Online recruiting sites open field for high school athletes, college coaches

A year ago, Section 4 all-star quarterback Jared Russ had never heard of Lake Forest College.

Considering Lake Forest is a small NCAA Division III school on the outskirts of Chicago, and Russ' home in Horseheads is some 650 miles away, that may not come as a surprise.

Yet, when it came time for the aspiring college football player and three-year starter for the Horseheads Blue Raiders to make his college choice, Lake Forest wound up on his short list.

How that came to be is all thanks to NCSAsports.org, an arm of the National Collegiate Scouting Association. It is an online recruiting service designed to match high school athletes with college coaches.

"I had never heard of it, and without the site, I wouldn't have been able to go there," said Russ of Lake Forest College, where he will play football in the fall. "That's 12 hours away from here. The coach reached out to me and told me he saw me on the site. I loved it when I went to visit, and I always kind of wanted to live near a city, so that was nice, too."
Stories such as Russ' are becoming commonplace. While Division I coaches in high-profile sports such as football and basketball still depend on in-person scouting and evaluation to recruit potential targets, coaches of Olympic-level sports and at the Division II and III levels can use online services to expand their reach.

For many athletes and their parents, that means more options when picking a college, more diverse academic opportunities and more chances at receiving financial aid.
"At our level, the Division III level, you can only spread yourself out to so many tournaments during the spring, summer and fall months between a shortened staff," said Jon Tanous, assistant men's basketball coach at Ithaca College. "You're going to see as many kids as you can live, but with the online recruiting databases, it enables you to see a wide range of kids and evaluate kids that you wouldn't normally see."

At no charge, most sites will allow student-athletes to create a profile and update them with results, statistics, training logs, pictures, videos and anything else that could catch a coach's eye. That allows coaches, whose profiles include information about their respective schools and teams, to search for athletes by specific criteria.

For a varying fee, many sites offer premium memberships with additional benefits.

"It gives you a place to put all your stats," said recent Lansing High graduate Max Rogan, a pole vaulter who used beRecruited.com during his junior year and is headed to Fredonia College this fall. "It just makes it easier for coaches to come and look at athletes and really see what they are about."

Judging by the number of memberships some services boast, there is a lot to look at from both ends.

BeRecruited says it has more than 1 million registered users. NCSA claims 99 percent of college coaches in the United States as members, more than 42,000, involved in 27 sports. According to the service's website, the average "NCSA verified athlete" -- a paying member who has gone through some additional steps after creating a profile -- has received $18,000 in scholarships since the site was founded in 2000, the same year beRecruited.com hit the Internet.

For many college coaches, the emergence of online recruiting services has seen an increase in applicants. Jennifer Potter, head women's track & field coach at Ithaca College, began using a number of online services three years ago. Since then, she says, her database of prospective recruits has doubled and the number of track athletes applying to the school has gone up 20 percent.

Whereas Potter used to average around 80 applications per year four years ago, the past three years have seen at least 115 per year.

"The Internet has changed recruiting, in my view," Potter said. "It's boosting recruiting. I started coaching 20 years ago, typing letters on a typewriter. The amount of access that you have to kids and kids to a college via the Internet is just unbelievable. It just makes life so much easier on both ends, and not just from the sports side but from the institution side, as well."

Athletes and parents willing to pay extra can take advantage of added perks through the recruiting services. BeRecruited.com charges $14.99 per month, or a $59.99 one-time fee, for its "Deluxe Membership," which -- among other things -- alerts athletes when a coach has expressed interest, and vice versa.

"There's a feature that allows for high school rowers to indicate they are interested in a specific university, and then that triggers an e-mail to that coach," said Cornell women's rowing coach Hilary Gehman, who says she receives a couple of e-mails per week from beRecruited.com. "If (recruits) fill out things like GPA and SAT scores and what they're interested in, I can get a general idea of whether they're someone that would be a good candidate for the school."

Other recruiting services charge up to a few hundred dollars while offering different kinds of services, from creating a highlight video to acting as a third party, matching certain athletes to certain colleges.

Recent Horseheads High graduate Mark Manganaro, a teammate of Russ', joined NCSAsports.org toward the end of his junior year when he decided he wanted to play football in college and "needed to start getting on top of things."

"You have a representative from NCSA call you and ask you to send them 20 to 25 plays from your particular season and they make a highlight video out of it," Manganaro said. "I thought it was very easy, to be honest. It's a great way to get your name out there. Me and my dad were very happy with it."

Mark's father, Steve, who said he spent "a couple of hundred bucks" on the membership, said the site was helpful and did a good job of matching his son with Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

"I do know that every place we went to, the coach liked the tape," Steve Manganaro said. "They evaluate your talent based on the level they think you can play at and also based on your grades. He got quite a bit of interest, so I think it was pretty helpful. He's a smart kid and it's a good school."

Robert Gates says he bought a membership to Recruitzone.com after he felt his son Will, a basketball player and 2009 Candor High graduate, was not getting the right exposure on the Amateur Athletic Union circuit. Through the site, Will was recruited by the coach at Swarthmore College -- ranked third among the country's liberal arts colleges by U.S. News -- where he will be a senior in the fall.

"I was leery about it, about if we were going to get our money's worth," said Gates, who says he spent around $120 on the membership. "But a lot of Division III coaches don't recruit outside of their territory, so that really limits the amount of colleges that are going to be recruiting. The first call from the coach at Swarthmore had us convinced that it was fantastic."

"The Williamses and the Amhersts started opening up also," he said, "so I thought it was a very positive experience. Probably the best money I've ever spent, looking back at it."
With so many factors involved in an athlete's college choice, however, connections made through recruiting services do not always come to fruition.

Recent Athens High graduate T.J. Glisson, a standout soccer goalie, was surprised when a coach from the University of Hawaii contacted him after being impressed with his NCSA profile. Glisson says in the end the school did not offer the type of academic programs he was looking for.

"I was really shocked," Glisson said. "I got an e-mail, I ended up e-mailing back and he ended up calling me and we got to talking. But I don't think it's going to be an option because they don't have what I'm looking for education-wise."

Southside High rising senior Cory McCarty, whose exploits on the track have garnered attention from coaches from Notre Dame to Buffalo, has another piece of advice: Don't rely on sites to do all the work.

"They can only show you some colleges and only get you in touch with some coaches," said McCarty, who has a beRecruited.com profile. "I would say just go research online what you want to do and start there. It's a lot easier to send out an e-mail to a coach and wait for an e-mail from them."

McCarty also believes the benefits of a deluxe membership should be available to all users of the site, a notion at least some administrators in New York agree with.

The New York State Public High School Athletic Association is partnered with a non-profit webinar, freerecruitingwebinar.org, to educate high school student-athletes and their parents on how to properly approach the recruiting process free of charge -- from how to navigate the intricate rules of academic and athletic eligibility to how to properly market a prospective college athlete.