On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Vin from Game Plan about exploring the college athlete talent pool.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 23 minutes
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Vin McCaffrey is the founder and CEO of Game Plan, one of the fastest growing software companies in athletics. Vin founded Game Plan in 2008 as a process to help college athletes find jobs. It has grown and transformed into a platform that integrates eLearning, mentorship, and career services for athletics organizations with a vision to guide 100% of athletes through 100% of their journeys. Today, Game Plan supports over 250 athletics organizations including over 200 colleges and universities, the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS and many more.Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You are now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have been on from Game Plan and our topic is exploring the college athlete talent pool. And so, while we jump right into introductions, Vin, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and Game Plan?
Vin McCaffrey (00:52):
Of course, yeah. Thanks for having me, William.
William Tincup (00:54):
Vin McCaffrey (00:54):
My name is Vin McCaffrey, CEO of Game Plan. I’ve been running this as a founder and CEO now for 14 years. Former college athlete, turned businessperson, turned entrepreneur, and excited to be here with you today to share a little bit about Game Plan. We’re the leading provider of education, survey analytics to college and professional athletics organizations in the country. So, we’ll work with college athletics departments, professional leagues, professional clubs in the education and development of their athletes and in their transitions from the time that they’re playing as athletes all the way out into life after sport.
William Tincup (01:33):
Oh, that’s fantastic. So, a hundred years ago I was a TA at the University of Arizona. And so, back then TAs would teach especially 100-level courses. And I taught American Indian Studies, which was a core history, culture type of class. And the first class, I’d always give the syllabus, all that stuff. You know what? I’d always let people out because I always thought the first day, no one wants to say the full time, everybody gets help. But at the end after discussing the syllabus, I’d say, “Do we have any college athletes? Please stay after.” So, everyone would exit other than the athletes. And I’d say, “Okay. Here’s the deal. This is just me talking, but y’all are all employees. Whether or not you like it or not, you’re employees. You got a lot of stuff going on. Here forth, you have an A in this class. You can come to class or not come to class. You can take tests or not take tests. I don’t really care. I’ll teach you. If you show up, I’ll teach you. Like no doubt, I will teach you.”
However, you know what? You’re swimming, you’ve got baseball, you’ve got basketball, you’ve got all these other things pulling at you, it’s cool. If you’ve got other things pulling at you. And so, some people would take me up on that. I’ve got some actually famous basketball players and football players that took me up on this. And some didn’t like, but I had this bit and I was in my ’20s and I just basically said, “You know what? You’re working not just a full-time job, it’s even more than that when you’re in college and it’s all encompassing.” So I’m like, “Yeah, you know what? I mean, again, if you want to learn, I’ll teach you for sure.” So, I did that. I’ve taught for about three years. But about the second semester it got back to the sports information direction.
I don’t know how I got back, but I got a call from him, this at the University of Arizona. And he was like, “Professor Tim, can I?” I’m like, “Eh, not professor, but go ahead.” He’s like, “Yeah, this is so and so.” And understanding you have a certain kind of approach with college athletes. So, I’m like, “Hey, yeah.” And then I told him a bit. And he goes, “Can I send more students your way?” I’m like, “Yeah, absolutely. 100%. I’m good.” Again, half of it took me up on it and half of it did not. And I still feel that way even again a hundred years ago. I still feel that way. If you’re a college athlete, you’re working hard, whatever, the bit volleyball, whatever the sport, softball, whatever the sport is, again, you’re there to get an education. I get it. However, it’s also a lot of pulling at you with nutrition and working out and practicing and all that other stuff. It’s like, it’s kind of hard to cram 12, 15 hours of school in there as well. So, anyhow, I just wanted to tell you story.
Vin McCaffrey (04:40):
No, no question. Two things rifle through my mind.
William Tincup (04:43):
Vin McCaffrey (04:43):
One, where were you when I was at Lehigh? I would’ve loved that class. And two, there’s no surprise that the SID called because I’m sure you were a very popular person on campus. There’s no question about it.
William Tincup (04:56):
I was hugely popular. Oh, it was huge. And you know what’s always great?
Vin McCaffrey (04:58):
I’m sure, you were.
William Tincup (04:58):
It was close greatest.
Vin McCaffrey (04:58):
I’m sure, you were.
William Tincup (05:02):
There wasn’t an intent. I just went into it with a pure heart of like… because when I came… My undergrad was at Alabama. And so, I’d seen all these folks work really hard and I’m like, “You know what? I’m not working then that hard.” I’m almost like, “It’s just a different bit.”
