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The Current State Of College Recruiting

College RecruitingWednesday was College Football National Signing Day.  On Tuesday, we took an in-depth look at the National Letter of Intent (NLI).  Now, let’s examine some other developments in recruiting college athletes and why we should all be concerned with the direction that recruiting is heading.

I have received quite a few tips about this New York Times story.  I am completely turned off by Brian Butler’s practice, which he claims is to “train and manage” blue-chip college football recruits.  In reality, he is nothing more than a handler, adding an extra burden for college athletic recruiters and taking away value from high school athletes, all the while, raking a healthy amount of money in compensation for offering such “services”, which seem to be little more than someone with an IQ of 60 could handle.  Is Butler an entrepreneur for putting together an idea to sell updates to his clients’ recruiting videos to recruiters, or is he a scam artist?

Some say he is navigating gray areas of N.C.A.A. rules and brokering his clients’ futures for personal gain. Others say he is providing his clients with exposure they would not normally receive by leveraging connections he has made during the recruitment of the Brown brothers to create a market for lesser players.

No doubt, this is for personal gain.  We would be naive to think that someone would set up such a scheme for any other purpose.  But is he really providing his clients more exposure outside of getting his own name and one client printed in this NYT article?  Butler has gone as far as to publicly announce that he is considering having some of the players he advises skip college to gain a quick buck in the CFL?  Are you kidding me?

Butler said he would explore the possibility of [Bryce] Brown’s skipping college and going to the Canadian Football League next season if approached by a team. He mentioned the idea of a team paying Brown $5 million a year for three years. But the salary cap for entire C.F.L. teams is $4.2 million Canadian.

This is a guy that high school athletes are handing their future over to?  Someone who has no clue about league salary caps?  My personal belief is that handlers do absolutely nothing to further an athlete’s career.  I understand that many blue-chip basketball and football players retain such handlers, but still have not figured out the reason why.  They are in it to profit off of the athlete’s talents and bring little-to-nothing to the table.  It is time that we weed them out of the system.  Instead, athletes need to put their trust in agents, who handlers often times are hired to select (at a fee to the player, or more often, the agent).  Agents are well qualified to advise and represent athletes (for the most part) and should not have to pay some uninterested party a fee just for a chance to talk to a player.

I may not get a good rap with Butler after writing this story, but I am all about becoming successful in this business the right way.  Sure, Butler has a huge presence in Kansas and many other parts of the U.S., but there are plenty of athletes who will wake up and realize that people like Butler are not necessary to enhance their future success.  Instead, agents who have a fiduciary duty to put their clients’ interests above their own personal gain, will continue to represent players who understand the basics of recruiting and continually question (correctly) why their money is going to particular people.

“We’ve got to the point where a handler or a street agent starts a Web site to charge money for an update,” said Tom Luginbill, the national recruiting director for ESPN and Scouts Inc. “I’m not in line with that. I think that is a precedent that could become very scary and very ugly.”

Agreed.  And another very concerning trend is that many of these handlers have troublesome pasts.  In my limited experience, I have been approached by various handlers and I have found with simple research that a plethora of them have some sort of criminal record.  Do you want to trust your promising future with anyone who does not have a squeaky clean past?  There are more than enough people who want the chance to represent you, you might as well choose the best.  History must be accounted for.  Does an arrest for forgery and pleading guilty to a felony charge say something about someone’s character?  Expunged or not, you be the judge.  What about failure to pay taxes?

And onto basketball, which seems to have had its recruiting process regress faster than football.  Basketball has its fair share of handlers, but another pressing issue is the recruitment of talent at such a young age.  An eighth grader signs a Letter Of Intent with the University of Kentucky.  An 11-year-old gets shopped around by his father on YouTube.  Now, the NCAA has officially lowered the grade-level age of ”recruitable” boys’ basketball prospects from ninth to seventh.  The intention is to keep recruiters out of middle school gyms, but will that be the only consequence of announcing such a rule?  It seems to actually legitimize the practice and encourage college recruiters to enter middle school gyms.  My middle school was 6th-8th grade.  Because colleges can’t recruit 6th graders, we should equate that with keeping them away from middle schoolers all together?

I agree that AAU coaches are becoming way too powerful when it comes to influencing their players, but is this the proper solution?  Instead of attacking the problem head on, I feel as though the NCAA will only make recruiting a more prevalent topic in middle school gyms and may actually serve to strengthen the power of AAU coaches.

