Fans' Recruiting Pitches Are Catching On
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Scott Meyer doesn't consider himself a complicated person. He grew up following University of Maryland football because of its proximity. He attended Good Counsel because of its reputation for providing a quality education. The criteria he used to select his college also were straightforward: It had to be a big school, and had to have a good football program.
Meyer visited Penn State and quickly became enamored with its football coach, Joe Paterno, and Beaver Stadium, where more than 107,000 white-clad fans cheer madly for the Nittany Lions. "It's so easy to fall into all of it," said Meyer, now a senior political science major. "It's everything I could want."
And when it comes to football recruiting, Meyer believes Penn State is everything any top high school prospect could want, too. That's why Meyer reaches out to some of those recruits via online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace. Maybe, he reasons, if a recruit sees that students from a certain school who aren't associated with the athletic department take the time to initiate a relationship, it might influence that recruit's decision on where to attend.
"When you follow recruiting, you wish you were the coaches going into the houses and telling kids about the tradition," Meyer said. If coaches can't recruit through social networks, he added, "students can do it."
Innocent as Meyer's intentions may be, his actions constitute an NCAA recruiting violation, one schools cannot protect against and one the NCAA cannot closely monitor. Meyer is not the lone culprit by any means. Many top football recruits in the class of 2009 contacted for this story said their Facebook or MySpace accounts have been bombarded in the past year by friend requests and messages from fans across the country. Numerous top men's basketball recruits in the class of 2009 have a following on social networks, as well.
Current students cannot serve as representatives of their schools' athletic interests and thus are not allowed to contact recruits, according to Stacey Osburn, the NCAA's associate director of public and media relations. In fact, NCAA rules state that any individual who is known or should have been known by a member of a school's athletic administration to be "assisting in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes" qualifies as a representative of that institution's athletic interests. Therefore, any fan with a social networking account could possibly cause a violation, not merely those currently enrolled at a school.
"If a school found out this was going on, it would have to self-report it," Osburn said. "The NCAA then would look at the situation within reason." She added that reports of major violations concerning this subject have yet to surface.
According to NCAA rules, electronically transmitted correspondence with recruits or their legal guardians is permissible only in the form of an e-mail or a fax; "all other forms of electronically transmitted correspondence (e.g., Instant Messenger, text messaging) are prohibited." Contact via social networks is "the middle ground of sorts between e-mails and instant messages," said Tim Parker, the senior assistant director of athletics for compliance at Virginia Tech. "It would be impossible to be proactive in a meaningful way on this. All you can do is educate fans on what is and is not permissible."
Some sought-after high school football players called recruiting via social networks unfair; others said they were flattered by the attention. Either way, the trend poses a potentially serious problem for university compliance officers charged with keeping their respective team's contact with recruits above board.
"It makes it exceedingly difficult, no doubt, with the proliferation of what goes on with the Internet," said Mike Karwoski, Notre Dame's associate athletic director for compliance. "If anybody in the country says they know everything that's going on with those sites, they're not telling the truth. They can't. It's impossible."
When it comes to monitoring students' and other fans' contact with recruits through social networking sites, the issue is threefold. Most university compliance departments are small in staff size. Many Division I schools have tens of thousands of students and an exponentially larger base of fans.
So even if compliance officers could gain access to the social networking accounts of each of their school's fans (privacy restrictions prohibit such access), they would not have the time or manpower to ensure no contact was being made with potential recruits.