NCAA rule change gives basketball coaches unlimited phone contact with recruits


George Washington Coach Mike Lonergan said he likes a new NCAA rule that allows him to call recruits as much as he wants, but says he won’t be taking full advantage. “The kids we’re recruiting, I don’t think they’re gonna be impressed if I’m calling them every single day,” he said. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
June 15, 2012

Lennard Freeman was on an unofficial visit to George Washington this week when Colonials men’s basketball Coach Mike Lonergan issued a warning that caught Freeman by surprise.

Freeman, a rising senior forward at St. John’s who has received scholarship offers from Temple, VCU and Alabama after a string of impressive showings on the summer basketball circuit, learned from Lonergan that he was about to be bombarded with phone calls and text messages from college basketball coaches because of an NCAA rule change he hadn’t heard of until that moment.

Lonergan told Freeman he didn’t plan to contact him daily going forward, which turned out to be a relief.

“Talking to coaches helps builds relationships, but some coaches, they might be eager to get you and call you too much,” Freeman said. “That might make the [recruit] think you’re annoying and not like your program.”

This was the dilemma college coaches faced when the clock struck midnight late Thursday night. That’s when a new NCAA rule took effect, eliminating limits on the number of phone calls and text messages between Division I men’s basketball coaches and recruits who have finished their sophomore year of high school, a deregulation that also extends to private messages on social media. (Football has different rules that allow for unlimited calls only during a contact period during a recruit’s senior season.)

Under the previous system, coaches could call a recruit just once a month from June 15 after his sophomore year to July 31 after his junior year – although prospects could call coaches whenever they wanted. Coaches could also make two phone calls a week to a recruit starting Aug. 1 after his junior year. Text messages were prohibited.

Earlier this year, for instance, Baylor was hit with NCAA probation after its men’s and women’s basketball programs sent 738 impermissible text messages and made 528 impermissible phone calls over a 2 1 / 2-year span. In 2008, former Indiana Coach Kelvin Sampson was fired for NCAA violations involving impermissible phone calls.

“The Leadership Council recognized the evolving nature of communication with students as well as the importance of building solid relationships with prospective student-athletes,” said Missouri Athletic Director Mike Alden, the chair of the Division I Leadership Council that approved the rule change. “It appeared that we had previously regulated ourselves away from that relationship-building with these young people, unintentionally allowing third parties greater access than our coaches.”

Lonergan is a fan of the rule change, if only because he won’t have to constantly look at phone logs to make sure he hasn’t called a recruit or his family more than once in a particular month. But he wonders if the inundation of communication will speed up the recruiting process too much, “because kids might get sick of it and their parents might get sick of it.”

“The kids we’re recruiting, I don’t think they’re gonna be impressed if I’m calling them every single day,” Lonergan said. “I would if it would help and we try to give them a lot of information, but with texts, phone calls, it could get ridiculous.”

George Mason Coach Paul Hewitt had similar concerns about the initial deluge and hoped his colleagues wouldn’t abuse the rule by contacting recruits during the school day. But he’s also glad to be rid of rules that he felt were hard to enforce and “written up like [coaches] robbed a bank if they text-messaged a kid.”

“Those first few days, everybody will get a phone call. But I hope things will settle back down, because it’s gonna be good to have more communication with the kids,” Hewitt said. “Fewer mistakes will be made in recruiting. I think it’ll help bring down transfer numbers, because you’ll have a better feel for who you’re getting and the kid will have a better feel for what he’s getting into. I just think the positives far outweigh the negatives.”

Keith Stevens, Freeman’s AAU coach in the Team Takeover program, has been preparing his college-level recruits for the change by advising parents to set up designated days and times in which college coaches can call to avoid being pestered all the time.

Stevens likes the rule change, though, because the increased contact between player and coach “gives you an opportunity to weed through the lies and the truth.”

That, though, hasn’t convinced one of Stevens’s top prospects, Paul VI rising senior Stanford Robinson, that all this new communication will be a good thing. Robinson committed to play for Indiana last month, a decision he was even more thankful of when informed by a reporter this week about the coming rule change.

“Some coaches go overboard. They don’t harass you, but that’s how you feel,” he said with a smile. “I’d have to cut my phone off.”

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