As another college football recruiting season goes from "promise us" to "sign on the dotted line," there is probably at least one high school player in the country who owes his scholarship to a computer in Calabasas.
The machine, a Hewlett-Packard 3000, is fed highly subjective information on thousands of high school and junior college football players who are eligible prospects. It whirs and gurgles and somehow brings order out of chaos. The thousands of names are now ranked, rated and alphabetized.
"We hit the top 200 or 300 very accurately and the top 1,800 pretty good," said Jeff Duva, the man behind the computer. "Last year, I'd say that 90% of the players who got scholarships were in our reports. And we also opened doors for a lot of kids who may have been overlooked without us."
Duva, a former college quarterback, owns and operates the National College Recruiting Assn., which sends out scouting reports as thick as telephone books to 75 client colleges. The major colleges among his customers, like Oklahoma, use the report as a backup to their own intricate scouting systems.
"They can find out on their own who the top prospects are," said Duva, 29. "What we do for them is offer a second opinion and, once in a while, come up with a sleeper. They can't possibly cover all the bases. We can. We can do the bird-dogging."
The member schools with smaller budgets, such as Cal State Northridge, can't possibly duplicate the recruiting machinery and scope of Oklahoma. Duva's service helps them compensate.
"It broadens our horizons," said Rich Lopez, offensive line coach at CSUN, who headed recruiting last year under Tom Keele. "Coaches here have to teach class, so we don't have the time to do a lot of traveling and see everybody. We do cover Southern California thoroughly, but Duva's service helps us a lot with the northern part of the state.
"Coaches are paranoid. They like to have four or five lists in their possession so they don't miss anybody."
Duva and his Hewlett-Packard have compiled lists for five years. Three times a year, he sends letters to nearly every high school and junior college coach in the country, asking them to rate their top players' ability and college potential--and to list their speed in the 40-yard dash and grade-point average.
Players are then sent questionnaires, which include questions on grades, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, football statistics, top five college choices and their family history. Of the 18,000 requests he sent to coaches last season, Duva said, about 40% were filled out and returned. Of the 20,000 players listed by the coaches, about 8,000 responded to his questionnaires.
"Some coaches are very good about filling them out," Duva said, "and some don't want to be bothered."
Because of the NCAA's new emphasis on academics, a prospect's grades and SAT scores are now as important to a college recruiter as his time in the 40. Duva often gets the information when coaches can't.
"In California," Lopez said, "it's sometimes hard to get a kid's grades from the high schools because of the privacy act."
To augment data provided by players and coaches, Duva said he mails letters to 500 newspapers, asking sportswriters who specialize in high schools to analyze the top players in their region. About 250 sportswriters cooperate, he said.
Duva also pays 10 regional scouts $50 to $500 a year; his national scouting director is Howard Benioff of Arcadia. "They're real recruiting buffs," Duva said. "They go out and see as many games as possible in their areas, and they each have 10 friends who also see games, so it turns into a large network."
Duva said he has programmed his computer to digest all the information from coaches, players, sportswriters and scouts, then weed out exaggerations, inaccuracies and inconsistencies. "The computer will downgrade a player" if it discovers he has been hyped, Duva said.
Duva publishes three times a year: before and after football season, and in the spring. The 1985 preseason report included a list of the computer's top 100 high school players. The only Valley-area player listed was Randy Austin, a linebacker at Canyon High.
"The Valley is not putting out players like it used to," Duva said.
The spring report, which is not as detailed as the other two, is mailed free to about 500 colleges. The 75 colleges that get all three reports pay $75 to $1,000 a year, depending on their size.
When Duva started the operation in 1981, he had only 10 subscribers. Even though the business has grown, Duva estimates that he has lost about $10,000. He employs two full-time assistants but devotes only 20 hours a week to the scouting service because he's involved full time in other computer-related businesses.
"It took a lot of capital to get started," he said. "We're still not making money, but we're close to breaking even. Right now I need those other projects to keep me financially solvent."