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Events Using Recruitment Software to Avoid Admissions Scandal Stigma

24 Feb, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

The nationwide release of Olivia Jade’s (also known as Lori Loughlin’s daughter’s) fake athletic profile, alerting USC to the self-admittedly academically (and athletically) indifferent student’s fictional merits as a top-notch coxswain recruit, was an incredibly damning (and fascinating) piece of information – and something that was gobbled up by the public.

It was made even more salacious by the fact that that the profile claims the social media-obsessed college dropout won two gold medals in the San Diego Crew Classic in 2014 and 2016, and that she participated in Boston's Head of the Charles regatta in 2016 and 2017.

(Side note: Event owners – not just those involved in rowing sports, either – are shuddering in horror right now.)

So the most relevant fact becomes this: what sports organizations (many of whom are also event owners) are doing to put themselves above the problem – and to help prospective recruits avoid having their own records tarnished.

And that’s where technology sees itself as coming to the rescue. In light of the college admissions scandal, organizations are working to identify prospects and remove themselves from scrutiny. A number of platforms, including CaptainU as well as NextCollegeStudentAthlete, SportsRecruits, SmarthleteUniversity Athlete, FieldLevel, FrontRush  -- and plenty of others (just Google “high school student athlete college recruitment” to get all the hits) exist for the purpose of connecting high school students with college coaches.

In general, college recruiting and resource companies allow athletes to make free profiles, describing themselves (the sport they play – and any applicable position or skills, as well as their projected graduation year, academic profile and other information).

Coaches are able to use the software to help identify athletes with an interest in their sports and to view video clips that showcase those athletes’ skills. They can also provide a cost-effective way of finding athletes – without incurring travel costs. (Coaches can also check with high schools to verify athletes’ claims).

But software is useful for event owners as well, particularly for events where youth teams are hoping to be identified by colleges. In this case, owners may want to identify companies that would exhibit at an expo or trade show associated with the event. Such companies may also want to participate as sponsors, with the payoff of being named the official college recruiting platform of the event. (An example of the marketing of this aspect of a software platform can be found here).

Something that increases the marketability of such platforms is the fact that the athletes themselves will help with the publicity. Users are able to note if they will be participating in any combines, competitions, showcases or other events where coaches can see them. By being able to see actual videos of the student’s skill set (and by linking to communication from a local coach), it’s possible to avoid the stereotype of the “athlete sitting on an erg” or the “photoshopped profile picture” – both of which were widely used (and subsequently, widely publicized) in the college admissions scandal.

More importantly, in many cases, platforms can provide information on combines and other showcase events where students can demonstrate their skills in-person – and can make college coaches aware of them – without the potential of being duped.

Because the information stays updated, says Scott Alexander of NextCollegeStudentAthlete, coaches gravitate toward it as a verifiable source of information as they go through events and combines.

“It simplifies the process for coaches,” he notes. “Moves away from a pack of paper that might be outdated by the event; it moves at the speed of tournaments and events. We really see it growing within the core sports we work with.”

Already, other NGBs have formed alliances with recruitment software companies. US Youth Soccer, for example, names NCSA as its official partner. USA Cheer names CaptainU as its official partner. However, because there are plenty of companies, it is imperative to make an informed decision – particularly if naming a company an official partner – rather than just offering companies the ability to host a booth at a trade show or expo.

The website DIYCollegeRankings recommends asking the following questions:

  • How many players have they placed in your sport and in which colleges? If the players seem to be going to a limited group or type of college, the athletes in your events better be interested in attending those colleges.
  • How will they evaluate the player’s abilities? How will the service identify appropriate colleges? Are they going to simply email your information to every college baseball program in the country? If they are going to target the schools, what criteria are they using for targeting? How many schools will be targeted? How do they know which colleges are looking for players in specific positions? Do they ever contact coaches on athletes’ behalf?
  • How are they going to get information from each athlete to send to the coach? How much video will they edit and where will it be accessible? Will athletes be able to download a copy for themselves or will the service control access?
  • Will the service create an athletic profile for each athlete? What information will it include?
  • In both the cases of the video and the profile, do they send it out or is the athlete responsible for sending it out?
  • Will the service help student athletes fill out the FAFSA for financial aid? Will they provide then with the estimated average net price for the targeted schools and the percentage of need met?
  • Who will students contact with questions? Can they call someone at the site? How often?
  • How often can student athletes update their information? If they have a web database, can the athletes edit it? Can they add their own video and pictures? Will the service send updates to the coaches does that responsibility rest with the athlete?

With more competition for athletic scholarships – and fewer available than ever – expect parents to be eager to use every available resource to make contacts at the college level – and grateful to the event owners who can help them make any connection toward their goal, specifically connections proven to be legitimate. As sentencing continues in the Varsity Blues case that broke last March, recruitment will be under more scrutiny than ever.

It's already known that the competition to get into colleges (particularly through sports) is tough; however, the continuing news of the sordid details of officials at colleges who accepted money from Rick Singer’s so-called Key Foundation in order to designate children of wealthy parents as college athletic recruits has put a new emphasis on the difficulties experienced by average- and low-income high school student athletes. As a result, it may well be that recruitment software gains even more desirability, visibility and respect in the marketplace.

One obstacle facing event owners is overcoming problems with scam organizations that masquerade as scouts, coaches and other entities, and demand money of athletes in exchange for attention. Most recently, USA TODAY noted, a Twitter account belonging to a person named “Luke Hughes,” claiming to be the Tennessee football team's director of player personnel was revealed to be a hoax. The huckster posted tweets requesting highlight film from prospective athletes so that Tennessee's staff can evaluate them and charging a $20 “application fee,” saying it was necessary to gauge the seriousness of their interest. Hundreds of athletes, unaware that the account is not associated with Tennessee football, responded to the account's tweet with information and links to their highlight films. 

“Hoax accounts claiming to be associated with a football team's recruiting department are not uncommon,” noted USA TODAY. “They can result in a prospect thinking a school is interested when it isn't, and, in this case, a financial scam.”

Athletic Business noted that Kenyatta Watson, who consults recruits as the director of football operations at USA Academy, posted a picture of a message between the Luke Hughes account and an athlete. She provided some tips on how athletes can verify such messages as well.

 “The kids ask me a million questions about the recruiting process,” Watson told Rivals, noting that he has also seen fake coach accounts from South Carolina, USC, UAB, Virginia and Florida International in recent days. “This morning, a kid sent me the Tennessee guy and said, ‘Coach, is this real?’ And I was like, ‘No.’ I circled how he spelled recruiter. I told them they have to go on the staff directory and see who these guys are and you have to pay attention to certain things in their profiles.

“First of all, look at how many followers he has, look at when the account was created and things like that. But kids are so hungry for attention and offers, they’re not paying attention to that stuff. They see a college logo and they jump right on it.”

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