Bielema: Twitter Matters in Recruiting

HOOVER, Ala. - Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema made it very clear on Wednesday at SEC Media Day that a high school athlete's behavior on social media has a strong impact on his recruitment.

It’s difficult to remember a time before social media.

Even conference commissioner Greg Sankey commented about the impact of social media at this year’s SEC Media Days, stating, “for the SEC commissioner to have a Twitter account is a small representation of the changes occurring all around us.”

We’re constantly seeing those changes and the effects of social media exposure in the recruiting world. On Wednesday, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema brought the issue to light on a national level.

Bielema was asked by a reporter in Hoover about his technique in recruiting top skills position players and how he is able to “convince them” to play for Arkansas instead of other major programs.

Bielema, instead, used the opportunity to discuss the kind of athlete he likes to recruit and what he learned about recruiting from Hayden Fry, who coached him when he played at Iowa:

"Coach Fry used to say all the time, you recruit your own problems. All he was saying to us as assistant coaches, if you want to recruit a young man who's going to cause to you have gray hairs or make you stay awake on Friday night or make you have an issue that you don't want to deal with, then you recruit him. If you want to recruit somebody of high character and value, somebody you can trust to not only watch your house, but your children, someone you can count on to share carries of 1,000 yards each rather than trying to get 1,800 for one, now you're going to build something that matters."

Bielema wrapped up his response by addressing the negative impact that an athlete’s social media account could have on his recruitment:

"It's a bunch of we, not me, and I can't stress enough that just because you're a great player in the United States of America doesn't mean Arkansas is going to recruit you. We have a social media background screening that you've got to go through, and if you have a social media nickname or something on your Twitter account that makes me sick, I'm not going to recruit you. I've turned down players based on their Twitter handles. I've turned down players based on Twitter pictures. It's just that's how I choose to run our program. I'm never going to waiver in that."

It’s not unheard of for a football coach to make this sort of statement, but Bielema’s response was just further proof for recruits that in this day and age, nothing goes unseen.

In fact, it was reported in early 2012 that one of the country’s top prep prospects was expelled from his high school after a series of sexually explicit and racially charged tweets, leading to the loss of a scholarship from a major college program.

With the growth of Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, and Instagram (to name a few), social media has completely changed the landscape of recruiting over the past few years, now offering coaches and recruits a new medium for communication while giving coaches an opportunity to pinpoint the personality of the players they are recruiting.

There are pretty strict rules outlining the entire recruiting process, but social media allows college staffs a bit of a loop hole in terms of communication in the off-season. Schools can’t send recruits text messages during the spring, but they can send electronic communications via email and through social media.

Brian Stumpf, the director of top high school football events including the Elite 11, The Opening, and the Nike Combines, recognizes that there are both positives and negatives to social media and recruiting.

“It’s easy to get in touch with kids and easy for kids to get in touch with coaches through Twitter direct messages. It’s an easy medium for smart kids and parents to control the process and limit the number of phone calls by only speaking through their Twitter accounts and putting out their own updates and commitments. However, the negatives include rabid fans, the over-exposure, and the acceleration of the learning curve in terms of dealing with the public and watching what you say.

“It expands the fishbowl exponentially,” he said.

Arkansas wide receiver Keon Hatcher was one of three student-athletes selected by his coaches to represent the Razorbacks at Media Day this year. A Scout four-star prospect and the number four overall player from Oklahoma in the 2012 class, Hatcher says that players don’t need to put every detail of their lives on the internet for the world to see.

“You don’t have to show everything off. It doesn’t have to be all over social media, because that really exposes you. Don’t put things out there about yourself that don’t need to be out there,” he said.

The theme from Bielema, Stumpf, and Hatcher is pretty clear: think before you tweet and remember, the internet is forever.

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