Twitter Provides NCAA Coaches Another Way of Contacting Recruits

Ralph Friedgen (@CoachFridge) is a regular user of the popular micro-blogging service Twitter.
Ralph Friedgen (@CoachFridge) is a regular user of the popular micro-blogging service Twitter. (By Doug Benc -- Getty Images)

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By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 5, 2009

At an NCAA committee meeting last month in Newport Beach, Calif., the topic of conversation among the two dozen administrators included the latest technology being used by coaches attempting to woo recruits. It didn't take long for some in the room to wonder what the next big thing was going to be.

"We joked that next year Twitter is going to be old news," said Amy Huchthausen, NCAA director of academic and membership affairs. "Just like 2008, when we were giving our rules interpretations and everybody was talking about Facebook and MySpace. I know it's going to happen."

While social networking Web sites were not established with the intent of recruiting high school athletes, there is no question they have become crucial tools for college coaches. Each time a new method of persuading recruits pops up, it is safe to assume coaches will try to figure out how to use it before the NCAA tries to regulate it.

At Maryland, football coach Ralph Friedgen, men's basketball coach Gary Williams and women's basketball coach Brenda Frese all have Twitter accounts. Virginia Tech men's basketball coach Seth Greenberg tweets, as does George Mason men's coach Jim Larranaga. So do many other coaches across the nation, such as Southern California football coach Pete Carroll and Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari.

Twitter, created in 2006, allows users to post messages of up to 140 characters that anyone can read or subscribe to. There also is a feature that allows user-to-user contact similar to text messaging, which the NCAA permits even though it has banned texting. Facebook, started in 2004, allows users to create personal pages and post messages, pictures and other items for others to read and see.

"Coaches who have been reluctant to use [social media] are realizing they have to use it -- twittering, writing a blog and Facebook," said Dan Tudor, whose California-based business, Selling for Coaches, trains coaches in how to recruit athletes. "In the past year, there has been a realization that this stuff is here to stay. Once you hear that program X is using it, then you've got to use it because they're using it."

That's where the NCAA comes in. The association's 439-page Division I policy manual has all sorts of stipulations when it comes to recruiting: when coaches can make phone calls; when they can e-mail; what kinds of public comments they can make concerning recruiting.

"What's not changed is coaches' ability to continue to outwork each other, finding new and creative ways to get the edge; that has never changed," said Petrina Long, senior associate athletic director at UCLA and chair of the NCAA Division I Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet. "I've been in the business 30 years and while the technologies have changed a lot, the fundamental concept of recruiting has not.

"Coaches are always going to try to, within the boundaries of the rules for the most part, try to outwork one another and find new angles and new ways to reach out to those people that they've targeted. Any new technology just provides an opportunity. But it's still recruiting."

It often falls to Huchthausen and co-worker Brad Hostetter to figure out how emerging technologies pertain to recruiting. In 2007, the NCAA banned text messaging because it was deemed intrusive and costly. Coaches could text at their will -- many trying to out-text the competition -- and recruits often rang up considerable bills from all the texts sent their way. On the other hand, with Twitter and Facebook, recruits have the ability to accept or deny messages and how they accept those messages, via e-mail or text message, according to Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs.

"We are at a heightened point and time in terms of technology, but the principles and framework -- that's where we start," Lennon said, pointing to the NCAA's basic principle of how any particular issue affects an athlete's well-being. "Hey, does [a new technology] meet with the spirit and what we're trying to accomplish with the way we recruit?"

It remains to be seen what effect, if any, Twitter might have on recruiting. Some analysts said top football or basketball prospects, already hounded in the recruiting process, do not want to be bothered checking up with college coaches on Twitter. But others believe Twitter could be the latest innovation in attracting athletes.

What could make a difference in recruiting is whether coaches do their own tweeting, according to Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. Some coaches do not write their own posts, or they funnel their thoughts through a university official, though NCAA rules stipulate that any direct messages from a coach to a recruit must be written by the coach. But a coach whose tweets seem genuine -- or a coach who utilizes the site to covertly communicate with prospects -- makes the recruiting process more intimate.

"In old-school recruiting, it was: Did you get a handwritten note from the head coach or the assistant coach? Or was it a mail out with a stamped signature?" Meyer said in a telephone interview. "Whatever the medium that is being used in recruiting, the key is to make it as authentic and personable as possible."

Said Long: "I think we can assume Larry King isn't doing his own twittering. We don't want to get caught up with the technologies, but stay with the principles and see where it affects students and where it affects coaches. One thing we've established is we're not going back to not having electronic communication. We recognize we are going forward and we want to do it in the most reasonable way possible."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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