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To Tweet Or Not To Tweet...

Monday, February 3, 2014 4:35pm
By: Mark Owens

If you’re even a casual user of social media, you’ve undoubtedly seen the following play out: a big-time recruit is coming to visit your school. Or he’s getting ready to make that big commitment announcement, often with a series of hats on a table. The tension at each of the recruit's potential schools is palpable, and is the focus of rabid fan interest on social media, notably Twitter. 

On top of this, the recruit in question takes to Twitter to ask the cyber-question, “where’s the love from (insert school here)?”, in an attempt to gauge the pulse, passion and support he’d receive from each group of fans. 

Up to this point, everything’s copasetic in the eyes of the good folks in Indy. The tipping point, however, comes next … And to avoid this appearance of picking on any one school, here’s an example from EVERY ACC institution, current and future. 

Boston College

Nat Dixon is a 3-star WR/CB being recruited by Boston College, USF and Louisville, among others.  

CLEMSON

Trevion Thompson, a four-star WR, has committed to Dabo Swinney’s Tigers. 

Duke

Jahlil Okafor is the No. 1-rated prospect in America; he signed with the Blue Devils during the early signing period in mid-November. 

FLORIDA STATE

That would be Miami commitments Chad Thomas and Joseph Yearby, FSU commitment Dalvin Cook and Florida commitment - but likely flip to FSU - Ermon Lane. 

GEORGIA TECH

Tadric Jackson, the highest-rated member of Brian Gregory’s 2014 class to date.

LOUISVILLE 

Quentin Snider, the No. 39 basketball player in the 2014 class, per ESPN, and a fall signee with Louisville.

MARYLAND

Jesse Aniebonam, Maryland’s top-rated commitment for the 2014 football class. 

MIAMI

Chad Thomas is one of Miami’s highest-rated players in the 2014 class, though he visited Alabama this past weekend.

NORTH CAROLINA

Joel Berry, prized Roy Williams’ recruit from Lake Highland Prep in Florida.

N.C. STATE

Caleb and Cody Martin are …you guessed it … highly-recruited hoopsters committed to play for the Pack.

Notre Dame

Quenton Nelson, 5-star OL from New Jersey. Committed to Notre Dame.

PITT

Alex Bookser, 4-star OT committed to Pitt.

SYRACUSE

Chris McCullough, rated No. 29 in the nation by ESPN.

VIRGINIA

@DrizoBeats is Andrew Brown, one of the best football players in the 2014 class (rated # 9 in the nation). He’s a defensive tackle from Chesapeake, Va. Derrick Nnadi, (@DerrickNnadi),a top 100 player from Virginia Beach and Jalyn Holmes (@JayHolmes), a top 100 player from Norfolk, were also Virginia recruiting targets at one time. 

VIRGINIA TECH

C.J. Revis is a 4-star DB from Chester, Va. and a member of the 2014 Hokies’ class.

WAKE FOREST

Shelton Mitchell (@SMitchell_4) is Jeff Bzdelik’s highest-rated recruit in the 2014 class.

So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, there’s just the small matter of each one of these tweets being potential NCAA VIOLATIONS. Almost all of the above tweets were directed at the recruits PRIOR to their respective signing days. NCAA regs are a bit more fuzzy as to whether or not it's permissible for fans to contact athletes who have signed national letters of intent with a school ... but that's a deeper rabbit hole to be explored another day. 

The prevailing urban myth is that, to run afoul of the rules in contacting a prospective student-athlete, thereby ending up on Santa’s Naughty List, one has to be a booster. Not so, say our friends in the heartland home office. For clarification, here’s how the NCAA defines the term booster

You have ever participated in or been a member of a booster club or any other groups, which support specific athletic teams (DUH). 

You are or have ever been a student at the university or college in question.

You have ever contributed to a college’s athletic program or athletic scholarship fund.

You have ever assisted in providing benefits to an enrolled student-athlete or his or her family or friends.

You have ever helped to arrange or have provided summer or semester break employment for an enrolled student-athlete.

You have ever helped to arrange or have provided summer employment to prospects who have signed an offer of admission to a member university or college.

You have ever purchased season tickets for any of a university’s/college’s athletics programs (including, presumably, as a student).

You have ever promoted the athletic program of said member program.

You have ever been involved with the athletic program of said member institution in any capacity.

You are the spouse of a university/college athletics department employee.

You have ever contacted (by letter, telephone, or in person) a high school student, grades 9-12, for the purpose of encouraging the student to participate in the athletics program of the member institution.

Now, according to Jason Kersey of The Daily Oklahoman, the NCAA has expanded this interpretation to include social media, and notably, Twitter. 

