This guy reads the message boards for keeps

MORE THAN 11,000 Cougar fans are registered to post on the message boards, but there is perhaps no one in that crowd more interested in what's being said than Steve Robertello. In fact, he gets paid to track what people are talking about.

Robertello is Washington State's associate athletic director in charge of compliance with the NCAA's formidable rulebook. He takes a look at the CF.C message boards two or three times a week on average, and more during the busiest times for football and basketball recruiting.

"It doesn't happen a ton," said Robertello, referring to potential issues that come to light via message board postings.

Red flags for him include conversations between fans and posters who could be prospects or a prospect's parent. Posts addressed directly to recruits are also a no-go.

He also remembers one message board missive a few years ago outlining Tony Bennett's behind-the-scenes wooing of an athlete. It was from a WSU student who worked after school at the Beasley Coliseum. "He announced he had just set up the arena" as part of Bennett's recruitment of this one prospect, said Robertello. School employees -- even students making a few bucks on a part-time basis -- are forbidden from talking about such happenings.

The CF.C message board is but a small part of Robertello's world. But it's also emblematic of how technology has dramatically changed the compliance landscape.

First the Web. Then text messaging. Nowadays, the rapid growth of social networking sites, like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, have created more potential pitfalls.

One Facebook site named "John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!" saw more than 700 people sign up. The site's name was changed after a cease and desist letter from N.C. State's compliance department.

Text messaging by coaches was the big worry a couple of years ago and the NCAA decided to outlaw it completely. Now, it's Twitter that could be in the crosshairs. Tennessee's Lane Kiffin yesterday mentioned a verbal commitment by name on his Twitter page, a violation the school will now report.

"It adds another dimension -- the hardest part with technology is that a couple years from now it changes and improves," said Robertello. "It wouldn't shock me a year from now to see with the recruiting taskforces that are out there if they start looking at that and say is this another avenue we should go down, are there areas for abuse here."

One such area has to do with real time dialogues. Coaches are not supposed to engage in an instant messaging session with a recruit, which social networking sites generally offer. And so the question becomes how long until that happens -- or is it already happening?

ROBERTELLO HAS two full time staffers and a part- time intern to help him keep WSU on track with the NCAA. But when it comes to compliance, he says, there's always a desire for more bodies. This year's Division-I rules book numbers more than 400 pages. It's about as thick as the Seattle yellow pages. And year to year change, he says, is pervasive.

"The hardest challenge we face as compliance people is how much the rules are changing from year to year," said Robertello. "You're looking at 125-150 proposals that are reviewed every year. You just get your hands around one set of rules that have changed, and sometimes they change right back within a year."

The volume and back and forth nature of some of the rules means Robertello and his staff spend much of their time educating Cougar coaches. Robertello, who was in compliance at Arizona State and Villanova before coming to Washington State, says his job is made easier by the Cougar coaching staffs.

"I'm very fortunate here that we've got great leadership in place and coaches that want to do it the right way," said Robertello. "Since (Wulff's) been here, he's been outstanding with our office, very open with compliance and the resources that are available. Coach (Ken) Bone as well.

"Our coaches here, that's one thing that's very important to them. It doesn't mean we don't have some (secondary) violations that occur from time to time -- it's a big book and things are going to happen. But the things we've had happen are all truly accidental and never committed with any intent...We don't have many that occur but most that occur are self reported by our coaching staffs."

STILL, ROBERTELLO SAYS he would like to see more deregulation in compliance. One area would be recruiting phone calls and the times a coach is allowed to make them.

"To me, I think the phone call rule would be one that could be looked at. I don't think coaches are calling as much as spending time on the internet with Facebook and MySpace. I'd be in favor of that," said Robertello.

But while there has been an increase in the number of deregulation proposals, new regulation is still king.

"With every rule we're trying to deregulate, there's another one that we're trying to put in place. It's still probably more on the side of adding new rules," said Robertello.

COMPLIANCE AND TECHNOLOGY would appear to be inexorably linked in the coming years.

"Where I think it's heading is you're going to see a lot going down in terms of technology. I think you're going to see continual study of are they too intrusive for kids, or is it not as intrusive -- are Facebook and MySpace better for recruiting because the kid has to be on there and they want to communicate," said Robertello.

At the same time, you have to wonder how long it's going to be before you hear an iphone ad voiceover that includes, 'If you want to chat with a recruit, there's an app for that.'

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