Web sites changing recruiting game in college football.

Sites like Rivals.com and Scout.com generate a lot of interest and money with their coverage of recruiting, but not everybody likes their impact.

>CHICAGO – Tom Kaker t runs a Web site about high school athletes for a living. He’s not alone.

Kakert works full time as the publisher of HawkeyeReport.com , an Iowa-dedicated site and subset of Rivals.com .

Rivals, recently bought by Yahoo.com for nearly $100 million , is the largest college and high school sports Web site in the world and employs hundreds of writers like Kakert, many of them full-time employees .

“This whole thing’s blown up the past few years,” Kakert said. “It’s a niche thing, but there’s a whole lot of hardcore interest in it.”

And with its emphasis on recruiting news and information, it has also changed the way the college football machine works.

For $9.95 per month , Rivals users have access to a database of thousands of high school and junior college prospects, complete with their highlight videos, scholarship offers, and their rank on a five-star rating system.

Every Division I program in the country has access to Rivals , and many of the prospects featured on the site pay close attention to their rankings and what is said about them, players say.

“Nothing’s really under the radar anymore,” Gophers quarterback Adam Weber said. “It opens up so many more avenues for coaches to see players, and vice versa.”

But even though Rivals and competitors like Scout.com offer new tools to both players and coaches, not everyone is crazy about their impact.

Information on players’ scholarship offers and schools they are interested in is gathered through phone interviews , which some players say can become a nuisance. Penn State receiver Derrick Williams , ranked by Rivals as the No. 1 prospect in 2005 , said he received several calls a day from different site publishers asking where he was thinking of attending.

“I was just getting calls from everywhere, every site, everybody,” Williams said. “It got pretty crazy.”

Purdue receiver Greg Orton said that, while he likes the coverage recruiting sites give players, there were several incorrect reports posted during his recruiting process that caused some headaches.

“They’d say I’m leaning towards a certain place and then a school would call me and say, ‘Hey, we see you’re talking about this or you don’t have us listed on this list,’ ” Orton said. “And I’m just like, ‘I’m sorry, I wasn’t saying that.’ “

Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster said he’s afraid the emphasis on being the first to report a story, and the amount of people paying to read about it, can exploit athletes.

“I don’t particularly like the fact that Rivals.com and Scout.com have people getting rich off of kids, selling information,” he said. “That’s not something I feel really good about.”

Kakert said most athletes are fine with the phone calls, but that he is careful not to be a pest. When calling a prospect for the first time, Kakert said, he usually tries to get clearance from a parent beforehand.

But he admitted he has a lot less control over how players are treated in the message boards – another main staple of Rivals sites. “The Hawkeye Lounge ,” a membership-only board, often has over 1,000 users online .

“Sometimes recruiting maybe gets a little bit out of hand when fans believe the fate of their team for the next five years rests on the shoulders of one 18-year-old kid making a decision, and it ruins their day if it doesn’t go their way,” Kakert said. “I think that’s too much, but there’s definitely some drama and people love drama.

“I think some guys care more about recruiting than they do about the actual games. It means more to them that their recruiting class finished in the top 25 than their actual team does.”

Of course, whatever issues coaches take with the sites, Brewster said almost every team’s recruiting coordinator pays close attention to what fresh news pops up.

“No matter what you think about it, if you’ve got your head in the sand and don’t look at it, you’re missing the boat,” Brewster said.

Minnesota’s Rivals site, GopherIllustrated.com , is one of the smaller in the Big Ten , with no full-time writers . But the site breaks the news of most Gopher commitments and is regularly referenced by mainstream outlets.

“Any time you can create more interest in a sport, I think it’s a good thing for that sport,” Kakert said.

According to Google approximations , both Rivals and Scout have seen their traffic increase significantly the past four years and, despite being primarily subscription-based sites, both draw more traffic than free online newspapers like NYTimes.com and USAToday.com

“It’s definitely a huge force now,” Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Fans now have a water cooler where they don’t have to identify themselves and say whatever they want and talk about whatever they want about our players and program. There are some positives, but definitely some inherent negatives that come with that.”