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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Squeeze Play

Like many parents, Mike Feig invested in his son Garrett’s education. But the $1,995 he paid Collegiate Sports of America Inc. may have generated the best return.

Garrett is now a free safety on a four-year scholarship at Southern Oregon University, where out-of-state students pay $22,500 for tuition, room and board per year and Feig is convinced that the exposure Garrett got from CSA landed both a good education and savings of tens of thousands of dollars.

“Without the scholarship, he would have ended up at junior college for a year or two years,” said Feig. “In his senior year, we started getting calls from small schools all over the country, schools I never would have known existed, much less apply to.”

CSA is a franchiser that markets scholarship-minded high school athletes to colleges. Feig was one of about 2,000 parents last year who purchased one of CSA’s four recruiting packages, which range from $199 to $1,995.

The top-of-the-line package includes an academic and athletic performance profile, complete with streaming video of the student in action, and is sent to 300 schools nationwide.

The business was founded in 1982 by Jeff Duva as a reaction to the frustration he felt recruiting athletes when he was a coach on California State University Northridge’s football team. At Northridge, Duva said, he found himself competing with other coaches in the area as they scrambled to recruit from the same limited batch of students. “I realized there were thousands of athletes that fell through the cracks and never got discovered and just disappeared,” Duva said.

Duva was backed by his father and uncle, who helped finance the initial $80,000 investment for custom-designed hardware and software to build the profile database in his garage. He used relationships among coaches and others to spread the word about his clearinghouse.

Expanded influence

About 70 percent of CSA’s revenues come from sales of the marketing packages, the remainder mostly from franchise sales. Duva projects 40 percent growth for the current fiscal year, with revenues of $3.5 million.

“I didn’t break even until the third year,” said Duva, who continued working as a mortgage broker and stockbroker to pay bills and build up the company.

CSA claims to have helped more than 40,000 students get scholarships at U.S. colleges over the last 20 years volume it generated by setting up a network of 87 franchises in 38 states. Each franchise is generally operated by a single scout who purchases a territory for about $30,000, depending on the area’s student population.

While CSA claims a nearly 90 percent placement rate, there are no assurances of a scholarship. “We’re very clear with the families, we make no guarantees,” said Jack Wright, CSA’s vice president of franchise development. “It’s not something we have 100 percent control over. I won’t say that in my 12 years working here, we haven’t had some disgruntled parents complain.”

There are 7 million high school athletes in the U.S., and only 1 percent get Division I scholarships, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. For a scholarship to a less prominent Division II or III school, however, the number jumps to 54 percent.

That creates opportunity for the large group of good student athletes, although they and their parents often lack the time and resources to scour the country in search of scholarship opportunities. CSA and other recruiting firms use their databases to identify opportunities for unrecruited athletes.

Some college coaches and athletic directors say recruiting firms give families a false sense of hope. It’s those same families who often need scholarships the most and who cannot afford to pay recruiting firms to find one for them.

Craig Laurent, the varsity basketball and football coach at Hollywood High School, was approached by a recruiting service three years ago about a promising basketball player it was interested in representing. “They gave me their information, and I passed it along to the student,” he said. “He refused them because they would charge the family about $1,500.”

Laurent said the student wound up with about 10 different offers and he will be playing ball at either Boston University or Colorado State next year.

At UCLA, a Division I school, CSA’s database is just one of several avenues to find athletes, and the school allots the coaches about $5,000 a year for each major sport to pay for up to 10 different scouting services, said Michael Sondheim, UCLA’s assistant athletic director, who does much of the recruiting.

Sondheim said he likes CSA’s database because it emphasizes academic as well as athletic performance. “That’s beneficial to a school like UCLA because our admission policy is one of the strictest in the U.S.,” he said. “We can’t just let people in who perform athletically.”

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