Eh, I have found my rescues will relax some of the rules if one is willing to work with them. I have no issues with rescues being as particular as they want, its their blood, sweat, and tears going into these dogs. Do I think some may be shooting themselves in the foot, yep.
As for references - ask people at school? I served as a reference recently for someone at work, who I don't know at all outside of work. I was clear to the rescue about that, but was able to say that I'd worked with the guy a bit, found him responsible, had seen his current dog once at a company picnic and it was in good condition. It doesn't need to be a soulmate to be able to say "yes, this person is who they say they are".
I've seen enough breeder dogs end up in terrible situations that some days I think the breeders are the ones who need to step up their game in terms of placement.