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By running elite camps, Rivals gains control

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POSTED June 8, 2013 1:34 a.m.

NEW YORK (AP) — As recruiting coverage becomes more competitive, Rivals.com has come up with a way to help separate itself from the pack.

Already one of the most successful and popular spots on the Internet for recruiting news, Rivals.com is now in the business of running camps for highly recruited football prospects.

There have been 15 Rivals camps around the country this spring, leading up to a showcase event this weekend: The Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge at Soldier Field in Chicago. Among the top prospects on the roster for the invitation-only camp are Da’Shawn Hand, a defensive end from Virginia, and Deshaun Watson, a quarterback from Georgia.

The camps allow Rivals.com, which is owned by Yahoo, to push the brand name while helping its reporters to gather a mountain of information for its users

Eric Winter, head of Rivals.com, said after sending his staff all over the country to scout players and make contacts he realized Rivals was missing an opportunity by not running its own camps.

“So we could control the environment, and create a run of show that was catered to our needs and our users’ and paid subscribers’ needs, wants and desires,” Winter said recently.

Winter tapped into former San Diego State coach Al Luginbill, whom Winter covered for the student paper when he was a student at SDSU, to lead a staff of former professional coaches and players to run the prospects through various drills.

And because Rivals is in control, it can have some fun with the matchups.

“We’ll put the Clemson commit against the Florida State commit,” Winter said. “Arizona against Arizona State.”

The players participating in the regional camps and Five-Star Challenge don’t have to pay an entry fee.  Rivals has partnered with Under Armour, which provides some gear for the players, such as jerseys, gloves and socks.

Rivals.com was launched in 2001, and bought by Yahoo in 2007. In that time, recruiting coverage has become even more competitive. Scout.com is probably Rivals’ biggest competitor. 247Sports is a relative newcomer making a strong push into the market. ESPN.com has a recruiting staff. Sports websites such as SB Nation and Bleacher Reporter also provide recruiting news.

Media organizations running events for top prospects to show off their talents is not a new idea. Scout.com organized combines for top football prospects from 2004-09.

“It’s a whole lot easier when you have limited resources to have people come to you in limited spots,” said Scott Kennedy, scouting director for Fox Sports, which owns Scout.com. “You get your recruits, get your video, get true heights and weights. It helps the whole process. You build your relationships, getting face time with those players.

“I think they’re a terrific idea.”

The Scout.com combines came to end in 2009 when Fox decided not to allocate the funds for them.

Kennedy said there are some trade-offs that come with running camps. First, it’s a lot of work that doesn’t necessarily involve scouting and reporting. Second, it can lead to limited access at other camps because organizers are competing for the same top players.

Students Sports, which partners with Nike, organizes some of the most popular camps, such as Elite 11 and The Opening.

Scout.com reporters weren’t at the Rivals camps nor will they be at the Five-Star Challenge, Kennedy said. And Rivals.com reporters will likely have problems getting media credentials at those Student Sports camps.

But Winter figures that the hours and hours of exclusive video, audio and access that Rivals gets of some of the top prospects in the country at the camps it runs makes it more than worth it.

“Rivals is first and foremost a media company and it’s our responsibility to deliver a comprehensive technical and editorial product to our audience,” he said. “We’re feeding the daily habits of the most intense and passionate college football recruiting fans.”

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