What are IMG, Spire and Similar Sports Academies?

I’m asked on a regular basis about schools like IMG Academy and Spire Academy as options for student-athletes.

These are fairly unique organizations and they have their place. IMG has been around for about 30 years. Spire opened within the last few years.

These are not prep schools. Both are for-profit sports academies that offer academics as a supplement to athletics, unlike most prep or boarding schools which offer sports as a part of the whole educational experience. IMG is working on improving their academic offering as evidenced by the plans for new academic buildings shown on their website.

I have never ended up sending one of my clients to places like IMG or Spire, but I have worked with a handful of families who have left there.

In many ways IMG invented the for-profit sports academy business model in the US when it was just a tennis academy. They have since expanded to many more sports, most recently football. They are obviously very successful. Spire Academy, outside of Cleveland, seems to be copying that model.

At about $70,000, their prices make most prep schools look like a bargain, which is saying something when the others are charging $50,000 to educate kids as young as 14. They will discount the price based on the athletes ability and national recognition.

Their business model is to bring in Internationally recognized superstars on full scholarship which, in turn, draws families of “regular” athletes who can/are willing to pay $70,000 to chase their dream. I haven’t proven it yet, but I believe their coaches work on a commission basis. In other words, they get a financial percentage of what the recruit/bring in.

Based on the experiences of the families I’ve worked with, the education they offer is the minimum necessary, although they are making efforts to improve that. Some/many courses are online. They are not educators first, they are sports people first. That’s a concern for some/many when we’re talking about being responsible for kids 14-18 years old who are living away from home.

The living quarters and overall organization have come under scrutiny by the families I’ve talked to. They are unacceptable to some. Again, they are working on improving that. IMG, in particular, shows plans on their website for new dorms.

A couple months ago I was asked by the director of admission and financial aid at a prominent northeastern prep school to contact the mother of one of his existing students and discuss IMG. The young man is a basketball star and IMG had seen him at a major summer camp and was trying to get him to leave his prep school and attend IMG. The mother has very little money and the prospect of saving thousands of dollars was very appealing to her. They promised her a full scholarship, but when it came time to get the deal done, that was not the case.

Bottom line: Organizations like these clearly have their place. Given their cost and the alternatives available, parents who are serious about their child’s education should proceed cautiously when exploring them. In my opinion, the risk factor is higher. These are the right place for some, and if families make the decision to attend with their eyes open, that’s their choice and I can live with that.