Social networking impacting recruiting

Recruiting battles have carried into a new theatre with the creation of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

And it's not just coaches from rival schools taking up arms with phone calls, letters, faxes and e-mails.

Fans have gotten in on the action.

By becoming friends or followers of a prospect on social networking sites, fans are only a click and a few key-strokes away from selling their favorite school.

Prior to signing with Clemson, Facebook friends of Beaufort High School three-star linebacker Justin Parker waged a war of words for months on his virtual wall.

"Clemson embraces their players like family Mr. Parker. Make the right decision."

"Come on man... Surely you would rather play for Ellis Johnson than Kevin Steele @ Clemson..."

Just two of several posts made in the final months of his recruitment, heated debates were daily occurrences on Parker's profile.

Most comments were typically from adult men who've never met him face to face.

For the most part, Clemson and South Carolina fans battled. A few LSU loyalists also got in on the action.

"If you come here, you could have a live tiger rooting for you @ LSU!!!! We are the only college football team that has a real live tiger lurkin around campus

Whether it was a fan from Auburn, Miami or Clemson, Westlake High School (Atlanta, Ga.) three-star cornerback Darius Robinson heard his share of pitches on Facebook before signing with Clemson's 2010 class.

"It was overwhelming at times, but it was a good feeling having all these people telling you how much they want you to come to their school," he said. "It's good to see how people feel about you because you want to go somewhere that you're wanted. The fans are another way to impact a player because you're going to have to meet them outside of football."


When it comes to his rules for the team, head coach Dabo Swinney reminds his players they represent the university at all times in all arenas, including the Internet. (Kevin Bray/CUTigers.com)
It doesn't stop there.

Facebook groups have formed to help show support for high school prospects as they move closer to deciding where they'll spend their college years.

At the date of publication, 431 Arkansas fans joined the group, "Come to Arkansas RICARDO RATLIFFE!!!".

The group was created in support of the nation's top junior college power forward, Ricardo Ratliffe and his upcoming decision between Clemson, Arkansas, Missouri, Alabama and Cincinnati.

More than 1,100 Clemson fans joined the group, "CLEMSON FANS FOR TAJH BOYD". The group was created before he chose Clemson over Ohio State and Oregon in January 2009.

Six different groups of fans started pages in support of five-star lineman Seantrel Henderson, including South Carolina (227 fans), Miami (44), Ohio State (188), Minnesota (89), Iowa (77) and Florida State (7) before he with Southern California.

While these groups generally don't initiate contact with the prospect, it can be a gray area if anything further communication is started between fans and prospects.

In fact, according to Stephanie Ellison, Clemson's associate athletic director for compliance services, some of the contact between fans and unsigned prospects is illegal.

"Recruiting correspondence to a prospective student-athlete may only be done by institutional staff members," she said. "Clemson (could) be held accountable for any recruiting correspondence that is provided by an individual that is considered as a representative of athletics interest or booster."

According to the NCAA bylaws:

"Further, electronically transmitted correspondence that may be sent to a prospective student-athlete is limited to electronic mail (e-mail) and facsimiles until after the calendar day on which a prospective student-athlete signs a National Letter of Intent. All other forms of electronically transmitted correspondence (e.g., Instant Messenger, text messaging) are prohibited…

"All other electronically transmitted correspondence including, but not limited to, text messaging, Instant Messenger, chat rooms or message boards (e.g., a user's wall) within a social networking Web site or through other services or applications remain impermissible."



With so many fans and prospects using social networking sites, monitoring what goes on online is a daunting task, especially for the colleges universities that police themselves.

"It's impossible to monitor the activities of every representative of athletics. The best defense is to provide as much education to your boosters informing them of the NCAA rules," Ellison said.

Despite the regulations limiting his use of Facebook's features when communicating with prospects, Clemson recruiting coordinator/wide receivers coach Jeff Scott still takes full advantage of what he can use.

"It's just another tool to use along with e-mail, along with hand written notes—recruiting has a pretty diversified communication, as many different paths of communication as possible," he said.


"It was overwhelming at times, but it was a good feeling having all these people telling you how much they want you to come to their school," he said. (Chad Simmons/Scout.com)
Scott is very well aware of social networking sites' popularity, particularly Facebook.

"A lot of kids check their Facebook messages more than they check their e-mail messages," he said.

"It's a fact. A lot of these prospects are on their Facebook every night at 9 o'clock. We have a chance to have a lot of success through contacting with Facebook and create some correspondence through the message feature."

While it can be a useful tool can for recruiting, Facebook can also potentially be an avenue for self-incrimination.

When it comes to his rules for the team, head coach Dabo Swinney reminds his players that they represent the university in all arenas, including the Internet.

"Things they post, pictures they put on, they're accountable for that," he said. "Sometimes, it's hard for young people to understand it. You can't turn it on and off."

Swinney also cautions his player to be wary of who they accept as friends on Facebook.

"There are some people, you met them, you'd say there's no way you'd want to be friends with them. But yet, some random person can friend them on there and they'll accept," he said. "They just need to be careful of what you do. It's the world we live in. all we do is caution these guys. What you say and what you do, we're all accountable for them."

When it comes to recruiting, compliance services provide monthly updates to coaches, reminding them of what's legal and what's not. The university's athletes are educated on the latest rules and regulations.

"We also provide a monthly newsletter to coaches and athletic department staff members. For student-athletes, compliance meets with each team twice a year--beginning and end of the school year," Ellison said. "In between those meetings compliance provides student-athletes with a newsletter updating them on the rules. Additionally we have included NCAA rules in the student-athlete handbook."

Scott admitted that he wouldn't be surprised to see all recruiting contact through social networks come to an end in the future, because of the challenges in monitoring.

And with NCAA legislation operating on a one-year cycle, the rules of social networking continue to evolve.

"Bylaws involving social networking sites are constantly changing because as technology changes the rules change," Ellison said. "Bylaws in general are constantly changing because of the request of the membership to review or modify rules, add or remove current rules."

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