College Free Agents startup gets go-ahead from NCAA
Startup now can market its service to universitiesSeptember 14th, 2017
College Free Agent LLC, a company started by two young Spokane entrepreneurs, wants to help university athletic departments identify and recruit athletes at other programs who are categorized as redshirt juniors.
Now, it has the approval from the National Collegiate Athletic Association to do just that.
College Free Agent founders and co-owners Matthew Montoya, 19, and Bryce Westfall, 20, say the NCAA recently allowed its member institutions to subscribe to the company’s service, thus clearing the way for the Spokane-based business to begin generating revenue.
Already, some athletic departments have signed on.
Though he declines to reveal an exact number, Westfall says “more than a half dozen” of the current college football teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 recently paid $150 for an annual membership, giving them full access to the company’s website.
“We can now provide coaches with a better way to identify players that may be eligible to transfer schools and begin playing for them,” says Westfall, a junior at the University of Washington and graduate of Lewis & Clark High School.
Montoya, an East Valley High School graduate, designed the software and built a database, and both he and Wesftall built the website—collegefreeagent.com—that has a list of more than 6,000 college athletes in 10 different sports.
Westfall and Montoya decline to disclose revenue generated by the business.
“We’ve made enough to cover our startup costs,” Westfall says.
A redshirt year can be taken during any year of collegiate eligibility. During a redshirt year, a student athlete is required to attend classes and practice with his or her team but isn’t allowed to compete in games.
Athletes are frequently redshirted, often due to injury or for academic reasons. A redshirt year essentially gives athletes up to five academic years to compete for four seasons, say NCAA rules.
In the case of redshirt juniors, though, it is possible for them to have enough academic credits to complete their undergraduate degree because they’ve spent four years in college.
In 2010, the NCAA implemented a graduate-transfer rule, which was intended to assist academically high-achieving student athletes in pursuing a degree of interest that might not be offered at their undergraduate college.
Westfall and Montoya say their website is a clearinghouse of all the academic redshirt juniors in the country.
“But what we don’t know is whether or not the redshirt juniors have completed their undergraduate degree and can transfer to another program,” Westfall says. “And we let our subscribers know this. They know it’s up to them to reach out to the athlete and school to inquire about an athlete’s academic progress.”
Adds Westfall, “When the NCAA certified us in June, they told us they weren’t aware of anything like this online.”
In recent years, the most high profile local athlete to garner national attention for his decision to transfer to another college was former Eastern Washington University quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.
Adams redshirted his freshman year, played three seasons for the Eagles from 2012 to 2014, then accepted a scholarship offer to Oregon in 2015 after earning his four-year degree at EWU. He’s now playing professionally in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
NCAA statistics show that from 2011 to 2016, the number of graduate transfers in men’s sports tripled and the number doubled in women’s sports.
However, the graduate-transfer rule has become controversial, especially in football and men’s basketball, due to high-profile cases that show many transfers earn few graduate credits and leave school early when their athletic eligibility expires.
“We were very well aware of that,” Montoya says. “There’s a little bit of concern, but we haven’t gotten any indication that the rule is going to be changed anytime soon. But there are other business ideas we’re working on, so we’ve got backup plans.”
The idea behind the business came from Westfall’s father, Mike Westfall, who works in administration at Eastern Washington University whose early professional career began as a high school basketball coach. Westfall, now 50, also served as an assistant coach for Central Michigan University’s basketball team between 1993 and 1996.
The elder Westfall says he doesn’t have an ownership stake in the business and is more interested in acting as a periodic adviser for Montoya and his son.
“Bryce has always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Mike Westfall says. “I told him this was an idea he might want to pursue.”