Coach's Corner

The NCAA needs to change its rules with regard to recruitment, especially in light what "Facebook", "Myspace", "Twitter", and any other "friendship" or "social" internet service are doing with regard to access to the top recruits in the nation.

I read where a kid in the south who was being recruited by Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida actually made his final decision because of Facebook. He was convinced that the 3,500 college "friends" he accumulated during his recruitment couldn't be all wrong. He claimed it was the determining factor that pushed him to sign with that school.

Come on kid! How many of those people are really your friends, and how many are just overzealous fans that want to do anything for their school and football team? OK, some of them are your legit friends, but really, aren't most of those Facebook-generated messages actually recruitment-oriented? Isn't it a violation of NCAA rules to recruit a prospective student-athlete if you're a fan, booster, or season ticket holder?

I think the answer is currently floating in cyberspace, somewhere along the other demons of the "social networking" world. Next thing you know, an anonymous student-athlete will try and auction off his future LOI signature on Craigslist.

This out-of-control inter-networking presents one of the biggest dilemmas in modern recruiting. The NCAA clearly didn't anticipate it, hadn't heard of it until this last decade, and really have no way to stop it. It certainly stretches the imagination and the abuse by fans is just starting to boil.

I obviously don't have the face for Facebook, but my wife does, and I am amazed by the whole process. I'm also just as baffled by how fast it became a worldwide fad, estimated to reach 500 million folks. I could see how it's used in recruiting. I could also see that it was an administrative and policy time bomb for the NCAA, with fans lighting the fuse. All that's required is an internet connection and a free account. The rest takes care of itself.

Kentucky actually self reported internet-based violations as far back as 2006, before Myspace was swallowed up by Facebook. The UK Athletic Department realized a number of their alums were contacting kids via the web site. The resulting decision by the NCAA was no decision simply because they had no idea how to control it, much less how to punish anyone who is outside the control of the school. Friends are allowed to remain friends, even if one is a recruitable Prospective Student-Athlete.

When John Wall, a one-and-done basketball player, was still in high school, students at North Carolina State formed a group of 700 'fans' to convince him to attend their school. It was all done on Facebook and the internet.

This January, Missouri self-reported itself for 77 secondary, or inadvertent violations. Of those 77, 32 involved text messaging or social networking via the web.

The NCAA says that, "existing friendship" need not be restricted by the recruiting rules as long as they were pre-existing relationships. That means any relative or family friend or teacher or coach or neighbor or employer or girlfriend for that matter may say anything they want to a Prospective Student-Athlete. That was always one of our intentions in recruiting; surround the prospect and find out all the people who are going to have an influence on a kid's final decision.

Years ago we used the "Husky Hunter" organization for that very purpose. That's why we had small branches of hunters throughout the western part of the country, but particularly in Seattle, the Pacific Northwest, southern California, and Hawaii. It involved gathering information on a kid during the process and getting to him from whatever angle it took. Using ex-players and coaches worked the best, simply because they had been there. We wanted as much information as we could get about his family, his friends, his approach to schooling, other sports, church, and anything else that mattered - in other words, his social network.

Now you can do it by simply going online and finding if a kid has a Facebook or Twitter account and log in and ask to become their "friend". Heck, with Twitter, you don't even have to ask, you can just follow their news feed. If they say yes, then bingo! You're in, and you have freedom to say, send, or do anything allowed by the site.

If there were 3,500 for one kid, how many do you think there were nationally in this past recruiting year for all the Prospective Student-Athletes that had Facebook accounts? How many top Prospective Student-Athletes don't have Facebook accounts? Not many.

So that means millions of illegal contacts or "booster recruiting" violations took place. The NCAA is basically powerless to do anything, so that's what they've done - nothing. They can't really stop it, nor can they legislate against it, but they could reduce it by simply making all written forms of communication legal and just continue to restrict and reduce in-person contacts and phone calls where an actual conversation takes place.

One thing about social networking is that the prospect is still in control of who contacts them through confirming friends, blocking users and other privacy controls of the network.

Because I know the Huskies use Twitter and Facebook as well as all the other forms of internet, cell-phone and media communications, I stopped by to visit with John Morris, the Senior Athletic Director for Compliance, and Jared Blank, the Huskies Football Director of Player Personnel.

Both of them realize that social networking is an uncontrollable problem in recruiting, and no one really has an answer to enforcing "booster" rules through that medium.

Blank told me that coach Sarkisian's Facebook account was designed for public relations purposes, and that there is no dialog because they don't respond to messages on their wall. Twitter basically sends the world your message, but also requires a response for dialog to occur.

The number-one rule that applies to any form of written communication in recruiting is that you can't start sending anything in writing until the start of their junior year in high school. Usually that's September 1st, but after that there is no limit or restriction on the amount or form of written communication. You could send a kid something every day if you wanted, including postcards, letters, handwritten notes, emails, or even pictures on you social accounts.

If they tried to make it illegal, then people could just randomly bombard Prospective Student-Athletes trying to set up other schools for possible recruiting violations.

The NCAA concentrates its rules on recruiting by coaches and institutions, and it has to because those are the only entities within their jurisdiction. It just so happens they deal with exactly the same demographic groups as the social networks; high school and college-aged kids.

Where the NCAA has gone wrong is that they tried to make rules as technology continued to evolve. They made email unlimited after the start of the junior year, but tried to prohibit text messaging. They ruled that voice mail be treated exactly like a phone call, but video conferencing would likewise be treated like a phone call, rather than a face-to-face contact, leaving room for coaches to contact Prospective Student-Athletes via programs like Skype. Come on!

By the end of last year, Facebook and Google had both introduced new messaging systems. Google Wave featured the melding of email, instant messaging, chat, and document collaboration into a one-stop shop. Google Voice mixes phone calls and text messaging with email. Facebook introduced their new technology that blends email, text messages, instant messages, and social networking all into one place within their site.

These technological developments have essentially made all the NCAA rules obsolete and revealed that many of the assumptions on which their rules are based. They longer apply in today's modern world. The kids and their web toys have simply gone past the monster and its many rules, and will continue to do so as long as the NCAA decides to read and react.

They are basically retreating from the practice of over-legislation when it comes to fans and what they can and can't do. And really, what can they do? The NCAA is pretty powerful, but the First Amendment trumps all.

They have decided however, that "Coaches may not post messages on their own walls or twitter pages about a recruit, nor post messages on a recruit's wall or twitter page". Since coaches work for their member institutions, the NCAA does have the power to restrict their freedom of speech in this regard.

However, the general public has embraced social networking, and with it comes a whole new set of problems - most that are outside the control of the NCAA. It will be interesting to see how all of this will change recruiting, but more interesting to see how fans will react.

The Times, They Are a-Changin'.


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