”If a 12-year-old already knows where he wants to play college basketball, we’re all more warped than I thought,” [Florida International University coach Sergio] Rouco said. “Kids that age are going through puberty and should be thinking about things like movies and homework and going on a first date, not dealing with the pressures of college recruiting. What does a seventh-grader know about college?”

How can we fix the current state of college recruiting?

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.

8 replies on “The Current State Of College Recruiting”


Just want to say that this is a great article and that it was actually posted on the Miami Hurricanes blog I read and given a great compliment by the guy that runs that blog. Congrats on your success and making some waves.



Great article, as this topic deserves a lot of attention in today’s day and age of recruiting. While I completely agree that Butler’s tactics are unacceptable, there is a definitely a place for third parties in high school networking and recruiting. I think its important to note that beyond the clearly stated rules and regulations of the NCAA lie important guidelines and restrictions to abide by, a conduct if you will, that Butler clearly abuses in “handling his clients” the way that he does.

Let’s take a look at another angle though, one which focuses on one of the most important reasons behind all of this: the player’s future. From my own experience, I can relate to a lot of these players who are not, and will never be, “blue-chip athletes.” The rule of thumb (“If you’re good enough, they’ll find you”) doesn’t always hold true for players that aren’t putting up 30 points and 15 boards a game for Oak Hill or Mater Dei every night, yet who are still good enough to play at the college level. Through my experience, players who are low-major (and even some mid-majors) come almost a dime a dozen. From a personal standpoint, there were players who were far more talented (stronger, quicker, better scorer, etc), yet while their careers ended after their senior year, I was able to play on at the next level.

Why? Exposure through a third party. Not a “handler” (as I never paid him a dime), but a former college coach who still had all the ties and networking advantages to help with my exposure. At some high schools, coaches do a very poor job of marketing their players to college coaches. Again, for the 7-footer or kid who has clocked a 4.4, the letters and phone calls won’t stop. But for the kid out in Kansas in the middle of nowhere, whose coach may or may not be helping at all, third party sources can often be the difference maker in signing a letter of intent, as opposed to hanging the cleats up for good after that last high school game.

Perhaps there is no silver bullet to fix the constant tension between high school coaches, the AAU networks, and the Brian Butler’s who seem to be popping up around every corner. While the NCAA certainly has tried to impose regulations, it seems inevitable, and rather unfortunate for all parties involved, that as long as greed and personal interests dominate the scene in recruiting, “street handlers charging money for an update” is only the beginning of what is yet to come.

Jonathan, you give a real balanced perspective on the situation, especially from an athlete’s perspective. I think this article ( and Tim Ryan’s.take on the situation mirrors your response and provides great insight into the value third parties can provide to unknown, yet good players, if it they operate ethically and according to the rules.

I am one of the owners of a recruiting consulting company. I do not understand how the Browns are still eligible to play college football. I think Butler’s role establishes him as an agent and the brothers should be stripped of their NCAA eligibility.

Any thoughts?

I agree with the scary path of college recruitment. It starts earlier and earlier every year, and the amount of scamming web based services is out of control. I do not agree with all of Butler’s tactics and the thought of Bryce Brown skipping college for the CFL is insane to me. Getting bigger, faster, and stronger is not bad for elite high school athletes, so the performance training aspect does not bother me…IF he trains correctly.

I am the Director of Public Relations for a third party marketing service, College Promoters of Texas, and yes I make a living by helping high school athletes (I’m definitely not getting rich). As in every industry there are good and bad seeds, but our professionalism is unmatched. I think our longevity, our success, our store front office, our relationships with area high school coaches, and our family oriented guidance approach differentiates CPOTX from most, if not all, other services out there. We are not a national web based service that solicits any and all families for their credit card number, throws the athlete on a website, and walks away and we are not a pan handler charging yearly fees for updates. We are based in San Antonio, we work with athletes in the area that are able to communicate regularly and stop by our store front office at any time. I speak with high school and club coaches on a regular bases for their recommendations, and include them in our operations.

Do the blue chip athletes need a third party tagging along for 2 or 3 years? No. But the extra guidance and exposure (NCAA rules, time line prep, video, etc) from someone, CPOTX, with over 12 years of experience won’t hurt anybody. And as Woodard explained, not every student athlete is a Blue Chip athlete that is guaranteed an opportunity to sign a Letter of Intent. San Antonio area athletes do not receive the recruitment that many other big city athletes receive. I am very passionate about what I do and I know what I do changes kids lives, so I have no regrets for the what I do or the service CPOTX provides.

A proactive marketing approach and maximizing your recruiting are good ideas, but buyer beware.

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