Recruiting in this age of social networking is a slippery slope

Recruiting athletes via Twitter landed one coach in hot water.

As technology evolves, recruiting parameters have become blurrier. In the last five years, the NCAA’s microscope has tried to sharpen its focus on social media.

Of course, the NCAA didn’t need a microscope to see what happened Tuesday.

Oklahoma University (OU) assistant coach Jay Norvell’s Twitter feed was pouring out NCAA violations. They were all secondary in nature; that is, minor infractions not likely to bring any harsh penalties. But the tweets came with alarming frequency.

Six prospective student-athletes were contacted on their own Twitter feed by Norvell — or someone in control of Norvell’s account.

Norvell may have intended to send the six prospects a direct message, but instead the tweets went out to everyone who follows those prospects on Twitter and everyone who follows Norvell.

He sent public messages to six junior wide receivers: Ahmad Fullwood of Jacksonville, Fla., Uriah LeMay of Matthews, N.C., James Quick of Louisville, Ky., Demarcus Robinson of Fort Valley, Ga., Rashaad Samples of Dallas Skyline and Ricky Seals Jones of Sealy, Texas.

The messages read, “This is Coach Jay Norvell from Oklahoma. Cel (405) 431-xxxx Would like to offer you a Full Scholarship to Oklahoma. Call me!”

Those tweets were quickly deleted, but not before they were screen-captured and posted by college football blog SBNation.

Norvell apparently also tweeted the prospects other messages, inviting Jones to an upcoming junior day camp, offering Samples an opportunity to change his Twitter avatar from a picture in which he’s wearing a Texas jersey and putting up UT’s hook ’em horns hand sign and telling Robinson OU wants him because the Sooners have the best offense for a receiver in the country.

Coaches are allowed to tweet, but they’re not allowed to directly contact individual recruits via Twitter or other social media. They’re also not allowed to make public any correspondence to the prospects. And they’re not allowed to make written scholarship offers before Aug. 1 of a prospect’s senior year.

An OU representative said the school’s compliance department was looking into the matter, but no press release or statement or clarification was expected.

Messages left on Norvell’s phone were not returned, though it is likely he soon would be getting a new phone number.

Norvell is the only OU football coach active on Twitter, and his posts are usually innocuous — motivational or promotional in nature. He frequently posts photos of trophies, statues or portraits of All-Americans, or YouTube videos of past players. The most recent post on his active feed was nine days ago, when he informed followers his family had adopted a new pit bull puppy.

Norvell has posted 655 times (not counting the ones that were deleted) since he started tweeting on Oct. 1, 2009, but this wasn’t his first potential social network violation. On Sept. 10, 2010, he tweeted, “…saw the young WR Dorial Green-Beckham tonight in Springfield, Mo. He’s a talent. Jay Norvell-OU.”

Mentioning a recruit by name is against NCAA rules.

It’s a slippery slope on which coaches now tread. High school kids are all over Twitter these days, which means high school recruits are, which means recruiters need to gain whatever edge they can staying in contact with their targets. One wrong tap on a hand-held keyboard, and the world gets to see your latest NCAA violation.

Norvell is regarded as OU’s best recruiter — after landing the nation’s best class of wide receivers on National Signing Day, he was lauded by as the top recruiter in the Big 12 Conference.

Norvell is a dynamic personality who connects with young people on their level, but does so through traditional values and extols virtues like hard work, family, maturity and focus.

Again, these violations are minor. OU won’t be punished by the NCAA unless the university’s compliance department — which operates independent of the athletic department — uncovers a pattern of behavior.

Expect Norvell and the Sooners to back off their recruiting of those prospects. At worst, the Sooners would receive a penalty of reduced recruiting hours, possibly a censure for Norvell or a reduction in his recruiting duties.

(c)2012 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.). Visit Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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