Wow, those were the good ol' days. Or were they? To be a high school or college student-athlete now would be great. If I only knew then what I know now. I am sure many of my fellow former college teammates and friends say that about their sports careers. Heck, I say that about different aspects of my life today. But I digress. Many things have changed through the years since I was being recruited to play Division I football. Back in the day the only football camps were conducted by professional athletes, colleges and universities. As for combines, the only combine I could remember was a combine put on at Giants stadium in New Jersey. Don't ask me the name because I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that now there are hundreds of camps (private and university), combines, speed clinics, and club teams. With all of this exposure and hype, student-athletes and parents have hundreds of self-proclaimed experts trying to sell the dream of playing for a big time Division I program. "If you buy this or come to our (fill in the blank) you could be recruited by a Division I program." The operative word here is "could."
The percentage of high school prospects going on to play on an NCAA sponsored sports team is approximately 5.9% . The percentage of prospects that will be awarded a scholarship (full or partial) is even lower. What the majority of these "experts" don't tell you is how difficult it can be to be recruited to play college sports (Division I, II or III), receive a scholarship and be eligible to play.
Wait, come again. You heard me, I said eligible to play. Most people don't even know what that means when I say it. Why? That answer is that the majority of the exposure and hype is focused on the "chance" of getting recruited and getting a scholarship. For most people that means, going to camps or combines to get faster, learn skill specific techniques and having someone send your statistics along with game film to college coaches.
During most of these events there is a short presentation usually given by a former professional athlete that attended college in the 80's, if you're lucky you will hear from one that played in the 90's or a former college coach touching on very basic recruiting rules. For example, you will hear about the number of official visits a prospect may take for each division, and the types of scholarships available. If you are even luckier someone may mention eligibility, but that part of the presentation fizzles quickly once they tell you about the number of core-courses a prospect must obtain. I have attended plenty of these events and can tell you that this is pretty much what you are going to get. To all of you aspiring collegiate athletes I say, "buyer beware." Today's student-athletes and parents must be informed consumers. Oh, I know that is a dirty little word when we talk about higher education and college sports but the decision on where to go to school is more important than buying a car or even purchasing a home. With today's interest rates, the cost of an education through loan repayment can be as much as a mortgage. We all know college athletics is a business as is the entire institution of higher education. So with that, I think the term "consumer" is appropriate. Just recently, Ralph Nader published an article making the same point. While I don't agree with everything Mr. Nader asserted (which will be a later blog), I do agree with him on that point.
Most of these "experts" are unprepared to assist prospects with anything beyond those situations I mentioned above and often tell their clients to call the NCAA or an attorney when they find themselves in a difficult situation regarding eligibility. There is that word again. When I use the word "eligibility" I am referring to the most important piece of the recruiting puzzle because without it you will not play or get a scholarship. The NCAA and NAIA have rules called "bylaws" that every current and prospective student-athlete must adhere to in order to be eligible. Therefore, it is very important as a prospect or a prospect's parent to know the rules and how they apply to your particular situation.
A mistake in the recruiting process could cost a prospect and their parents a scholarship worth thousands of dollars and the chance to play in college. From working at the NCAA and in my current line of work, I know this happens to thousands of student-athletes each year. Each one of them has missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime because they didn't have a true "expert" in the area of eligibility or even recruiting. If you are reading this, it means that you have an interest in college sports -- don't let this happen to you or someone you know. Get informed!
Now, don't get me wrong -- there are some avenues in which prospects and their parents can get valuable information, but you have to do your research. For example, this weekend I will be involved with the annual Washington Capitals College Hockey Fair. At this event prospects and parents will be educated on topics like college recruiting admissions, financial aid, scholarships and you guessed it ... eligibility.