Universities to students, fans: Don’t recruit athletes via social media

Colleges have asked students to stop making Facebook pages for potential recruits.

Brigham Young University (BYU) last week became the latest school to plead with its students and supporters to avoid Twitter and Facebook recruitment of high school athletes more than two years after the NCAA first warned against the practice.

BYU’s compliance office dispatched a tweet Aug. 16 asking campus sports fans to extricate themselves from the recruitment process.

“Boosters/Fans: Please do not use @”insert prospect twitter handle” to encourage enrollment at BYU. Leave the recruiting to the coaches!”

The university’s message had been re-tweeted 21 times as of press time, many by Twitter accounts at least somewhat related to BYU or BYU sports teams. Chad Gwilliam, the university’s director of compliance, was not available for an interview with eCampus News before deadline.

NCAA officials for years have discouraged social media activism on the part of college sports fans pleading with recruits to choose their college or university over other vying for their attention.

The first national attention to the social media-based recruitment efforts involved Taylor Moseley, a North Carolina State freshman who expressed a common-enough opinion on campus in April 2009 when he started the Facebook group called “John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!”

More than 700 people signed up for the group encouraging Wall — a local standout and the nation’s No. 1 basketball recruit — to pick the Wolfpack by national signing day. Moseley got a cease and desist letter from N.C. State’s compliance director, Michelle Lee, warning of “further action” if he failed to comply.

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said after the N.C. State Facebook page warnings that the group considers its rules “technology neutral.” A Facebook page is simply a high-tech way to try to influence recruits, he said.

The NCAA’s concern is “intrusions into a high school student’s life when they’re trying to decide where to go to college,” he said. He said the NCAA is keeping up with technology, noting new rules on text-messaging from coaches.

Notre Dame athletic officials posted a YouTube video in July highlighting what fans can and can’t do while the school is pursuing unsigned athletes. In the video, which has more than 14,000 views, Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey tells students and fans of the Fighting Irish to try to persuade athletes through Facebook or Twitter.

The school’s video features two jersey-wearing Notre Dame fans discussing the latest recruiting news when one fan says he created a Facebook page specifically to recruit a high school basketball star.

“When boosters violate NCAA rules, the university is accountable,” the video said. “Leave the recruiting to us.”

It isn’t just colleges and universities issuing the warnings against online boosterism. Hawkeyenation.com, a fan website that covers University of Iowa athletics, told its readers that social media contact with sought-after recruits could put the university in the NCAA’s crosshairs.

“Just another reminder to not seek out possible Iowa recruits via social media for the sake of sending them messages encouraging them to consider Iowa,” the site said. “Most people are not that ‘direct’, rather they’ll send messages or tweets about good things about a school, or a program, subtle things. It’s dangerous territory, and likely against the rules.”

Even after warnings were issued against the N.C. State Facebook group, other social media efforts were made to persuade Wall’s decision. Facebook pages from students at the University of North Carolina, Duke University, and Baylor University cropped up in the weeks before Wall decided to attend the University of Kentucky.

Higher education has struggled with staying within the NCAA’s proposed guidelines on how technology can be used in the pursuit of the country’s top athletes.

In April, less than a week after its women’s basketball team won the national championship, Baylor officials said the school was involved in a three-year investigation with the NCAA into what are believed to be hundreds of impermissible phone calls and text messages sent by coaches to young prospects.

The school did not describe any details of the investigation, including which sports were involved, but the announcement came a few hours after ESPN.com reported that coaches for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs had made more than 1,200 calls and text messages to prospects over a 29-month span dating to 2008.

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