Vin McCaffrey (05:19):
That’s a great story.
William Tincup (05:24):
But anyhow, there’s such a wonderful, talented pool of college talent that doesn’t make it to whatever professional level that they might want to or doesn’t have a what’s next of the Olympics or whatever. But they’re great because they’ve got great discipline. And so, take us into that talent pool for a second.
Vin McCaffrey (05:45):
Yeah. Well, even if they do, frankly.
William Tincup (05:48):
Right. Good point.
Vin McCaffrey (05:49):
If they make the transition to the Olympian swimmer as you shared as an example, the Alabama football player or the Arizona basketball player, whatever that might be. Eventually that ends, and what does that transition look like? So, yeah. Where does the pool look like? What does the pool look like? The history on it is not so different than honestly your story. I was playing basketball at Lehigh, I was horribly bad, but I was on the team, and I had a wonderful experience, and I had great friends, we’re still great friends and went out into the workforce and lo and behold started hiring some people in the roles and the functions I was hiring for. It was pretty varied, but some business development focus, I would say, just broadly customer-facing. And I was hiring a lot of college athletes.
And by doing that, eventually, I picked myself up, said, “Wow, is it because I’m a former athlete? Am I biased there or is it fit?” And then you know what? You start looking at you. Realize is that as a collegiate athlete, regardless of the level of your skill and you go through a lot of experiences as you are sharing and they translate really well into the workforce, the idea of the grind and being very focused and understanding goal orientation, working within a team, receiving feedback, things that really hard to identify and quantify in young people. Athletes have those and there’s a really good track record for it. So, it’s the worst kept secret. So, it’s not as if that’s a new theory out into the workforce. The idea of hiring for it is as much different, I think that’s what we’re going to talk a little bit about.
But that’s where it all started, for me. The idea was I went through it, I look back some really good transferable skills I share with friends and even some of the interns. Sports teach you the lessons that you least expect, it’s not just the teamwork and receiving coaching and so forth, it’s also a lot of the hardships that you go through that you’re just really don’t expect, that you don’t plan for. Those are the things that come out in your working experience and you have to find a way through that. And college athletics and professional athletics tends to be a pretty good proving ground there. So, it’s fun to look back and have a discussion like this to think about where I was as a 30 years ago as a knucklehead. But at that point, those areas that you don’t realize while you’re going through it are wonderful correlations to the workforce. They really-
William Tincup (08:31):
Oh, 100%. And years ago, enterprise rental car, I think it was them or another one of the rental cars. They were just really good. This was one of their things is they picked up on this. Because I remember them being at a lot of college campuses and since then when I rent cars, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of athletes or ex-athletes and current athletes and I thought it was like a genius move because of all the reasons you just stated. I’m like, they’re driven, they’re ambitious, they’re dedicated, they understand loss, all this stuff. You couldn’t make a better employee.
Vin McCaffrey (09:08):
Yeah. Well, let’s stop there and we’ll call it a day. And I think it’s a great pitch. It is. It’s true. I think enterprise did a great job building their brand around that for several years. They had the big advertising campaign through March Madness and such and it was great. And I’m sure they still keep up with it. I think other organizations have created the same blueprint, but it does correlate well, particularly when you start thinking about the recent college graduate, which we’re seeing a really big uptick on hiring as the workforce, just the workforce trends are all over the place right now and hard to predict. We are seeing a pretty decent growth trajectory for recent college grads, but yet the gap that we still always hear about from those that have been in the workforce or are they ready? And what does ready mean?
A lot of it tends to be more of those interpersonal skills that you just mentioned. And as I shared, hard to quantify, hard to see how that goes through a proving ground. Past internship experiences play well, which interestingly enough. A lot of athletes during their time while they’re playing, probably don’t get a lot of experience to do that just because they are busy. And as you said, they some would frame it as a job. So, it’s almost like a roadblock for them in a sense, but they find a way around it. And I don’t know if… I know some of the coaches I had were some of them were by far and away the toughest bosses I’ve ever had. And so, from that standpoint, the internship where you’re working for two and a half months versus when a coach has you 12 months a year, what feels like 10 hours a day. That’s a hell of a proving ground when you think about what it projects out to be.
