Recruiting 101: The Internet

Before the Internet there were few ways to truly follow football recruiting. Often, the only way fans found out who was going to play on a team was when they read their local newspaper the day after National Signing Day. Now, recruiting coverage begins much earlier, and in far more detail, thanks (or no thanks) to the World Wide Web.

In the days before the Internet fans who wanted to follow recruiting had few options. Mostly, the only time the followers of a team learned the names of the players who would suit up in the fall was when the local newspaper reported it the day after National Signing Day. There were a few publications available to the hard-core fan. SuperPrep, by National Recruiting Analyst Allen Wallace, is one of the more well-known magazines still in existence from the pre-web days. Bobby Burton had a publication that primarily covered Texas High School players. Max Emfinger covered the South, and a few smaller pieces dotted other areas of the country.

The emergence of the Internet in the mid-to-late 1990s changed all that. SuperPrep and the others quickly saw the advantage of the new medium and began posting weekly updates. But it was another, beforehand unknown and unheard of, phenomenon that truly accelerated the growth of recruiting coverage and exposure on the World Wide Web - the fan sites.

Almost overnight, instead of a handful of publications contacting recruits, there were hundreds. Hard-core fans of schools would set up message boards on Usenet and UUnet. Then, with the proliferation of websites on the old free networks such as AOL, Geocities, and others, recruiting junkies were getting their fix as never before.

These "fan sites" exploded on the new medium. Many began contacting high school coaches looking for players who were interested in the schools of which they were fans, and began reporting on what the kids were doing and thinking, and which schools they were favoring. An entirely new sports culture had been born. But what were the rules?

The NCAA guidelines regarding contact were clear - only official representatives of institutions were allowed to contact prospective student-athletes for the purposes of recruiting. However, what about these new psuedo-journalists? Newspaper reporters are allowed to talk to people, including high school football players, because they are trained to be objective and their only interest is to tell the story. But what about the purveyors of the new fan sites? Few, if any, had been journalists before before starting their websites, so how were they to be treated in the eyes of the NCAA?

Without going into the long and drawn out discussions involved in the decision regarding sites, the final call was that people could contact players if they were doing so as reporters, made it clear there was no affiliation with the schools, and didn't try to recruit the players on behalf of the institutions.

As the independent sites proliferated several networks were formed, such as the precursor to - The Insiders. The new networks were contacting the independent sites to form partnerships in order to share in the profits from the horde of new-found recruiting fans. There was a problem, however. The old business model relied on folks clicking banner ads. The content was free, and the idea was that the networks would generate revenue through banner ads. It was a miserable failure and several of the networks failed. In the end there remained two major fan networks - and Rivals. Rivals was actually the name of the original network of The Insiders, later, founder Jim Heckman.

So, what affect did all this have on the coverage of players? It was unimaginable only a few short years before. Whereas a local star player may get an article or two in the local paper during his entire recruitment, he was now getting calls three, four, five days a week and more from fan sites wanting to know his every thought and move.

In the first few years the kids, for the most part, relished the attention. But with the proliferation of sites came the proliferation of stories - some with unknown sources. The ability to post anonymously created an entirely new set of obstacles to the truth - the rumor. Kids were getting calls whenever something popped up on a message board, and fans would clamor for clarification. The kids that were the pioneers of the new-found source of notoriety soon grew weary. The combination of the Internet and cell phones meant that they were constantly under surveillance and they backed off. The top kids were the hardest hit.

That leads us to another new phenomenon generated by the growth of Internet sites - the verbal commitment. In the old days, a kid could tell a program he was going to sign with them and nobody, except the school and the kids' family, were the wiser. The Internet changes all that.

First, let's describe exactly what a verbal commitment is. The best analogy is the think of it as an engagement. A player has promised that at a later date he will make the commitment official by signing a National Letter of Intent. We covered what that is in our first installment of Recruiting 101. Now, as with an engagement one or the other party can call off, without penalty, the arrangement at any time, right up to the moment of signing. However, in recruiting, as is sometimes the case in an engagement, the courting by other suitors does not stop. In fact, in the minds of many coaching staffs a verbal commitment only signifies which school a player likes best, nothing more. A verbal commitment does not disallow other schools from continuing to recruit a player. Only the marriage, or signed LOI, can do that.

So, now kids were announcing their verbal commitments. At first they would do so through the network sites. Then, with huge increase in the number of recruiting fans, major networks such as ESPN got into the game. Now kids were announcing their verbal commitments on National Television. All-Star games sponsored by the networks were instituted to bring the top talent together for fans to see - and to get the kids to announce their college choices at the games.

As with any new gadget, or in this case source of contact with prospective student-athletes, there were problems. In 2002, the most egregious case involved a site owned by a University of Kentucky fan. He was actively instigating members and visitors by email and other methods to recruit certain players for the school. Posts would be made by the site owner informing members where a certain game involving a target was being held, and encouraging members to attend those games with signs and other forms of messaging urging that player to sign with Kentucky.

The site owner, Brian Poe, was subsequently banned from any contact with the school, or recruits of the school, for 27 years.

After 10-plus years the sites, like Inside Sparta, now in existence on the major networks have become recognized as legitimate media organizations, meaning they can contact prospective student-athletes without violating NCAA rules, as long as there is no affiliation with any schools, teams, or leagues.

This concludes our series - Recruiting 101. We have only scratched the surface of the rules and history of recruiting. If have further questions please visit You can also ask questions about this, or any other related topic, on the Inside Sparta Message Boards.

Don Hoekwater is the Publisher of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at

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