I was interviewing one of the leading football prospects in the class of 2011 in the Chicago area for an article in the Sun-Times. When the interview was concluded, he asked me when the article would appear in the newspaper. Then he asked me a strange question:
"Will I have to pay for the article?" he asked.
I guess it's not so strange after all. It just depends on who you are talking to and who has his hand out. Recruiting has become such a big business that even some analysts, scouts and recruiting services are eager to profit at the expense of the young, highly impressionable athletes.
Almost daily, I hear horror stories from parents whose sons have been ripped off.
I remember one well-known scout from Texas who sold T-shirts to kids who wanted to subscribe to his service. You want to get exposure? Buy a shirt. You want more exposure? Buy a dozen of them.
Another scout who ran a summer camp told prospects that they had to attend his camp to get national exposure through his service. Admission to his camp cost $250. Another camp sponsor charged $300.
Those were the leather-helmet days of recruiting.
Today, the game is more sophisticated with the Internet, videos and combines, all designed to capture the imagination, hearts and minds and dollars of young recruits, who are led to believe that if they don't attend or subscribe that the college coaches will never know they are alive.
You want your video to be shown on my web site? You want me to write a story about you on my web site? Subscribe to my service. Pay the fee.
While recruiting services and analysts are trying to make a living by touting football players in a circus-like atmosphere, the college coaches are playing their own game in an attempt to gain an edge over their competitors. It is unethical and illegal but the NCAA chooses to blink and look the other way.
Here is how it works:
Every major Division I school has a web site to promote its sports programs, particularly football and men's basketball. And they have a blogger or writer who specializes in recruiting, which daily attracts more hits or interest than almost any other subject on the site.
It is illegal for college coaches to discuss recruiting or committed recruits until they have officially signed. But web site operators are privy to information about recruits, information that is provided by the coaches so they can interview the recruits and write stories about them on the college web site, all of which is designed to favorably influence the recruit's decision.
How else would the web site operators obtain the information? How else would they know the name of a recruit who hasn't been offered by any other school and hasn't been mentioned by any other web site? Why would they bother to write about a recruit who isn't interested in their school or isn't on their school's priority list?
"It's been going on for the last 10 years," said Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming, who doesn't have a web site but instead has made trips around the country for the last 30 years to personally meet and evaluate the nation's leading players.
"The NCAA looks the other way because everybody does it. Every school has a key guy to promote the program. If the college coaches wants to get information to a player, he tells the web site to call them."