William Tincup (11:04):
What do you think some of the either stigma or roadblocks? Well, we both see the same thing. It’s like this is just a wonderful talent pool of talented people in their own right and why not exploit this talent and bring them in? What’s the counter-argument or what’s the roadblocks for why other people don’t see this?
Vin McCaffrey (11:32):
Yeah/ I think the counter-argument is the roadblock. It’s they’re hard to identify on campus, they’re hard to reach, they’re really busy. When you’re walking through career services, our data showing that close to 90 plus percent of student athletes never step foot in career services. So, they’re not hanging out in the same watering holes as that recruiter. Their schedules are certainly… Think about the job fair, it’s middle of the afternoon. Well, they’re in practice, they’re in away games, whatever that might be. So, that doesn’t fit. So, I think that is the roadblock. And, I guess, in some ways for the recruiter that’s the counter-argument, they’re might be too difficult to identify. Uniquely for Game Plan, I can share a little bit of the backstory because early on in our growth we realized we’re hitting a bit of a chicken or egg dilemma, which is not unlike what we’re talking about with a little bit from the recruiter standpoint.
We had this vision of building a big marketplace to allow athletes and employers to connect. Because as I shared, really great transferrable skills, let’s see if we can fit it. The kicker becomes, you have to have a lot of athletes to attract the employers, you have to have a lot of employers to track. So, you get it’s proverbial chicken or egg with a lot of marketplaces becomes the issue. What unbeknownst to us, we were building out some tools that were solving real problems on campus and inside of an athletics department, the NCAA at the time, this is early 2010s, were moving in this transition associated with how they measure academic performance. So, folks like yourself at Arizona were helping the cause, but at the same time, there were other trends that were occurring in the college athletics that the NCAA said, “Let’s not just look at graduation rates, let’s look at overall participation in engagement of the athlete.”
And they moved to call what’s called APR academic progress rating. And it would kick out a real fancy calculation based on GPA retention and grad rates for a team. And then if you hit the APR rating, you were in a good place. And if you didn’t, bad things would happen. Famously, certain programs would lost their ability to play in post-season eligibility as an example. So, APR became a really big deal quickly when the NCAA instituted that. So, one of the key parts that you started to realize is you had to see how freshmen became sophomores, how sophomores became juniors. And in doing that the NCAA was also looking at their trend towards graduation towards a certain degree. So, out of nowhere, the student athletes were being asked to identify and select degrees earlier than they had previously.
How do you do that with an 18-year-old, 19-year-old, 20-year-old? You don’t know much about them and their head’s kind of spinning and they’re at University of Arizona because they want to play their sport. And so, we had this really cool assessment tool that we had built with the idea that we were going to help the athlete when they were transitioning away from sport, and it was all around an interest inventory, and we also had a separate assessment for their athletic identity. And to make a very long story short, the schools that we were providing it to, because again we were thinking scale, not just one athlete but 500 on a campus, were using it for student athletes as they were transitioning into campus, not necessarily away from campus. And those our first aha moment that we were seeing a problem, but maybe the wrong way or maybe differently than we initially thought we were seeing the problem.
And so, as opposed to trying to solve this transactional challenge of let’s help the athlete connect with the employer, we found that we could help the athlete move through their journey. And by doing that, we would become a partner of the athletics department school, like Arizona for example, who’s a partner of ours. And so, if we could start to help them by building tools because rules were coming at the athletics department a little quicker than they had in the past. And, frankly, ever since then, the rules have become even faster and faster. And so, as that starts to evolve, there’s a real need on campus to be able to sort through that and to be able to engage the athletes perspectively in different ways than they had in the past. So, as Game Plans evolved, our initial missions never changed, we still see the idea of helping an athlete move towards life after sport. But the way we approach, it’s much different.
We’re actually engaging the athletics department, the professional league, the professional club with a software subscription where that athletics organization uses us for education, for assessment, for survey, for analytics tools to get a really deep insight of how athletes are performing while they’re on campus. And while we’re doing that, what we realize is we call this the journey, we’re able to not only help the athletics organization meet and their goals, but also the athlete’s goals. And we’re able to see the athlete through a broader journey, and a more comprehensive journey, and guiding them hopefully to success into life after sport. Long, long-winded way of saying, we still have the mission of helping the athlete make the transition, we’ve just doing it a lot differently than we initially set out. We’re working with athletes through prospectively high school than in the college. We work with nearly every major professional league. So, we’re seeing a person through a journey of 10 to 15 years at times.
William Tincup (17:11):
Oh that’s cool.
