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NCAA Social Media Rules for Recruitment Defy Logic, Common Sense

Thursday, June 11, 2009 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 11:44 AM, under , , ,

When the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) came out with their blogging rules for championship events, there was a collective laughter and sneers across the board in the blogosphere. The consensus was that they "just did not get it". If you think they did not get blogging, the way they view social media, recruiting and compliance is even worse.

Since Twitter and Facebook have exploded on the scene for the general populous, things have happened that are just plain silly, while some are just plain scary.

On the silly side, one university was told by the NCAA to take down a fan page for a player they were trying to recruit because hte recruit's name was in the title and subject matter. This was just plain silly because there are no rules stopping fans from doing this unless you label them as boosters. There is also no way of stopping someone from a competing college or university from setting up a fake page to get their rival in trouble.

On the scary side, people have set up fake Twitter accounts and caused people public relations problems and in some cases like St. Louis Cardinals' Manager Tony La Russa alleges in a lawsuit against Twitter, emotional distress.

So in their collective wisdom, the NCAA puts rules in place to govern the use of social media for recruiting purposes. And of course, the rules differ depending on which division a school competes in.

Under the rules, Division I and II coaches may only send direct messages to a recruit on Twitter. Public messages are not allowed.

Divisions I and II rules allow for coaches to contact prospects through the direct-message function on Twitter, subject to the same rules applicable to email communication with recruits. However, publicly mentioning a recruit’s name or sending an “@reply” message via Twitter are both considered NCAA rules violations. Coaches can “follow” recruits on Twitter – and vice versa – so long as the @reply function is not used. Any direct messages sent through Twitter must conform to the contact-period legislation for each NCAA sport.

There is a catch here. With Twitter, you have to be a follower of someone to send a direct message. That means you show up in their list of followers, and the world knows you are trying to recruit them. And if a non-athlete is following you, there is nothing to stop them from sending a tweet to @PeteCarroll asking them how the recruitment of a certain athlete is going.

Some may argue that Division III coaches, administrators, and athletes got it right in setting up their rules. Social media may not be used for recruiting, period.

Division III has a more stringent policy that prohibits the use of social networking sites, including Twitter, in recruiting. The only technology-aided communication tools Division III permits between coaches and prospects are e-mail and facsimile. That rule was adopted with the strong support of Division III student-athletes.

Within Division III, social networking of any type that is at all related to college athletics and could reach a prospective student-athlete is against the rules. To use social networking to deliver athletics information, a coach would need to be able to ensure the communication is not being made available to prospective student-athletes. Some social networking sites have the capability to limit who views the information, but others may not.

This approach is a shotgun blast the accomplishes nothing, because for all practical purposes it is unenforceable unless the NCAA and/or athletic departments provide easy to use and understand, and auditable tools, to enable communication. Even so, that may not be enough.

The irony here is that it is that Division I programs are where most abuses, at least in the public and media eye, happen. Nobody cares if Wittenberg University gets slapped for basketball recruiting violations. But if it is Kentucky or Southern California, the vultures start circling.

Too much hype around Twitter and Facebook, as well as a lack of basic understanding how to use these tools, and manage the risk associated with them lead to fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD). With FUD, everyone loses.

The NCAA News, in a recent article, addressed the comments and concerns of Oklahoma Sports Information Director Kenny Mossman:

While the need for further regulation has yet to be determined, writing rules for constantly changing technology has challenged the Association for years. Oklahoma’s Mossman suggested that future regulatory efforts should include people from the technical community.

“Otherwise we are going to be writing rules for technology that is a year old and almost forgotten,” he said. “I hope that if and when that day comes, we will be wise enough to involve the technology community to help us figure out the best way for us (to regulate it), if it’s even possible to have regulation.”

This is where the NCAA, and other organizations, are missing the mark. They want the wrong people to guide them, i.e. letting the technology drive the policies. This is an approach that consistently leads to a poor governance structure. What they should be doing is identifying and evaluating their risk factors, setting up their controls and policies, and then looking to see what, if any, technology is available to support the implementation of the policies.

The parent company of Eye on Sports Media, The Cayuga Group, LLC, will be publishing a white paper and setting up a series of webcasts on this topic in the not too distant future. Keep your eyes and ears open.

Related Link(s) (links external to this site open in a new browser window)

NCAA rules on communication technology vary by division (NCAA News)
Twitter moves to front of athletics communication (NCAA News)
Remember Those NCAA Blogging Rules This Week (Eye on Sports Media)

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