Recruiting & Social Media: Recipe for Disaster

Here at CardsandCats.com we follow recruiting but we elect to not cover it until National Signing Day. There are too many twists and turns AND we fully believe in putting our efforts and attention toward the players who are on campus.  The recruiting gurus in football and basketball do a fabulous job as it is, so we don’t pretend to be working the phones calling coaches, athletes, and families like some other outlets that get their information secondhand.  Social Media has made everyone in the world more accessible: Actors, Musicians, Athletes, Coaches, Average Joes can all interact as one on Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Instagram, etc., etc., etc. The multiple and open platforms have made many improvements and closed a lot of gaps for millions of people’s daily lives.

The NCAA Manual (Rule Book) is huge.  I found myself a hard copy just so I could get my entire head around the scope of the rules that coaches, administrators, and players must know.  It’s full of legal jargon, and not written for the understanding of the student-athletes or families.  The section of rules that I am focusing on are the following in green:

Institutional Responsibility in Recruitment: A member of an institution’s athletics staff or a representative of its athletics interests shall not recruit a prospective student-athlete except as permitted by this Association, the institution and the member conference, if any.

Basically this means that a person associated with a school may only recruit a player the way the NCAA says that you can.

Recruiting by Representatives of Athletics Interests:  Representatives of an institution’s athletics interests are prohibited from making in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts or telephone calls with a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s relatives or legal guardians.  On-Campus contact is permitted, as are written communications. Recruiting contacts by representatives during a prospective student-athlete’s official visit are confined to campus.  

Representatives of Athletics Interests:  A ‘representative of the institution’s athletics interests’ is an individual who is known (or who should have been known) by a member of the institution’s executive or athletics administration to: 

a) Have participated in or to be a member of an agency or organization, including corporate entities (e.g. apparel and equipment companies), promoting the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.  <—program sponsors, shoe companies, etc.

b) Have made a financial contributions to the athletics department or to an athletics booster organization of that institution.  <—anyone who has ever donated a dollar

c) Be assisting or to have been requested to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes. 

d) Be assisting or to have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families. 

e) Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program. 

This section basically defines who is a Representative.  Basically anyone who would promote the school and it’s athletics programs.  Employees, Coaches, Boosters, Sponsors, Fans.  Everyone involved with that program.

Permissible Recruiters: (Specifically) Authorized Staff Members & Off-Campus Recruiters

Authorized Staff Members: All in-person, off-campus recruiting contacts with a prospective student-athlete’s relatives or legal guardian(s) shall be made only by authorized athletics department staff members.  Such off-campus contact by representatives of an institution’s athletics interests is prohibited. 

Off-Campus Recruiters: An institutional staff member is not permitted to recruit off campus until he or she has been certified on an annual basis as to knowledge of applicable recruiting rules per Bylaw 11.5.1.1. (which clarifies that the coaches making contact must be certified annually by the NCAA to recruit off-campus). 

The exceptions in this are the school’s Admissions Program, Coach who is an athlete’s parent or legal guardian, spouse of the player’s coach, established family friend/neighbor, Interpreter, unavoidable incidental contact, and pre-enrollment activities.

Electronic Transmissions: Electronically transmitted correspondence that may be sent to a prospective student-athlete is limited to electronic mail (e-mail) and facsimiles (fax). All other forms of electronically transmitted correspondence are prohibited. An institutional staff member may not use a service or software that converts electronic mail into text message when received by prospective student-athlete. <—-For example a Permissible Recruiter may use the Facebook Inbox feature to the student athlete but may not write on that recruit’s wall publicly.

There are several schools who have pages dedicated to fans and boosters detailing their level of involvement during the recruiting process that is allowed by the NCAA rules, specifically for social media. It’s obviously an issue for NCAA member schools that are struggling to find a way to have their large and diverse fan base aware of the potential repercussions that could arise from fans overstepping their involvement in the engagement of a potential student-athlete. For the most part, if you don’t know the player already it is best to just let the coaches do their work.  Prior to National Signing Day in the bigger sports like Football and Basketball top level recruits get contacted by fans of the schools that are said to be in the running on various social media websites (most notably Facebook and Twitter).  This contact is impermissible and violates the rules of the NCAA.  The fans are considered “Representatives of Athletics Interests”.

99.99% of these “Representatives” are not university employees, coaches, or administration and have also not taken the NCAA’s annual certification test to make off-campus contact or contact via electronic communication.  Also, much of this contact also occurs during the recruiting ‘dead’ or ‘quiet’ period and exceeds the number of messages in which a school can solicit a player over a given period further violating the NCAA guidelines.

Arguments that the rule are unenforceable carry very little water.  The rules are obviously enforceable, it’s just that the NCAA has yet to levy a penalty against a player, school, or fan who (knowingly or not) regularly breaks the rules by contacting recruits on Social Media.  The problem, I believe, is two-fold: 1) Fans don’t know the rules & 2) fans that do understand the rules feel a level of entitlement and untouchable as fans.

The truth of the matter is while the NCAA can not issue a penalty to a fan for making impermissible contact with a recruit, they CAN set a precedent at any moment of their choosing to punish a member institution for failing to properly monitor and finding ‘lack of institutional control’ for allowing their fan base to actively make contact which has been disallowed.  The harmed university will then look to the boosters & fans who engaged in this activity and more than likely disassociate themselves from the individuals responsible before filing an appeal.  Disassociation from the school/program means that you are Persona Non Grata (person not welcome, or an unwelcome person) and you are to cease and desist any level of involvement as a booster/fan.  If you step on campus or go to a game, you are trespassing.  If you continue your previous involvement they’ll go after you in court.  A school simply is not going to continue to allow itself to be harmed by those who continually break the rules. The NCAA will, like always, leave it up to the schools to enforce the majority of the rules.

