August 6, 2014


Bus Trip: Four Days, 20 Colleges

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder @collbaseball


RICHMOND, Va. – On Monday, nearly two dozen aspiring college baseball players hopped on a bus to start a four-day trip around Virginia, a trip that will take them to 20 colleges and universities.


The tour started at Randolph-Macon College, a Division III school, before making stops at D-I schools Richmond and VCU. Christopher Newport University and William & Mary followed, with an on-field workout on the Tribe’s field capping the day. For those keeping track, that’s two private schools and three public schools; two D-III schools and three D-I schools; schools ranging from enrollment of about 1,300 to more than 31,000.


That’s all by design.


Rich Prado, who played two years of baseball at William & Mary, had been running video production business Play In School for a handful of years to assist high school athletes in their pursuit of landing college attention when he came up with the idea of a bus tour to get kids on college campuses big and small, rural and urban. While there, the players are sure to see the baseball field – but they’ll also see the library, a dorm room, a lecture hall and other parts of campus often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of summer travel ball schedules.


Prado is in his second year of offering his tours, which currently take place in Virginia and North Carolina (Play In School featured its first softball tour earlier this summer). He took some time to answer some questions from CBI about the concept.  


Where did the idea of a bus tour come from? 

Ask a high school baseball player a very simple question…“Besides baseball and a ‘good education’ what are the five most important things you want from the college you attend?” 


The most popular response is NO response! Crickets.


Next to purchasing a home, paying for college is the second-largest financial investment the average American family will make, and arguably the most important. Yet the trend I’ve seen is that many families are being totally reactive in the process. A player’s list of potential schools is determined by the first three or four schools to show a little interest. 


To me, that seemed like a pretty naïve way to go about the process. Think about it, when you buy a house, you walk through a 10 or 20 homes before making an offer. But a life decision of college choice gets left up to a 25-year-old recruiting coordinator who likes the way a kid swings a bat or throws a ball? To me, that’s a lot like buying the house that the realtor likes!


What is different about your tours? What can a student-athlete experience? 

Remember this, playing on a college field is not the same as touring a college.


Our tours put an emphasis on research. Our itineraries are super aggressive (up to 20 colleges in four days) on purpose. We want to show kids colleges with lots of differences…public, private, big, small, beach, mountains, city, high academic, more “social,” etc. 


Giving players a chance to see such variety helps them narrow down their ideal type of environment. It also helps them eliminate types of colleges, which is very important!


At each school we visit we are given a private tour of both the academic and athletic facilities. We’ll see things like dorm rooms, classrooms and libraries. We also get behind-the-scenes access to the athletic facilities such as weight rooms, training rooms, locker rooms and the fields.


The cherry on top is that we do two private workouts on each trip. As opposed to the standard combine with 200 players on the field, we work out on college fields with just the players on the tour (tour limited to 35). Our workouts are very well attended by college coaches, so it’s a great opportunity for coaches to see a kid in a small group instead of a cattle call.


What was the response from players and parents from last year’s tour? 

If the response from the parents and players hadn’t been completely positive, I would not be offering any more trips.  One, every kid learned a ton about the schools we visited. Two, every kid learned a ton about what THEY are looking for out of their ideal college. Three, they had a ton of fun!


We had some pretty cool things happen last year. We had couple of D-I offers and commitments during and immediately following the trip. We also had a couple of kids make college choices to schools they first saw on our trip! After the trip, they made more in-depth visits, but they first saw the school with us. We also had a couple of surprising college choices from kids that I wouldn’t have originally matched up. But that is why visiting a bunch of schools is so important.


Your two tours this year are going through Virginia and North Carolina. How have the tours been received by college coaches?

College coaches, first and foremost, are ambassadors of their institutions. They all recognize that and see the big picture. Every kid on a tour is not necessarily a prospect. And that’s OK. The reverse is true, too. A prospect may not get a good vibe from a college. And that’s OK. Actually, that’s really important. It doesn’t help a coach to recruit a kid who is not excited about that school or type of school.


The coaches have been really accommodating and in most cases have really rolled out the red carpet for us. Some of that has to do with the relationships I’ve built over the last six years working with ball players. But the bottom line is coaches want kids to see their campus early in the process.


You also did a softball tour this year? How did that go?

It went fantastic. Same goals, same plan, similar itinerary. Two major differences though. Boys ask questions. But girls ask questions AND take very thorough notes! I provide each player a booklet with info on each college and a questionnaire for them to fill out on each school. The other major difference was choice of movie on the bus. The boys watch “Bull Durham” while the girls watched “Frozen.” That took some getting used to.


Through your videos and tours, you meet a lot of college baseball prospects. What kinds of mistakes do they make when looking at colleges?

Not knowing what THEY want out of college. Perfect example, I spoke to the father of a D-I prospect. Kid had some offers coming in already, but I thought it would be a good idea for him to come on my North Carolina trip to see those schools and for those coaches to see him. When I asked what schools he was considering, the list was all over the map literally and figuratively. 


The dad tells me they have it narrowed down to a school in a giant downtown New England city, another school deep in the mountains and a third school in a small, very southern coastal town.  All are decent schools. But all are VERY different environments and experiences. That kid has no idea what he’s looking for. I hear the same thing every week. 


Do your research.


What are your future plans for the bus tours?

My plan over next few years is to continue adding trips in different states and regions. These trips are not designed as “cattle calls” and never will be, but I’d like to be able to offer families multiple options to choose from.


Part of our growth will also come from strategic partnerships with travel teams, high school coaches, industry leaders and nonprofits like The Cannonball Foundation that are looking to give their players a strong value-added service.