Vin McCaffrey (17:12):
It’s really great. And that way we can help guide them down a path, that’s the best case scenario for them. But, ultimately, I know we’re here to talk about the employer piece. But one of the key facets that we’ve found in the last 12, 24 months, particularly with this cohort of athletes that are on campus, they’re dying for career direction. There’s so much as you said, that’s coming at them from an athletic standpoint that hasn’t changed. But there’s a lot more that’s come at them through society, through COVID, there’s been a lot that’s happened in the last several years in our country and it impacts an athlete pretty uniquely.
And so, from that standpoint, one of the key things that we found coming out of COVID is there’s a high need for career programming. And so, I think that actually lends itself well into the discussion as well from the standpoint of what’s the roadblock, what’s the barrier for the employer to hire? It’s engaging the athlete. But interestingly enough, the athlete’s asking for the same thing. They’re asking for, “How do we engage the employer more?” And this is probably the first time we’ve seen this in the type of scale that they’re asking for.
William Tincup (18:23):
So, employers that want to interface. So, first of all, the system set up and I love what you’re doing. And, again, working with the teams, the leagues, the colleges, the SIDs, all of that joint, you’re pulling all those things together and in a way that’s basically saying, “Listen, there’s a better way because you could go through career services.” But, again, how you’re going to connect student athletes to career services that’s probably just not going to work? Or you’re going to have specific job fairs for athletes, which will probably be hard for employers. Okay, I see that. So, now that you’ve got the system set up in a way that makes a lot of sense, how do they interact with Game Plan so that they can get access to that talent pool?
Vin McCaffrey (19:11):
Yeah. I think what we’ve gone through the last several years, it’s this maturation of what you’re good at and what you’re not. And so, we’ve become really good at education. So, we’re not a job board, we’re not a search and post, we’re really good from an educational standpoint, we’re good at engaging an athlete through an experience. And so, what we’ve launched most recently actually kicked out last month in October is what we call Game Plan Academy. Our first ever upskilling academy or you can call it pre-employment upskilling. And so, as an employer, how would you engage there? Certain athletes are being nominated by their athletics organization, administration, so it could be a professional league. So, organizations like the NHL alumni are nominating alumni athletes to participate in academies, college athletics departments are nominating athletes to participate in the academy, identifying on campus that’s a senior or someone who’s maybe going through upperclassmen status like junior, senior, grad student.
And that individual will go through a month-long program inside of Game Plan where it’s identifying certain skills that they want to develop. So, the first academy is sales focused and we have a 12 course in learning program with two personality assessments, all in. That’s the core portion of the work. Where we’re integrating the employer directly into this is the employers are actually inside of the platform to be able to build out what we’re calling day in the life modules. So, if you’re a 22-year-old student athlete and you’re moving towards graduation on campus and you’re now starting to say, “Oh gosh, I’m probably not going to go play. If you’re a guy like me, you pretty much know you’re not going to go play professional basketball, so what’s life after sport look like?” And you start looking at these job descriptions and you’re like, “I don’t know what that really means.” So, we’ve looked at that, we’ve surveyed it, we’ve talked to athletes, we’ve talked to administrators by breaking down just simple things.
What is the culture of your organization? What’s the job description? What are the job responsibilities? Who do you work for? What’s the interviewing process? What’s the compensation program? What are the areas of opportunity for growth? What does my career trajectory look like? All those things, we build that out. We call that a day in the life module. So, employers are actually able to do that through e-learning directly with these athletes as they’re going through the academy. And then we’re connecting both of them, just directly connecting them because the athletes either being nominated or they’re self-identifying as someone who wants to go through this upskilling. The employers actively out seeking to find that candidate who’s perspectively going through the upskilling.
So, let’s connect the dots. Let’s just move it into a networking based environment where we’re bringing together the key areas of the candidate and the employer. And it’s been really great so far, it’s the first one. So, as we say, we’re going to stub our toe, but so far so good. The candidates are loving the experience, the employers are now just coming in and we’ve been really excited about some of the results so far.
William Tincup (22:24):
You know what I love about, well, education on both sides. So, you’re educating employers to this talent pool that exists broadly and then more specifically, but you’re also demystifying for those athletes what goes on it in whatever job that is. And giving them that day in life, giving them insight into that. Which I think it’s hard for anybody in college to really know. I did 11 internships when I was in college just to-
Vin McCaffrey (22:54):
Did you really?
