Jerry Kill is no different than most college football coaches when it comes to receiving outside advice in recruiting. He wants to make his own evaluations, see things with his own eyes, formulate his own opinions.
"I'm going to make my own assessment of who I think is good and not good," the Gophers coach said. "Some people say, 'Well, that guy is a five-star guy.' Well, who's rating that five-star guy? I'd rather look at them myself."
But many schools, including the Gophers, also rely on recruiting services to do some of the initial legwork, often at a hefty price. College programs devote a portion of their budget to purchase biographical information, videos and scouting reports on high school recruits around the country in an effort to crosscheck their own databases and save time in recruiting turf wars.
As the recruiting season inches toward the Feb. 1 signing day, coaches are focused more on finalizing classes than evaluating talent. But recruiting services operate year-round hoping to aid the process and, yes, make money.
Opinions vary among college coaches on the usefulness of recruiting services and their true benefit. That industry gained national attention this past year after the NCAA launched an investigation into Oregon's involvement with Houston-based talent scout Willie Lyles.
The NCAA is investigating whether Oregon paid Lyles $25,000 for legitimate recruiting material or to steer high-profile recruits to the program, including running back Lache Seastrunk. Lyles had a mentoring relationship with several current and former Ducks players. The recruiting information Lyles provided Oregon reportedly was outdated.
"Here's the problem with recruiting services: There are a lot of different entities in the industry that are lumped under this classification," said Randy Rodgers, who owns a scouting service focused solely on Texas prep football.
Rodgers puts 30,000 miles a year on his pickup truck scouting talent across the state. He estimates that he visits 12 to 15 high schools each week to talk with coaches, watch practices and games and study videotape. He writes a one-page scouting report on prospects he evaluates -- 743 total last year.
Rodgers offers just one of many scouting services that focus on a particular area of the country. The NCAA does not require recruiting services to be sanctioned or registered with the governing body, so it's difficult to know exactly how many exist. The NCAA is considering a proposal that would require football and basketball recruiting/scouting services to be approved on an annual basis.
"It's like anything else, common sense should prevail," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said before the 2011 season. "If something should cost $5 and a guy is charging $100, you might want to ask a couple of questions."
Big money at stake
College football is big business, and recruiting services represent a piece of that. Schools routinely spend tens of thousands on recruiting information each year. Some services charge only a few hundred dollars for their material. Others can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 per year.
The Gophers spent $140,000 total on recruiting services over a three-year span beginning in 2008, according to data provided by the school. The Gophers spent significantly less in that area once Kill took over last season. They allotted $27,500 for the 2010-11 school year.
Purdue spent roughly $274,000 on recruiting services, Wisconsin $145,000 and Iowa $62,500 during the same three-year span, according to those schools. Even Michigan ($105,000) and Ohio State ($77,400) -- two schools with a tradition of success and a national brand name -- utilize scouting services.
That's not unusual even for powerhouse programs. Newly crowned national champion Alabama spent nearly $220,000 total on recruiting services the past three years, according to the Birmingham News.
"Everyone purchases recruiting services," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "It's a good practice, a good procedure in the recruiting process. There's been some instances where it's been abused some. But a recruiting service is no different than buying a catalog from Cabela's when you get your fishing equipment. Or Sears when you want to buy your appliances."
As long as the rules don't become blurred, coaches say, the relationship can be mutually beneficial.
"When I first started recruiting South Florida there used to be a packet this guy would sell and everybody was getting it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I got it because it had great information. It had [recruits'] addresses, their birthdates, all this pre-packaged information. The guy was trying to build a relationship with me. I said, 'Hey, I already bought your package, I don't need to [be friends].'"
Saving time costs money
Rodgers started his scouting service after coaching football for nearly 30 years, including a stint at Inver Hills Community College and later as recruiting coordinator at Illinois and Texas. He retired from coaching after Texas fired John Mackovic in 1997.
Rodgers saw a need for college coaches and a way to make money using his recruiting expertise.
"The hardest thing for college coaches to do is to evaluate players during the season," Rodgers said. "It dawned on me that there is a business model here that the NFL has. The NFL has coaches and they have scouts. In college, coaches and scouts are the same guys. What they really suffer from is time availability."
Rodgers charges schools $3,000 to $6,000 annually for his material. He said he has 45 to 50 clients in Division I, including the Gophers, Michigan and Ohio State in recent years.
"I'm going to save you time," he said. "Time is precious because the NCAA legislates time for coaches on the road. If you're Minnesota and you're coming to Texas, you don't want to waste time going to view players who aren't good enough to help you win in the Big Ten.
"By the same token, you don't want to waste a lot of time chasing after guys you're never going to have a chance to recruit because Texas and Oklahoma are after him. No offense to the Gophers, but they're not going to beat Texas head-to-head on any kid in Texas."
Coaches say advances in technology -- specifically video -- enable them to make better use of their time. Recruiting services enable them to streamline their game plan once they hit the road.
"That's why everybody can go into anybody's area and make some hay recruiting-wise, because they can do their homework sitting right there at their desk," Hope said. "In the old days, you had to get a road map, brown bag with some lunch meat and stuff to eat and had to travel around to all the high schools and hit it door-to-door. It's not that way anymore."
Even with that benefit, Kill still describes himself as a "people guy," meaning he relies more on relationships formed with high school coaches over the years than recruiting material provided by outsiders.
"If I was younger, maybe I'd have to do more of that," he said. "But I'm old enough now that I know enough people that we're going to do it off people that we know."