After four years on the volleyball team at Le Moyne College, Lindsey Gleason figured her competitive playing days ended with her athletic eligibility and graduation.
But then she stumbled on an online ad offering the chance to earn a master's degree in one year while on a volleyball scholarship in England.
"It sounded cool," she said. "But it also sounded like a scam."
In fact, the year Gleason spent studying and playing for Durham University in northeast England was so incredible, allowing her to travel the world and work on the 2012 London Olympics, that she's now putting her newly earned master's degree in business to work by giving other college athletes the same chance.
She founded TeamGLEAS, a Buffalo-based network catering to American graduate students interested in playing sports abroad.
The first question I get is, 'But what about eligibility?'" said the 25-year-old Gleason, referring to college rules that prevent students from playing more than four years. "Because we're programmed to think that you're done, you can't play anymore. But it's not an issue over there, which is a beautiful thing."
She has found a willing clientele in England, where 12 universities and colleges have signed on so far, paying a fee to appear on the 5-month-old website student-athlete clients can access for free. She is working on signing on colleges in New Zealand and Australia for the fall.
The universities see it as way to diversify the student body while taking advantage of the experience and ability of high-level U.S. athletes.
"We recruit talented athletes as part of our normal business. Recruiting people who are leaders is much more difficult," said Philip Atwell, director of sport at the University of Exeter in England. "Athletes who have played four years of NCAA are likely to galvanize our students to achieve their potential."
For lifelong athletes, leaving competitive sports behind "is devastating, really," said Sara Shipley, who played volleyball and basketball at Nazareth College in Rochester and then coached to stay involved.
"The first year I coached basketball after graduating from college, there was not a single practice that went by the whole season where I didn't want to cry because I missed it so much," the 30-year-old Shipley said by telephone from Newcastle.
Through TeamGLEAS, she arrived at Northumbria University in northeast England in September to begin work on a master's in international sports management. She plays volleyball for the college team as well as the British national league.
"The market is there," said Gleason, who knew she was on to something after pitching the idea at a college-wide competition of new business ideas while at Durham, which she won.
Since then, she has undertaken a whirlwind schedule to sign on colleges and students. She's met with 32 colleges in England and is now traveling the U.S. meeting student-athletes at Fordham, Temple, Penn State, UCLA and a host of other campuses.
Imperial College has relied on its elite academic reputation to attract international students but sees TeamGLEAS as a more focused way to attract students who also excel at Imperial's target sports of rowing, fencing and basketball, said Neil Mosley, head of sport at the London college.
"Our recruitment for sports students is a challenging operation because what Imperial will never do is dilute or reduce our academic standards," Mosley said. "We've always done this sort of thing informally. ... TeamGLEAS gives us the chance to spread the message a little bit more practically, specifically in the states and specifically focused on two or three sports that we're looking to either retain our standing at or improve our standing at."
Partial or even full scholarships are often available to defray the cost of tuition, said Gleason, who loves the reaction she gets when she pitches the idea to student-athletes.
"Their eyes light up," she said. "It's a brand-new concept that they now get to consider."