It seems to me that the term “encourage” can be murkily interpreted … but then, this is the NCAA, so it’d be weird if this were not the case. I believe in golf, they refer to this phenomena as “par”. 

Is wishing a “happy birthday” to a player considered “encouragement? How about sending him clips of recent games or highlights involving your school?

Well, as reported by Jason Kersey in his recent story, the NCAA has this to say, according to NCAA staffer Kayci Woodley:

The NCAA's Kayci Woodley (pic via Twitter, appropriately enough)

“Fans cannot contact a recruit and attempt to entice them to attend a certain school, as this is a violation of NCAA rules. If a school comes across an instance of this happening, it is expected they would reach out to those athletics personnel, fans and boosters and reinforce the ground rules related to communicating with recruits. This communication outreach would most likely be reported to the NCAA, which would show the school is doing their due diligence to abide by the NCAA rules.”

My take? That’s cute. And it's 100% unrealistic. There’s absolutely no way the NCAA can expect its member institutions to police the boundless bandwidth of cyberspace for this kind of thing. It’s simply too big a job. Oh, and I’m no civil rights attorney, but how, exactly, is a college supposed to prevent this from happening? 

Well, at least on the surface at least, they’re trying. Several institutions are self-reporting these violations on a fairly regular basis, but given the sheer scope of this medium, it’s a losing battle. Heck, Syracuse’s OFFICIAL twitter account (@SyracuseU) re-tweeted a story containing info about recruits A.J. Strong and K.J. Williams, which became a secondary violation that they self-reported. 

ACC-area fans will remember the hubub surrounding the recruitment of John Wall, and then-N.C. State-freshman Taylor Mosely creating a Facebook page entitled "John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!" (sic) ... and the Wolfpack being scolded by the NCAA, claiming that this was a recruiting violation. 

More fun? Twitter CEO Dick Costolo (a noted Michigan Wolverine fan and booster in the classic sense … i.e., he gives the Ann Arbor school lots of money) recently directed a tweet at Wilton Speight and George Campabello, two Wolverine recruits ... resulting in a secondary violation for Michigan, and an embarrassing mea culpa by the very medium's head tweeter. 

COACHES SEE NO END IN SIGHT … LEGAL OR NOT.

It's more than fair to say that coaches are aware of the practice, and many are not exactly rushing to put a stop to it. In fact, some have taken it a step further. 

Bob Stoops went on the record at Big XII media day, as Jason Kersey noted in the above-linked article, to say that not only is he aware that this practice goes on, but that he actually encourages it. 

OU Coach Bob Stoops/AP Photo

“I don’t see it stopping. In today’s world, once things get rolling, it’s not stopping. … You hear that OU fans? We have to get on board.”- Bob Stoops

You hear THAT, NCAA? That’s right: Oklahoma’s head football coach is openly and directly beseeching OU fans to engage in what the NCAA has declared to be an infraction. 

So, what we have on our hands, in my opinion, is yet another instance in which the NCAA is wasting its valuable (and limited) resources chasing down what can best be described as an inevitable and inconsequential issue. 

As one college coach who did not want to go on the record told me recently, “It (fans directly giving attention to recruits on Twitter) is a tool. It matters to them (recruits). They want to feel the love. And more importantly, they (recruits) like it … and every fan-base is doing it.”

On the surface, I’m not a fan of the “everybody’s doing it” rationale as excuse to do anything. First, that phrase alone is enough to transport me back in time where I can vividly see and hear my own mother utilizing her go-to, patented (yet hardly exclusive, I’ve found as a parent myself) line, “well, if your friends were all jumping off a bridge, would you do it, too?”. And let’s forget, for the purposes of this piece, that there was a giant train trestle where this exact event scenario played out about 29 years ago … but I digress. 

Like so many issues surrounding NCAA legistlation, the intention starts as seemingly well-intentioned, and ends as something ... much less. Applying my mother's otherwise sound logic to the Twitterverse becomes cloudy. Less easily defined. And much more problematic, in terms of both detection and enforcement.

In the brave new world of social media, unprecedented interaction between the general public, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, and yes, recruitable athletes is at an all-time high. Trying to keep up with every tweet, Facebook post and whatever the next rage of social media will be is impossible to follow, let alone to regulate.  

To hold the member institutions responsible for policing something this nebulous and viral isn’t just shortsighted. It’s nigh to impossible to enforce. It is, in a word, foolish. 

But once again, this policy is perfectly consistent with the reality that’s been formed within the corridors of power in Indianapolis. 

And there’s that word again…