A New App Emerges in College Recruiting
Updated: Jul 28
Eight years ago, if someone told you that college sports recruitment would someday work similarly to the new dating app called Tinder, where people had to swipe right on each other before talking, you would probably think they were crazy.
But that’s precisely what Athletics in Recruitment (AIR) is doing.
Founded by James Sackville in 2020, AIR aims to disrupt the traditional college recruitment methods that have been in place for decades. He founded AIR after hearing of recruitment horror stories where his teammates got snubbed of potentially great sports careers because their coaches ravaged their reputation early in the process.
He also noticed that plenty of players lamented about not realizing their “true potential.” Still, at the time, Sackville saw no reliable way to see if his teammates were really great, or they just thought they were great.
Described as a crossover between LinkedIn and Bumble, AIR is bringing the recruiting experience to the Internet. It’s also bringing it in a way that anyone who’s had a smartphone will be familiar with, at least vaguely.
Like Bumble, but for Sports
AIR will bring coaches and players together in a simplified recruitment-slash-matching process. First, players will create an account and put in the usual metrics: height, weight, handedness, wingspan, etc.
Nothing unusual so far, except that they can also upload videos of themselves to show the peak of their physical abilities. Coaches have drills that they usually want recruits to see, and in AIR, players can upload videos of themselves performing these drills so they can instantly market their abilities.
Coaches, on the other hand, will be the ones doing the searching and recruiting. As such, they can filter for specific athletes based on height, location, academics, and any other trait their team is missing. They can also filter based on school, graduation year, and even the position they play. From this pool of filtered players, coaches can then look at individual profiles and swipe on the players they want to recruit.
This simplifies the process for coaches because the initial setup basically works like the coach “building” an ideal player and looking for actual players close to the criteria.
Players can market who they are as a person, not just as a player
One of the myths that AIR aims to debunk is that the recruitment scene is all about talent. The truth is that while talent is a substantial factor in recruiting, coaches are looking for players that can contribute for at least 4 years, and this requires looking at a player’s academics and character.
AIR addresses this issue by allowing players to market themselves not just as players but also as persons by displaying even information not directly related to the sport.
AIR recognizes that there’s a need to verify the information that a player puts on his profile — anyone can say that they have a 38” vertical jump — which is why it allows Liaisons to verify a player’s profile information.
How the App Works
Since the driving force in this market will be the scholarship offers from coaches, only coaches can initiate conversations with players. But, of course, there needs to be a “match” between coach and player before any conversation can take place at all.
AIR is looking to market to three primary audiences: players looking for athletic placements, coaches looking for their next stars, and liaisons looking for access to the sports market.
AIR is free to use for both coaches and players, but players will have to pay for a premium subscription if they want the full features of the app like “super liking” (which is not too different from Tinder’s SuperLike) and liking multiple schools within 24 hours. Players who choose to stick to the free tier can still use the app for marketing themselves, but their ability to interact will be more restricted.
AIR works in a way familiar to everyone
For Scott Nady, director of football operations at Southern Methodist University, swiping is already ingrained into everyone’s life, coaches and players included. This app brings something new to the table but is packaged in a box that almost everyone is familiar with.
And that is a brilliant move on the part of Sackville because he recognizes that coaches won’t have all the time in the world to look at every player’s video highlights. They’ll watch just a handful at most before looking at the next one, and if they can do that with a mobile app that’s easy to use, everyone wins.
AIR equalizes the playing field
In the old days, recruitment was solely in the hands of the coach. Players were subject to the whims of whoever the available coach was, and they didn’t have much of a choice in it. It was also hard to get discovered by coaches in distant places, which creates a lot of missed opportunities if players happened to fit the bill of a coach in a school hundreds of miles away.
AIR takes that traditional setup and turns it on its head. Now, players have as much freedom as they want, not only to showcase their best features but also to ensure that they can be seen only by the schools they want to play for.
Liaisons and AIR
To maintain compliance with NCAA rules and regulations, especially on coaches directly contacting players, AIR allows liaisons to use the app.
In addition to verifying the players’ vital information, liaisons also serve as the coaches’ means of communicating with the player until September of the player’s junior year.
Once on the app, liaisons can request to be a liaison for a player. The player must approve the liaison’s request to finalize the on-app connection.
Liaisons will be notified if any coaches swipe right on the player they are advocating for. They can also use AIR as their own marketing platform, allowing them to market themselves as private trainers.