William Tincup (22:55):
Well, over three degrees. But, yes. But still I had the luxury of not plum playing sport, I guess. So, I went into advertising only to learn that I didn’t like advertising. I went into PR only to learn that I didn’t like PR. I wouldn’t have known that had there been something like this set up to where I could really see, is this something I can see myself doing day in and day out, et cetera.
Vin McCaffrey (23:26):
Yeah, yeah. That’s our notion. And that doesn’t happen just by reading a job description or to submitting your resume online. That’s an activity based on, you press a button, you hope that it went well. We’re trying to really ease into a discussion where that there’s the stars line, there’s individuals that have identified because they’re interested in going through an experience that’s going to make them better in certain skillset. There’s an employer on the other side of the fence that’s looking to hire for that skillset. That in itself creates pretty tight alignment. And then within the platform, we’re able to align the organization with the individual, the prospective candidate to be able to begin the discussion. The cool thing about Game Plan from that standpoint, not unlike a LinkedIn, but different from the standpoint of how it builds with the individual through the time. We may see that individual through years and years and years.
And that’s the… It’s the built-in goal. So, as an employer, you’re also going to be able to see that. In that candidate profile, we’re going to be able to see the transition into college, types of experiences that they’ve had both athletically, academically. Haven’t seen many with 11 internship experiences yet, but if they were to have had that would fit too. And, ultimately, they get a chance to put their best foot forward with the employer at hand, which is… That to us makes a ton of sense, so like, “Where does it fit? Took me 14 years to figure it out, but we’re here now.” So, it’s been really exciting to see.
William Tincup (25:06):
Well, I must say it’s a two-sided marketplace and it’s more than that. But you’ve got talent on one side and you’ve got the people that are trying to attract that talent. Okay. So, what’s the hardest part for you right now? Is it going out and signing up more schools and more employers on that side? Or what side of the equation is the hardest part for you right now?
Vin McCaffrey (25:31):
Yeah. Thanks for asking because it’s a great question. I think from an athletic standpoint, we’re having a lot of success. One of the reasons why we’re able to engage the athlete in the comprehensive way we are, we’re solving some real challenges, good problems on campus if you will. We average close to 2000 e-learning courses a day in our platform.
William Tincup (25:56):
Vin McCaffrey (25:56):
And this is across compliance education, sports wagering, social justice education, you name it. If it’s an out of the classroom, prospectively off the field, but I would say more and more we’re even getting into on the field discussion, we’re a really unique fit to help an athletics organization deliver that education in a very trackable way. That’s a unique way that we approach. And most college and professional athletics organizations, from a professional standpoint, we’re really fortunate. Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL, the NBA, some of the newer leagues that are just coming to pass, they’re all partners of ours. So, from a league-wide standpoint, we have a lot of success. And from a collegiate standpoint, we’re approaching over 800 colleges that use Game Plans. So, I think, overall, if you just call that the market college and professional athletics, our brand does a pretty nice job carrying. And we’re excited, but it can always get better.
But nevertheless, I think we have a footprint there. As we’re now coming back into the employment space, which is where we started 14 years ago, that’s new. And having discussions like this, we find incredibly valuable from the standpoint of sharing our story, helping the enterprise, rented cars of the world, become aware of our offering as a whole. Because they might not know, this is very new to them. Ultimately, we’re a unique way to be able to engage an athletics organization down to an athlete, we’re not LinkedIn, we’re not the Indeeds of the world. We’re Game Plan and we’re really good with that from the standpoint of how we engage. But bringing that story out to the employers that you know how to act on it, that’s a heavy lift and that’s something we’re doing right now.
William Tincup (27:46):
That’s okay. That’s okay. Because you’ve got the other part fixed.
Vin McCaffrey (27:46):
William Tincup (27:49):
Now, it’s a matter of signing up to the JPMorgans of the world.
Vin McCaffrey (27:54):
Supply and demand.
William Tincup (27:54):
Vin McCaffrey (27:55):
William Tincup (27:55):
Vin, I love what you built. I love the name of the company. This is just-
Vin McCaffrey (28:00):
William Tincup (28:00):
… beautiful, it’s elegant. And thank you for coming on the podcast.
Vin McCaffrey (28:04):
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate your time on this.
William Tincup (28:07):
Vin McCaffrey (28:07):
William Tincup (28:08):
And thanks for everyone for listening to RecruitingDaily Podcasts. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.