When 'Sports Recruiters' Come Knocking ; Many Student-Athletes Pay Thousands of Dollars to Consultants Who Market Them to College Coaches
Armstrong, Elizabeth, The Christian Science Monitor
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' talents.
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 financial-aid searches.
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. …