College coaches don't get out as much as they used to. Only the
most competitive schools can afford to fly them around the country
in search of the next big talent, and most rarely attend games
further than a few hours from campus.
Enter the "sports recruiter." For a fee, this individual or
company builds a profile of a college-bound athlete - and sends it
to as many coaches as the client is willing to pay for.
Indeed, families of some high school students fork over thousands
of dollars to sports recruiters to ensure that the athlete's stats -
plus video footage of his or her sports prowess - are seen by
coaches around the country.
Hiring a professional marketer to help athletes get into their
dream college is not new. The industry has been around since the
1980s, when competition intensified to get into top schools. The
business boomed in the late '90s, as sports recruiters began to use
the World Wide Web as a way to get out the word about their clients'
The trouble is that sports-recruiting websites may become victims
of their own success. They've proliferated so fast that some coaches
are coming to distrust the industry, complaining they can't tell the
knowledgeable companies from sports-illiterate startups.
Penny Hastings, author of "How to Win a Sports Scholarship," says
coaches aren't interested in hearing from consultants and parents.
"The No. 1 person they like to be contacted by is the student-
athlete herself," says Ms. Hastings, who surveys hundreds of college
coaches and admissions counselors every year. "It shows initiative."
Still, for many families of gifted athletes, the college-
admissions process is so complex as to be daunting -- especially if
a scholarship or financial-aid package is involved.
"That's where recruiters step in," says Tom Starr, vice president
of operations at College Prospects of America in Logan, Ohio, one of
the nation's largest and most reputable sports-recruiting companies.
"If we can help student-athletes go on to use their sports to
help subsidize paying for college ... that's worthwhile for us to
continue to try to pursue," Mr. Starr says. "That's the most
gratifying part of what we do."
Students who come to Starr spend at least $1,000 to have their
vital statistics placed in a pamphlet - filled with information on
perhaps several hundred students - and sent to a handful of schools.
The $2,000 package, on the other hand, includes a more
comprehensive profile, edited video footage, and assistance with
Why are some athletes willing to spend so much extra money to try
to boost their prospects of getting into a good school?
Many students and their families expect a big payback, Hastings
says. "It's a sort of fantasy for parents who seek financial help.
But coaches don't want to get someone who was pushed, pushed, pushed
by their parents."
Families can be heavily influenced by media images of money and
fame, Starr says. Male football, basketball, and baseball players,
as well as female volleyball, basketball, and soccer players -
sports with the highest paid professional US teams - are the ones
who most often send money to get their names out, he says. Starr
also sees more golf and tennis players hiring recruiters, likely due
to the success of Tiger Woods and Venus and Serena Williams.
"The publicity out there on those types of teams ... does lead to
an increase in participation in those sports," Starr says. "They see
they could be professional, with the glitz and glamour of money."
Starr emphasizes that it's important for students to remember
that only a few make the leap from college to professional sports.
"Quite frankly, less than half a percent of the kids who play in
college are going to play professionally. It keeps getting tougher."
To punt the ball or foot the bill
Stuart Scandridge first learned of sports recruiters when one
knocked on his door in Houston. …