Lessons from Hart's hoax

Monday February 11th, 2008

The Kevin Hart saga zoomed past weird last week and careened directly into surreal. How? Jerry Glanville got involved.

Sources told Portland, Ore., television station KPTV late last week that the black-clad, tickets-for-Elvis-leaving former Atlanta Falcons coach, who now works at I-AA Portland State, had asked Fernley (Nev.) High coaches for game film of Hart. This after Hart fabricated his entire recruitment and didn't get caught until after announcing a non-existent commitment to Cal at a very real assembly attended by everyone at his school.

The ploy will earn Glanville -- ever the showman -- attention for his program. It may earn Hart a chance to play college football, which seemed doubtful after he admitted on national signing day that he'd concocted the entire tale. So something positive may emerge from this mess, which, according to the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, may cost Fernley coachMark Hodges his job.

Still, something else needs to happen. Parents, coaches and school administrators need to understand the recruiting process. This could keep them from getting embarrassed, and it could help them nip a teenager's mistake in the bud before his lie becomes national news.

So print out this column and stick it on the fridge. It could save you a few headaches later. Thanks to an assist from Joe Hornback, a former Kansas offensive lineman and high school coach who wrote The Next Level: A Prep's Guide to College Recruiting, we present SI.com's Handy-Dandy Guide To Knowing Whether Your Child/Player/Student Is Actually Being Recruited.

Even Division III-caliber players get reams of mail from college football programs. Why? Coaches at Ohio State, LSU, USC and other cash-cow programs may spend their lunch breaks backstroking through piles of money, but most schools that sponsor football have to pinch pennies. Coaches who can't hop a private jet will bulk-mail questionnaires to any player who showed up on an all-district team. If the player's answers intrigue the coach, he will request film from the player's high school coach. If he likes what he sees, he'll keep sending mail.

Hornback, now a high school assistant principal in Kansas who advises potential recruits at Rivals.com's Five-Star Academies, said even a pile of mail from the same school doesn't necessarily indicate interest.

"At a Big 12 school I talked to recently, they had 450 juniors on their mailing list," Hornback said. "They're not going to sign 450 kids."

No college coach will risk a valuable scholarship -- or his job, for that matter -- on a player without first asking a few questions of the people who know the player best. While the NCAA limits how often a coach can speak to a player, it places no limit on how often a college recruiter can speak with the player's high school coach. Most college coaches also will quiz teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators to ensure they aren't inviting a potential ax murderer to take up residence on their campus. Obviously, the recruiter also will contact the player's parents or guardian. They need all the information they can get.

"If it's a legitimate offer that they're going to follow through on, it's going to come from the head coach," Hornback said. "And you can get it in writing." That may not guarantee the school will honor the scholarship, but it should provide some piece of mind.

When Hart's story began to fall apart, it still seemed semi-believable because he claimed he'd been scammed by someone acting as a middleman. This isn't that far-fetched. There are people out there who charge parents hundreds, and sometimes thousands of dollars with the promise of connecting their son with schools looking for players just like him. This isn't necessary.

If you know a good A/V club nerd, a little bit of postage is all you should have to pay. If your son's high school coach isn't doing this already, make a DVD or CD-Rom (highlights for skill-position players, the best one or two full games for linemen) and send it to the recruiting coordinators of the schools that look interesting. College coaches do actually watch that stuff because they don't want to be the guy who missed the diamond in the rough.

Additionally, Hornback said parents and coaches can fill out a form and upload video to Rivals.com. The company will evaluate the video, and if the player looks like a Division I prospect, Rivals will include the player in its database. Every football program in the country subscribes to Rivals and Scout.com, and the schools who can't afford to send their coaches across the country will use the sites to find players they may want to evaluate further.

Hornback advises making contact with schools in your region. If you have a low I-A or I-AA prospect in the Heartland, he said, don't expect a school in California to see his video and immediately offer a full ride. Remember, most schools have to pinch pennies, and all things equal, an in-state player's scholarship costs less than an out-of-state player's scholarship.

You might think your son is Johnny Unitas, Abraham Lincoln and Brad Pitt rolled into one, but college coaches will take a more objective view. It's quite possible your son isn't Penn State or Georgia material. It's possible he isn't Youngstown State or Georgia Southern material. Instead of getting angry, try to find the level where your son realistically fits. Had someone done that for Kevin Hart, the entire mess might have been avoided. At 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, Hart probably would have drawn interest from Division I-AA and Division II schools. Depending on his quickness, he also might have earned a walk-on spot at a Division I-A school.

College coaches typically will be brutally honest in their assessments. If they receive your son's video and send a form letter wishing him the best of luck in his career, they don't think he's good enough. It may crush your kid's ego to learn he doesn't fit that category, but life is full of harsh realizations. It's better for his bubble to burst in private than after a real press conference for a fake commitment.

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