy of “Rudy” on the Irish football team.
They all somehow flew below the radar of prominent college coaches and recruiters. In recent years, an online cottage industry has emerged to accommodate — or at least guide — such athletes.
“We can all dream about Rudy,” said Bobby Clark, Notre Dame’s men’s soccer coach. “But the reality is he played 20 seconds at the end of one game. He might’ve been better served somewhere else. Dreams are great. Backup dreams are smarter.”
The biggest player so far is BeRecruited.com, which was started in 2000 in the dorm room of Ryan Spoon, a swimmer for Duke.
“The entire process of getting myself recruited was a hassle,” he said.
The sites do not help students join the football team at powers like Oklahoma or the basketball team at Kansas. Rather, they are meeting places for coaches and athletes, and are most suited for what coaches call “boom sports” — lacrosse, volleyball, golf — that are increasingly popular outside of their traditional havens.
Sites are generally free for coaches, and most provide a free level of access for students. Varying pay scales buy students access to benefits: tailored searching, more prominence in coaches’ searches, reports on which coaches have viewed your profile. A coach’s identity must be verified for him to use the sites.
BeRecruited.com handles 17 sports and about 6 percent of the nation’s 2.25 million active high school juniors and seniors. Last year, of its students who went on to college, 78 percent were joining college teams, according to Jeff Cravens, the company’s president.
“It used to be having a nice house or a nice car, but now the status among families is having a scholarship for their college athlete,” Cravens said. “This is what the Internet was made for: leveling the playing field and giving everyone a chance.”
Chris Ortega, a high school senior in San Diego, used a similar Web site, CaptainU.com, to secure a full scholarship to play soccer for California-Berkeley.
“Having a Web presence that knows how to connect with coaches, it just looks professional, like an adult job Web site,” Ortega said. “I couldn’t rely on word of mouth.”
Word of mouth used to be all there was. Dustin Lyman, who graduated from high school in 1995, used friend-of-a-friend handshakes to join Wake Forest’s football team before spending five years with the Chicago Bears.
Perez, the Rays outfielder, said: “These sites fix a big problem: success in the recruiting process requires expertise that amateurs just don’t have.”
A former soccer captain at Wesleyan University, Avi Stopper knew this problem when he submitted a proposal last year as part of a contest run by the University of Chicago’s business school. His proposal won, and he formed CaptainU.com.
The N.C.A.A. forbids coaches from recruiting students until their junior year of high school, but end-runs around those limits — summer camps, club teams — have compacted the process.
The Internet’s frenetic metabolism has also raised today’s teenagers on wild promises of instant triumph from YouTube, “American Idol” and reality television.
“Look, I know there are tons of Nigerian princes out there promising to take good care of everything,” said Kelley Collins of Temecula, Calif., in reference to an e-mail scam. “But when so much of this is on your time, on your dime, you need to know that it’s being handled by someone who knows the ins and outs. The N.C.A.A. rules and deadlines. The do’s and don’ts. It makes all the difference.”
Collins used CaptainU.com to help her son Dakota receive a partial scholarship to play soccer for U.C.L.A. She says that if CaptainU.com had been around two years ago for her older son, who played soccer but could not find a spot on a college team, things would have worked out better for him.
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