Looking at social media and recruiting

PULLMAN – Social media interaction between recruits and fans has skyrocketed, with fans and boosters getting more and more access to prep athletes than ever before. Has it gotten to a point where they are actually having a say in prep athletes' college decisions?

"I would kill myself if I lived in Pullman. Come play at LSU!"

That is a tweet from an anonymous LSU fan, encouraging Washington State verbal commit Vince Mayle to instead play his college ball in the SEC.

Fans and boosters have continued to get more aggressive toward recruits as social media and athlete accessibility gradually expands.

Social media has also become an essential, if not a necessary tool for many prep athletes to get their names out to college scouts and coaches. Of the 22 listed on the 2013 Cougar commit list, at least 16 of them have Twitter accounts. All 16 accounts have posted links to their highlight films, posted pictures of themselves on the gridiron, and/or listed "D1 recruit/bound" in their ‘About Me' sections.

"That's the original reason I even tried Twitter," said Mayle, a frequent user of the social media mega-site. "I just made one to post highlight film for coaches."

In recent years, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have allowed adoring fans to follow their favorite athletes and watch their every move. But for Mayle, many of his ‘tweets' are not to give insight on his day-to-day happenings, but instead are responses to crazed fans attempting to sway him in one way or another to play for their respective school.

"It's all just so amusing," Mayle said. "Twitter is just too direct. People can be so childish."

Mayle averages almost 32 tweets a day, the majority concerning college sports and the recruiting cycle. He said he enjoys the interaction between himself and football fans encouraging him to succeed, though he added that fans out to instigate conflict take the luster off enjoying social media.

"Recruiting has nothing to do with Twitter for fans," Mayle said. "Recruiting should be intimate between coach and player. Fans don't realize they're not having any impact on the recruiting cycle… not for me at least."

Twitter has become a way of life for many prospects. The power to disperse and manipulate information has allowed several student athletes to turn their recruiting cycle into a cynical peanut gallery, placing several schools on opposing sides, encouraging fans to lobby for the ‘rights' to their services.

In 2011, Upland, Calif., WR Kenny Lawler toyed with Oregon State, Washington State and Cal fans, milking the spotlight for everything it was worth.

"Where mah #Coug fans at!? #GoCougs," Lawler tweeted.

He continued.

"Let me here it from da Beavers!! #OSU."

Lawler bellowed toward Cal and Arizona State fans as well.

Lawler eventually chose Cal over several other Pac-12 schools. He faced a backlash from fans of other schools, as did Keivarae Russell when he chose Notre Dame over nearby UW and other schools.

"UW fans n blog members ya'll actin just like Oregon fans with the ignorant remarks made on articles of my commitment lol," read a Facebook post by Russell last December after the Mariner High cornerback verballed to the Irish.

Jake Worthen, West Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com, said fans communicating with prep athletes at its most innocent form are no detriment to recruits' wellbeing, though the few fans taking it to the next level must understand they're walking a thin line between pressure and a violation.

"… High school athletes don't understand the kind of dedicated fan bases that (are) out there," Worthen said. "Some of the athletes enjoy the attention that comes with the recruitment process, but likely aren't aware of the risks it carries."

Worthen agreed social media pressures on student athletes has increased in recent years, but noted Pandora's Box has been opened and probably can't be closed.

"I don't see a solution," Worthen said. "I think it would like most with parents and coaches monitoring what their players are doing."

Worthen would like for fans and boosters to give players their space and realize that these student athletes have a tough decision at hand regardless of the pressures they receive from extraneous sources.

These student athletes are 16-18 year olds making a decision far more dense than simply where to play football. They're deciding where they will be receiving an education for the next 4-5 years, as well as selecting an environment that suites their personality and caters to their needs. Social media is a device used to stay informed and it should remain that way.

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