IN ITS NEW DOWNTOWN OFFICES, THIS TECH COMPANY AIMS TO REIMAGINE THE JOURNEY FROM HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETE TO SIGNED COLLEGE PLAYER
BY BRIAN DUNLEAVY • PHOTOS BY JON GORDON
Matt Wheeler and Chris Meade, founders of Sports Recruits, personify the classic entrepreneurial story. Still searching for a fulfilling career a few years out of college, their experiences as lacrosse players at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut inspired an idea for a product, and a new company was born. They started Sports Recruits in the basement of Wheeler’s childhood home in Darien, working on laptops at opposite ends of an old Ping-Pong table.
Now, nearly 10 years later, their vision has turned into a technology platform designed to assist student athletes in the college selection process, and has evolved into a MetroTech Center based multimillion dollar company with 46 employees. More than 50,000 young people and their families are currently using its technology.
“Not long after Chris and I graduated from Wesleyan and our lacrosse playing days were over, we realized that even with the Internet, the student athlete recruiting process was stuck in the past,” Wheeler explained. “We decided early on that we would identify where there was friction in the process, both from the student athlete side and the college side, and find a solution that would ease that friction. The Sports Recruits platform was the result.”
The company’s mission statement touts a product “built by former college athletes” and designed “to empower student athletes to pursue their dreams of playing collegiate sports.” In truth, to call it merely an app would be to undersell its capabilities.
In fact, what’s on offer for students and their families is the ability to create eye catching profiles that effectively market them to college coaches. According to Wheeler, coaches for all intercollegiate sports at all NCAA Division I, II, and III schools as well as all NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) and junior college programs across the country are enrolled (for free), and thus have access to profiles. Moreover, student athletes can use the platform to communicate with college coaches via email including exchanging vital information like video footage to streamline the process. “If you think back to how the recruiting process worked in, say, the 1990s, a student athlete who played football might have had to get on a plane to go to the Ohio State football camp in order to be seen by the coaching staff there,” noted Wheeler, who lives in Brooklyn. “Now, it doesn’t matter if it’s a big time sport like football or a so called non-revenue generating sport like squash; if a coach wants to see what an athlete looks like, they can get online and see footage. For us, we’re giving these young people the tools they need to get noticed in today’s recruiting environment, and a direct line to coaches.”
Student athletes can enroll individually download the platform onto a mobile device and pay a monthly membership fee for the service but, since 2015, Sports Recruits has also offered the platform to high schools and prep schools as well as travel and club sports teams nationwide. These institutions will automatically enroll their member athletes, and typically cover the costs associated with the platform.
“For them, it’s about getting their athletes into the best college programs,” Wheeler said, adding that the company has already enrolled more than 700 high schools and club teams from across the country.
In addition to communication functions, athletes and their families have access to tools that allow them to search for schools by sport, academic major, location, and admissions requirements, among other parameters. The company also aims to educate about the recruiting process, with all its promises and pitfalls, and has already developed an online tutorial Wheeler describes as the “ABCs of the recruiting process,” with other similar educational modules in development.
“When you’re going to take the SATs or the ACTs, you prepare for them,” he explained. “We think the recruiting process should be the same way. The college selection process is stressful for families anyway. When you add athletics, it becomes a Rubik’s Cube. Our idea is to provide them with the tools and information they need to make the process easier.”
On this latter point, Wheeler likes to cite the statistic that, for most families, college costs will be the biggest financial commitment they face next to buying a home. “And when you buy a house, you have a real estate agent, a lawyer, an engineer, and maybe even an architect helping you,” he said. “But when it comes to finding the right school, families often find themselves bumbling their way through the process. Our goal is to change that.”
The company moved from lower Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn in 2017, taking over an office space originally intended for a large insurance company. The reason, according to Wheeler, is employee recruiting; the borough brand resonates among young, energetic, and creative types, and current staff is made up mostly of former college athletes who know firsthand the needs of and challenges facing the platform’s end users.
“There’s a lot of energy in Brooklyn, and we like to channel that into what we do,” Wheeler said as he looked out a window overlooking Flatbush Avenue. “Particularly in recruiting for our staff. For the typical job candidate we see, the environment where they are going to work means something.”
One added benefit: Downtown is easily accessible. Meade, a native Long Islander, commutes from there into Atlantic Terminal, and both Wheeler and Meade agree the company’s new digs will help position it for continued growth as it enters a second decade. The Ping-Pong table that once served as their venture’s home base now has a prominent space in the new space, where it serves as a source of entertainment for the staff, and a symbol of humble beginnings. Ultimately, the partners want their platform to be used by every high school athlete in the country, regardless of their sport or what college or university they hope to attend.
“We have great stories of kids getting into schools that simply wouldn’t have known about them otherwise,” Wheeler noted. “The goal here has always been, even with all the pivots and evolutions over the years, to get our technology into the hands of the young people who can benefit from it. We want our platform to be the de facto way you handle the college recruitment process, and the go to place for education on that process.”
15 MetroTech Center, 8th Floor / sportsrecruits.com