Negative consequences from fan involvement in the recruiting process are also inevitable in this process. Fans often times don’t know nearly as much as they think they do about their school/favorite team.  In fact, there are a ton of fans of most schools that never attended the school, don’t visit it regularly, and generally cheer from afar.  For these uniformed and sometimes uneducated ‘fans’ to engage a recruit in an attempt to sway an 17-18 year-old athlete’s college choice is simply absurd.  And there are several recent examples of undesirables making contact followed by a negative result.

1) Eric Waugh built an on-line relationship with several Ohio State recruits and even met with the prospects on their official visits.  It wasn’t until it was uncovered that Eric Waugh was a convicted sex-offender (child porn) that the school sent a mass e-mail to their prospects to cut off contact with the man.  Sex offender or not, Waugh should not have been allowed to engage with these young men but the dangerous nature of his past makes this situation even more scary. As a result, the Buckeyes lost several recruits as the prospects and their families held Ohio State responsible for allowing contact with a convicted sex offender. The truth is that Ohio State can’t know everything about all of their fans, but they can actively police those who contact prospects and educate prospects of the rules and the dangers involved.

2) This week Anthony Bennett trimmed his list to UNLV & Oregon eliminating Kentucky and Florida from his list of schools.  What happened next is exactly what you might expect when you mix accessible athletes with scorned fans.  Bennett retweeted several fan remarks on Twitter that he received, here are some examples that Bennett shared:

From Ant Bentenison (From Lexington, KY) @Antnotthebug: “You f*$&ing b!&%h your not goin to UK f$!k you n$!&a Your scared to play around good talent n$!*a you a low key SCRUB”.

From Spiker (seen with UK shirt on in his TwitPics) @DakotaJopes: “you suck. Unlv blows Kentucky didn’t want you anyway b$!&h”.

Michael Cornett (with BBN in his description) was retweeted by Bennett twice @MC_Ducker1: “you won’t ever be s$!t p%&!y and that’s why you went to the west side!!!” followed by, “I only hope the worst for you f$!k you!!! #BBN” 

(the above tweets were edited for language)

Bennett chose to only retweet the responses from UK fans. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t receive responses from Gator fans saying essentially the same thing.  But it could be a message from Bennett who is good friends and AAU teammates with several 2013 Kentucky targets.  The world of college basketball recruiting isn’t very big at the top level, and while the recent success that Kentucky has had with sending players into the NBA is undeniable this type of response from fans over a high school kid’s college decision is way out of bounds.  It’s a life decision and he should be able to make the choice for himself without having to deal with cyber-bullys.  The individuals who did tweet to Bennett are NOT the true representation of the Kentucky fan base, but that is exactly what Bennett will remember and tell his friends, coaches, teammates.  That doesn’t always come back around, but in this case it could have placed some really hard work by UK’s coaching staff at risk.

I could fill up this piece with negative stories that have occurred from fans and recruit’s colliding on social networks. Shabazz Muhammad lost 4000 twitter followers when he chose UCLA. Arkansas signee Keon Hatcher was hounded by Oklahoma State and Arkansas fans begging him to switch his commitment to Arkansas and to cancel his visit to Oklahoma State respectively.  Hatcher was subjected to the same type of assaults on Twitter as Anthony Bennett was when he made his final decision and signed his national letter of intent, but  Hatcher was quoted as saying on fan interaction during recruiting, “It’s part of the recruiting process.”  

It shouldn’t be.  The job of recruiting should be the coaches and the school’s administration. Period. Fans can do their part by showing up to events (games) and cheering loudly.  It’s obviously going in the other direction, but until the NCAA steps in and actually does something to enforce its rules “FANS” should acknowledge to themselves that they are not professional recruiters.  There are currently several targets (and commitments) of UofL and UK that interact with fans on a regular basis.  It has to stop. These guys are not your “friends” on Facebook, think about when you were 16, 17, and 18 and then insert a lot of creepy strangers trying to interact with you. On Twitter, following recruits is fine.  Interacting with them is NOT OK. It violates the rules and at some point a predator more harmful than Ohio State’s Eric Waugh will draw bigger headlines.

Celebrity Twitter and Facebook pages make notable people more accessible than ever before, but we have to remember that these prospective student-athletes are still kids. The modern recruiting process and athletic exposure they receive does accelerate their movement into adulthood far faster than the natural process that a normal student can enjoy during their time in college.  These guys are still young, impressionable, should be protected, insulated, and given the respect to make their college decisions from the best advisers possible free from distraction.  I know it is a lot to ask folks to follow the rules, but I’m also asking that we be mindful adults.

This entry was posted in Basketball, Column, Featured, Football, News, UK, UofL by Mark Blankenbaker. Bookmark the permalink.

About Mark Blankenbaker

Follow me: @UofLSheriff50 Born in Louisville, Male High School Graduate, UofL Business School Graduate, I've seen and done quite a bit and I'm passionate about sports particularly the University of Louisville and its rivalry with Kentucky. I have more friends that are UK fans than I do UofL fans, some say that's because I like to argue, or to be different. When it comes down to it I love my Cards, but I'll give praise and criticism to anyone who is deserving. I'm not typically someone who is going to write a 3-sentence post that everyone one else saw on Twitter just to get fresh content on the site. I try and do informative and thorough articles and sometimes that takes a little longer, Follow us on Twitter @CardsandCatscom and Like Us on Facebook to keep up with the latest from us. We also have a YouTube Channel full of coach & player interviews and highlight films.