Commentary

Schools turning to technology for recruiting edge

Updated: February 8, 2008, 12:36 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

There are literally 15,000 names of recruits currently in the database used by the Rutgers football program.

It took less than a minute for recruiting coordinator Joe Susan to figure out exactly how many of them had already been entered into the system for the Class of 2009. And he used his cell phone to do it.

"Let's see, I'm going to sort it by graduation year … [short pause] right now, for 2009, we have 1,800 names in the system," he said.

This is why, when it comes to recruiting, the Rolodex has become as outdated as players who announce their college choices at the dinner table instead of at a news conference.

[+] EnlargeBilly Napier
Clemson AthleticsRecruiting coordinator Billy Napier credits CyberSports for helping Clemson's get a jump on the competition.

Rutgers was the first program to sign a contract with CyberSports, a Web-based recruiting database that has grown rapidly since it was developed in 1995 and currently supports 92 Division I football teams. Now, more schools are realizing the value of such technology, and other companies are scrambling to catch up and develop even more creative ways to counter (not break) the NCAA's limitations on communication with recruits.

For CyberSports and Recruiting Radar, two of the most popular systems available, all you need is a username and password (and thousands of dollars to pay for the system) and you're in. All-access, all the time.

"Anytime you can be more efficient with your work time, you're gaining an advantage on an opponent," said Clemson recruiting coordinator Billy Napier, who had a training session this week to learn about the latest features of CyberSports. "That's kind of what this technology has allowed us to do. Everybody is really using it, some earlier than others. You're just constantly looking for an angle to work, a loophole in the rules, or a way to create an advantage over your opponent. Just like you do on game day."

Both Recruiting Radar -- which has been on the market for three years -- and CyberSports offer the ability to send text messages (or CyberTexts, depending on who you ask) to cell phones from a computer. Erik Christianson, a spokesperson for the NCAA, said that in 2007 the NCAA issued a clarification to its ban on text messaging that "expressly prohibits the use of services or software that would convert an electronic e-mail into a text message to a recruit."

"It's binding," he said, "It's not a suggestion."

What programs can do is send e-mails to recruits (as of Sept. 1 their junior year), and Bluechip Athletic Solutions LLC and CyberSports are two of the few companies that develop Web sites targeted specifically for recruits. Florida hired Bluechip to run www.CoachUrbanMeyer.com. Florida State recently signed a contract with the company and launched www.FearTheSpear.com, alerting recruits via a mass e-mail. The site features rosters, a video of the national championship team and instructional videos from coaches.

"It's our way of getting into recruit's living rooms," said Bob LaCivita, the Seminoles' director of player personnel.

Florida State has taken its own initiative even further to impress the recruits who visit Tallahassee.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireTargeting recruits through a Web site for coaches like Florida's Urban Meyer is another development.

A special screen and projectors were installed in the auditorium where the players watch game film, and the Seminoles' production staff makes a highlight video shot in 3-D.

"When the recruits come in, they put on the glasses and watch the highlight film in 3-D," LaCivita said. "That's just another bit of technology that we use that no one, to my knowledge, in college football or professional football or any sports teams use."

UCLA is just catching on.

The Bruins recently signed a contract with Bluechip Athletic Solutions that will be used departmentwide, not only to organize their recruiting files, but also for admissions and academics. The system tracks current players' class schedules, what professor they have, what building they're supposed to be in and what time.

"Certainly in the day of technology I would say everybody across the country will eventually be on something similar," said Bob Field, an associate athletic director at UCLA who played an integral role in bringing Recruiting Radar to the department. "That's the world we live in. Everything is at your fingertips. If you're not there yet, it's where you're headed. It's reflective of where we are as a society."

In its first year of existence, Bluechip Athletic Solutions LLC signed up four schools. Now its client list includes 26 Division I football programs. Steve Kennedy, the CEO and founder, said it costs from $500-$3,500 a month.

"They're coaches, they're not marketing guys, and so you can appreciate when a company like us comes along and says not only are we going to give you some technology to get your back office in order, but look at how I can get your whole messaging and appearance and everything synced up," Kennedy said. "And schools are willing to pay for that."

CyberSports officials declined to reveal their price.

Click by click, Susan will whittle Rutgers' lengthy list down to about 25 prospects during the year. He can organize them by school, position, height and weight, academics, geographic area or alphabetically.

"I believe that if you don't utilize a system like this, that you put yourself in a position where you become less time-efficient than you can be," he said, "and in that case, I think you fall short."

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.