Colleges take recruiting to the world wide web

Mike Reisman ('13)/ Eastside Sports Editor

Over 12 years ago, Ryan Spoon, a college swimmer, started a small website hoping to make the college recruiting process easier for athletes and coaches.  Student-athletes who would usually be overlooked by colleges could make a profile for coaches to see their best times and their ability inside and outside of the pool.  Now, beRecruited.com caters to all sports and has over one million users.

In 2006, three men created a site to help coaches and student-athletes share film and playbooks more efficiently.  Six years later, hudl.com helps college coaches and scouts look at the film of hundreds of potential college athletes in addition to being a main source for ESPN’s high school football and basketball player evaluations.

With the rapid growth and emphasis on recruiting from college athletic programs, sites like these have popped up all over the internet, giving students from small schools that scouts don’t normally look a chance to get noticed and play sports in college—and millions across the country have jumped at this chance.

Since its inception, over one million students and 35,000 college coaches have signed up with beRecruited, the largest site that allows student-athletes to make free profiles and market themselves to college coaches.  While the number of active student accounts changes every year after graduation, CEO Vishwas Prabhakara said that number still rises each year.  Prabhakara said users rose from around 125,000 in the class of 2011 to about 200,000 in the class of 2012 and he says that he expects anywhere from 300,000 to 400,000 students in the class of 2013.

Prabhakara said many of the website’s users sign up after hearing about the site from a friend or coach, citing that almost 80 percent of the 22,346 schools represented have over 10 students with accounts.

“Most of our growth has come over the past few years,” he said. “One person will sign up for beRecruited at a particular high school and the next year you’ll see five, maybe 10 kids from that high school and then the next year there may be 20 kids from that school and it just keeps adding up.”

Websites like beRecruited that allow athletes to make profiles have been the center of this growth, mostly because of the ease of use of the sites and because the services are free.  They make money by offering premium services like seeing which colleges visited your profile and potential college matches based on location as well as academic and athletic achievement.  But other fee-based sites like hudl.com have become popular because of their multi-media presence, focusing on making videos for prospective athletes.

Though hudl—primarily a software company—started with the goal of streamlining the sharing of playbooks and videos for teams, the company learned to use its video expertise to help students promote themselves to colleges, going as far as putting recruiting testimonials on their front page and partnering with ESPN RecruitingNation.  The site’s services cost from $261 to $6000 depending on how many hours of film a team wants, how many accounts they want, which of the sites’ features they want and how many teams are part of their package.

With a focus on recruiting, the site continues to grow, and in an interview with SiliconPrarieNews.com, hudl’s CEO David Graff said that he expects to have about 10,000 high schools, colleges and professional teams using the site by the end of the year.

Before these sites appeared, colleges could only send scouts out individually to watch club games, all-star games or state championships to find possible recruits, making it nearly impossible for students from smaller schools to get noticed.  Some students had the opportunity to hire personal recruiting assistants or companies to help lead them through the ins and outs of recruiting.  Often, the assistants also use connections with coaches to get athletes noticed.  Now, while these services still exist, newer sites offer a free, simpler alternative.

“I would think of us more as a match.com or a LinkedIn,” Prabhakara said. “We create that initial connection between a student athlete and a coach.  We don’t visit your games or do any recording or evaluation of you. Everything we provide is given by either the athlete or the parent or the coach.”

While this makes the students’ jobs much easier, the self-reporting process drives some coaches away from these services because of potential inaccuracies.

“I don’t really pay attention to any recruiting services,” said Michael Moynihan, Northwestern University girls’ soccer coach, “they’re very generic, with some prospects you can just tell that they’re blanketing everybody and seeing who’s interested in them and that’s not the type of student-athlete we’re interested in.”

Moynihan, a coach with 19 years of recruiting experience, said that he still prefers to just go to club games and look for the players that fit his team and show genuine interest in the University.

The concerns of coaches like Moynihan have been brought up by multiple college coaches and professional scouts, but Prabhakara said that his site does not need to do anything else to prove the legitimacy of its athletes’ statistics.

“We do have a verification process,” he said. “High school coaches can log on and verify various information and there’s really no incentive to lie on beRecruited.  If you run a 5.0 40 [yard dash] and you put up that you run a 4.5 40[yard dash], the first coach that sees you will know that that’s not the case, so there’s no incentive to put false information on beRecruited.”

Prabhakara also said that the site mostly helps student-athletes who may not otherwise have the opportunity to play sports in college, so more competitive schools, like Northwestern which is part of the Big 10, may not reap all of the site’s benefits.

While these self-marketing sites may not be great for all coaches, most students benefit from them, giving them another chance to get noticed, play a sport in college—and especially in this economic climate—save some money on an education.

Mitch Sherman, a senior writer at ESPN RecruitingNation, says that, while a lot of recruiting will stay with more traditional methods like in-person scouting and personal visits, these sites will definitely open doors for some recruits.

“If you’re a senior and you haven’t done anything in your career to be worthy of a scholarship offer and you come out and all of a sudden you’re a great player, chances are it may have taken six, eight or 10 games in past years for you to get noticed by the top colleges and by that time they might be filled up,” he said. “But now, because of these services and the way recruiting is covered, two games into your senior year, that same player might get noticed and might get a scholarship offer.”