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Fans Cannot Be Involved in Recruiting, but the Line Blurs

DeMatha's Quinn Cook has been interviewed by cuttingdownnets.wordpress.com, an independent Web site started in June by 22-year-old Georgetown fan Nolan Comar.
DeMatha's Quinn Cook has been interviewed by cuttingdownnets.wordpress.com, an independent Web site started in June by 22-year-old Georgetown fan Nolan Comar. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Will Barton had finished playing all his basketball games for the day at a summer camp in Long Beach, Calif., when the top 20 prospect in the high school class of 2010 decided to answer questions from two men wearing media credentials.

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Barton had seen the men before, liked them, and said he knew they wanted him to play college basketball at North Carolina State. After recalling great moments in Wolfpack history in front of a video camera, media members began shooting baskets; Barton took a basketball from one of the men, Lou Pascucci, and said: "Check up, check up. Roll that camera!" The 6-foot-6 Barton challenged the 5-8 Pascucci to engage in a most unusual activity for an interviewee and a media member, a one-on-one game with high stakes: If Pascucci won, Barton would pledge to go to N.C. State.

The scene illuminates a growing concern in college basketball. NCAA rules explicitly state that fans of teams cannot be involved in recruiting, but those regulations blur when the fan wears a media credential. Such credentials, which are issued by whatever entity is running a particular event, designate the bearers as media members, giving them access to prospects that even college coaches don't have during the all-important summer evaluation period. College coaches are not permitted to interact with prospects during the period.

NCAA officials and prominent figures on the summer basketball circuit are alarmed at an increasing number of fans who are creating Web sites, obtaining media credentials and becoming amateur recruiters. Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's agent, gambling and amateurism director, said one of the organization's biggest concerns this summer was who was obtaining media credentials and for what purpose.

Pascucci and his friend Matthew Bradham, two North Carolina State graduates and fans of the basketball team, posted the video of the one-on-one game (which Barton won quickly) on their six-month-old Web site, http://WolfpackHoops.com. But they took it down after a North Carolina State official recommended they do so. Both said last week they would never play such a game again and would never try to persuade a prospect to go to North Carolina State, and that they felt Barton merely was joking around.

Bradham and Pascucci called it a learning experience, a quick introduction into the highly scrutinized and complex world of college basketball recruiting. They said they have media credentials from North Carolina State to cover the school's football and basketball teams this year and do not want to damage their relationship with the school.

"I don't even want to walk close to the line again," said Pascucci, 25, later comparing the one-on-one game to a bad joke and saying, "If people don't get it, you don't tell the joke again."

But Bradham maintained that supporting and promoting their favorite team is their "number one goal," that he views former Wolfpack players as heroes and that he hopes the best recruits go to North Carolina State.

"We're not recruiters," said Bradham, 25. "We know there is a fine line. But we'd be ignorant to say [recruits] didn't know we were representing N.C. State. When we go up to a player and say, 'Hey, we're from WolfpackHoops dot com,' they get it."

That concerns those charged with the enforcement of NCAA recruiting regulations, and with Web addresses easy and inexpensive to obtain, separating legitimate online journalists from fanatics with URLs can be difficult.

"It really has gotten worse," said Bob Gibbons, a national recruiting analyst for 30 years. "We have a whole different set of communications than I am familiar with, and that existed when I first started out, went to a camp, watched the best players and did a report on them. They have taken it to different levels. There are multiple problems that need to be resolved, and I don't think anyone knows the exact solution to it. How do you legislate these people who claim they are media representatives?"


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