The Story Behind Verified Athletics
You never know when the inspiration for an idea will hit you.
For Nate Slutzky, one of the founders of Verified Athletics, it was behind the wheel of his rental car, as he was rolling along Interstate 90 going across Ohio. Verified Athletics, which launched in November, is a new athletic performance testing service that is changing the game for college recruiting, by making it affordable and accessible to athletes, and by sharing accurate recruiting data with college coaches nationwide.
"I remember I was driving to see a high school recruit," recalls Slutzky, who was then a football coach at Fordham University. "I had been on the road for a few days already, checking out other recruits, visiting with them and their high school coaches, just to verify the scouting information we had. I started thinking about how much money it cost us... all the time, all the calls, all the travel, just to make sure a kid's height and weight and 40-yard dash time were accurate. To make it worse, there were dozens of coaches from other schools doing the same thing for the same athletes. Not to mention all the time and money the athletes themselves were investing in the recruiting process."
At the time Slutzky was responsible for recruiting one region of the country, covering five states. During his long hours behind the wheel, he started formulating the plan for Verified Athletics, a better way for high school athletes -- and high school coaches -- to share accurate and reliable information with all colleges.
Research indicates that over 90% of high school athletes and their families do not understand the recruiting process, but 50% think they do. Most high school coaches, the most trusted resource for these athletes, have a better but not complete picture of how recruiting works. "Recruiting services, and occasionally college coaches, were taking advantage of that knowledge gap," according to Slutzky.
Among the major pitfalls of the recruiting process is the lack of accurate information. Self-reported data, from athletes and high school coaches, was at best is inconsistent, and at worst intentionally inflated. To combat this, many athletes feel they have to attend a series of college camps and privately run recruiting combines, in order to make their data available to college programs. They spend their summer driving to different schools and to recruiting events, to attend various college camps and combines in different parts of the country, just to make sure that a coach in California -- or Texas, or any other part of the country -- will see his information.
"Just imagine the impact that kind of time and expense has on parents and families,” says Slutzky. And unfortunately for many of those athletes and families, that time and money is a waste. "The system was flawed. Colleges often do not trust the information coming from private services because they are trying to 'sell' these players, so those reports go right into the garbage," according to Slutzky. As for college camps, most athletes do not get a fair look or consideration because coaches are typically looking at only certain top-level recruits.
He continued to hone his idea by surveying many of his friends and former colleagues throughout the coaching ranks. He realized that he was not alone and that coaches needed reliable information, including physical measurements (height, weight, etc.), performance metrics (speed, vertical jump, etc.) and academic standing. As one coach said, "I am shocked when I visit a high school to meet a possible recruit and find that his information is actually accurate."
Slutzky kept formulating his vision and sought out one of his University of Colorado classmates, Damir Makic, a former technology M&A banker, to discuss the potential business venture. They agreed that there was a real need in college football recruiting and started putting together the basic model for Verified Athletics. To really change the game, their concept depended on four tenets: Accuracy -- honest and consistent data that coaches could depend on; Affordability -- testing events and database access priced fairly, so every athlete could attend and every college participate; Accessibility -- testing events located in key recruiting areas, to eliminate the need for extensive travel; and Availability: recruiting information for all athletes must be available to all coaches at all colleges.
"I've worked with a lot of successful technology companies throughout my career," says Makic. "When Nate came to me and started discussing his vision, I knew we should do this. As a coach, he was unable to find honest and accurate information, and he understands the recruiting process from the inside. By designing quality testing events and a centralized hub of data, Verified Athletics meets the needs of both sides of the recruiting equation -- the athletes and the college coaches -- and eliminates the unnecessary costs involved."
Starting January 27 in Hartford, CT, Verified Athletics will hold 18 regional performance testing events across the United States, with a plan to expand to over 40 events next year. These events will be held within a two hour drive of the major recruiting areas. Verified Athletics will charge only $20 for athletes to attend. To ensure accurate data, free from any human error, Verified Athletics will be using laser timers and other state-of-the-art digital testing equipment that is used at the NFL combine. All this data, and the athletes' contact information, high school transcripts and highlight videos, will be part of their profiles that will be posted in the Verified Athletics database.
"This levels the playing field for athletes and schools," says Makic. "Athletes, even from the smallest high school, will know that their information is up there alongside all other athletes." Slutzky added, "All college coaches need reliable information, and Verified Athletics will deliver that."
As of November 15, only two months after announcing Verified Athletics, over 100 college programs have subscribed, with new schools signing up each day. More importantly, the reception has been great among high school athletes and their coaches. Though there has been limited advertising, over 900 high school football players have signed up.
In order to further de-mystify the recruiting process, there will be seminars for athletes and parents at every Verified Athletics testing event, and similar informational content posted on its website (verifiedathletics.com). In addition to eliminating the need, and the extra effort and expense, to verify data, Verified Athletics' goal is to bring honesty and transparency to the process.
The two co-founders feel that they are serving both audiences -- athletes and coaches. "We are giving athletes the best way to get their information to the right college," said Makic. "We also know, from speaking to coaches, the importance of accurate information, and that's what Verified Athletics is all about," added Slutzky.