Emfinger Feeds The Passion

<b>Max Emfinger</b> works at his house, in a room with no windows.

The only way he knows it's late at night is that the phone doesn't ring as often as it does during the day.

"I usually don't go to sleep until 4 a.m., and sometimes I don't sleep," Emfinger said. "My wife Ginger calls (the work room) my box."

For the last 22 years, Emfinger has immersed himself in his work. He was the original recruiting guru, and for a few years during the early 1980s he was one of only a handful of people who made college football recruiting a full-time job.

But in the late 1980s that changed. Many more got into the business, including some, like Bobby Burton, whom Emfinger tutored.

With the arrival of the Internet in the 1990s, the recruiting analyst business grew even bigger. Today recruiting analysts are prevalent on Web sites and on sports talk radio shows.

Emfinger, who lives in Covington, said he's the reason for the boom.

"I used to be the only guy in the country that did this," Emfinger said. "I got into it because I was a recruiting buff, just like all the people that take my service. Prior to 1980 there wasn't a lot of information on these kids. There wasn't a lot of information available for anybody -- coaches, media, anybody. I changed all that. I found out who the players were in the spring. I helped make the recruiting lists.

"Then in about the middle 1980s, everybody started thinking if I could do it, they could make money on it."

What once was a mom-and-pop operation turned into big business.

The reason, Emfinger said, is because there is a big market for this information. College football fans clamor for the information and purchase recruiting services on the Internet and in magazines and newsletters. Before the Internet boom, Emfinger had a subscriber list of 8,000.

But not everyone thinks the growth of recruiting analysts is good. For one thing, recruiting analysts are not regulated by the NCAA and really can't be.

The colleges have helped grow the business as well. They will pay from $500 to $4,000 to buy a recruiting analyst's junior list. Emfinger said he sells his list to more than 20 teams and has 25 requests for his junior list for next year, with signing day still two days away.

Another problem is the growth of the Internet and the rumors that constantly appear on recruiting sites.

"I have expressed all this to the NCAA," John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis said. "The rules that have curtailed recruiting by the schools have made recruiting services a very lucrative business. I'll get calls at 10 p.m. from $6-an-hour phone operators working for these services, asking for information on my kids.

"Several years ago this was about guys, like Max Emfinger, who enjoyed it. They'd go to games, even baseball games, to watch the kids. They did their research. Now it's all a matter of what you put on a piece of paper. A lot of these guys talk about kids as though they know them, when all they know is what they see on paper."

Emfinger said it is true that many have gotten into the business who don't put in as much work as he and others. Emfinger travels almost every weekend during the season to watch players. He traveled to San Antonio in December to watch a high school all-star game and practices before the game. He stands on the sidelines and takes pictures.

He also watches film on players that he can't see in person.

College coaches said, for the most part, recruiting analysts do a good job. That's obvious in that the schools buy the analysts' work. But West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez, the former offensive coordinator at Tulane when the Green Wave was 12-0 in 1998, said those lists are used more as a starting point for colleges.

"You have to be a year ahead," Rodriguez said. "We're already compiling our list for next year. We do buy those (recruiting analyst) lists. We don't subscribe to all of them. Some of them, to be honest, are overpriced. But you want to see the names that are out there. We start off with 5,000 names in the spring, then whittle it to 150-200 by the fall. Having those lists helps you begin."

Rodriguez said sometimes the lists aren't very accurate, either. "You still have to do your own research," he said. "Sometimes a five-star rated kid really shouldn't be rated that high, and a one-star kid turns out to be a star. For us, we will never offer a kid based on a rating by a recruiting (analyst)."

Rodriguez said Emfinger is among those analysts respected by the college football community. He said Emfinger knows the business.

Emfinger agrees. But he said business hasn't always been good. Because he's self-employed, there are no job benefits. He said there have been good years and bad years. He was among the first on the Internet, but he said he lost money because he was giving too much information away.

He also said the NCAA has hindered his ability to make a profit. In 1982 he was about to offer advertising in his recruiting magazine, and he had several colleges lined up to purchase ads. But the NCAA passed a rule that year that prohibited colleges from advertising in recruiting publications.

In 1985 he built a theater-style room in his house near Houston. He would bring in head coaches and their staffs to watch film on recruits he had begun to evaluate.

"I charged them $2,000, and we had a lot of coaching staffs coming in," Emfinger said. "My wife would feed them, and I was making money."

But in 1987 the NCAA passed a rule against coaches traveling off campus to do that.

Emfinger said his dream job was to be a recruiting coordinator. He was about to take a job in the middle 1990s when the NCAA voted to, in essence, eliminate the position. Recruiting coordinators had to be on-field coaches as well.

"I'm not a coach," Emfinger said.

Emfinger said he's not perfect, and no recruiting guru is. The St. Louis Rams have three players, quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and defensive back Aeneas Williams, who weren't considered blue-chip high school prospects.

"A friend of mine and I were looking at a list of the five top preseason players in Texas from five years ago," Emfinger said. "He named about 10 players who we couldn't remember where they went. It's an inexact science. But I try to make it as exact as you can."

Nevertheless, Emfinger said he's more often on the mark than not. He also said he thinks he has brought accountability into the recruiting process.

"The teams that have done very well the last five years have been in my top five in recruiting every single year in the last five," Emfinger said. "That's Tennessee, Florida State, Texas, Florida. The teams that don't recruit well are never going to be able to compete.

"In 1977 college coaches could sign 25 guys, get up on a podium and say they had a great recruiting class. Nobody could dispute them because nobody knew. We made the coaches more honest. They couldn't (hoodwink) their people about how they had a great class anymore.

"College football fans are passionate. They want to know who the best players are and how their school is doing. That's what I do."

Trey Iles can be reached at tiles@timespicayune.com or (985) 898-4833.


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