The world of college football recruiting is ever-changing and evolving as players, coaches and schools try to gain any sort of competitive edge they can.
However, nothing, and I do mean nothing, has changed recruiting more than the Internet, specifically in the past five to 10 years.
Social media has evolved, and so has the way we use it. Being an active presence online is so much more than just chatting with your friends, playing the latest games or wasting hours surfing the web.
Nowadays, you can use social media to market a brand, an idea and even yourself. Information can be distributed and seen by million in real time, as it is happening. If you have a connection, you can be connected to as many people as you please. You can see others, and they can certainly see you.
It’s a whole new ballgame, folks.
To really break down how Internet has changed college football recruiting, let’s look at it from three different angles: the fan, the prospect and the recruiter.
College football fans have access to just about anything that they want nowadays. Whether it be the latest inside information regarding a player, in-depth analysis, scouting reports or interviews, they can all be found online—sometimes for a price.
Online recruiting services like Rivals.com, Scout.com, 247Sports.com and ESPN Recruiting Nation are on top of everything regarding recruiting. They go through and rank players on a 5-star system (five being the best), and that’s available for fans to see.
Individual teams are also ranked based on how many high-ranked prospects they are bringing in, and those rankings are also available. Anything from a player’s interest list to a team’s target list can be found online.
This information is constantly updated and analyzed, and depending on how much a fan is into recruiting, he/she probably has enough access to know just as much, if not more, about a certain prospect as an interested coach does.
You can read all you want about a 5-star quarterback, but nothing can replace actually seeing him play with your own eyes. There was a time when you had to actually go to a high school football game in order to form your own opinion on a recruit, but now all you have to do is head over to YouTube, type in the player’s name and press play.
While this certainly doesn’t make up for watching the game live or having actual game tape to break down (let’s be honest, highlight film is extremely slanted), it does give average college football fans enough to go on so they can know what they are talking about.
A fan's ability to interact online with recruits has drastically impacted college football recruiting. Nowadays, especially on Twitter, fans have the ability to tweet their favorite prospects and make their own recruiting pitches to them.
Fans can tell prospects how great they are and how awesome it would if they chose a certain school. Conversely, they can also tell a recruit how dumb it was for him to choose the rival school.
Is it possible that fans on Twitter can play a role in recruiting? Honestly, they just may be able to.
One would be naive to think that getting two million tweets from a certain fanbase encouraging a high school senior to commit to their school doesn’t impact their decision-making.
If a recruit is smart and Internet-savvy, he will market himself online. Setting up a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account and a YouTube channel dedicated to highlights and self-promotion can go a long way in getting a recruit's name out there.
There are also professional tools that can be useful, such as Hudl, which is a video-sharing program that many high school and college coaches use to break down and share film
While it’s undoubtedly a useful tool for coaches, there is also a feature for players that allows them to create their own highlight reels, their contact information, academic information and more. This can be shared directly with college coaches or recruiters that have the Hudl program.
This is just one example of how the Internet has changed the way a player can directly impact the recruiting process.
Unfortunately, not everything about the Internet has been positive for the recruiting world. As good as everyone having access to you can be, it can also be very dangerous.
If a recruit spouts off on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes millions of people will be able to see that. If it’s bad enough, it could drastically impact the way a college feels about said recruit, and in some cases it can even lead to a school deciding to stop recruiting the player.
Last year, 4-star cornerback recruit Yuri Wright may have really hurt his recruitment process with the University of Michigan because of a series of inappropriate and expletive tweets he sent out.
There was speculation that Wolverines coach Brady Hoke may have stopped recruiting Wright because of the tweets. Even if that wasn't the case, it's undoubtedly a bad idea for athletes to get inappropriate on Twitter. It never leads to anything good.
Instead of playing football at Michigan, Wright plays at Colorado.
As I stated earlier, many times recruits will actually interact with college football fans on social media, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Getting positive tweets or Facebook posts from fans can really help solidify a decision or even sway one.
That’s a resource recruits never really had before.
How about the ability to make a statement? For instance, University of Michigan 4-star offensive tackle commit Logan Tuley-Tillman tweeted a picture of him burning mail from the Ohio State football office. Before the Internet, if you didn't like a school and wanted to burn their mail, you could do it and a few of your friends would find out.
Now, just about everybody has heard of Tuley-Tillman's tweet.
A recruit's interaction online isn’t just limited to fans, though. Recruits can connect with anyone online, specifically on Twitter. While interaction with college players, coaches or recruits is a very confusing subject and is not OK with the NCAA in a football context, it doesn’t stop the fact that just about everybody is available on social media.
The ability for a recruiter to communicate with both prospects and his coaching/recruiting staff has drastically improved because of the Internet. While a personal visit is still usually the right way to go, it’s just become one of many ways to communicate.
Recruiters can communicate with prospects through the phone, through email or through just about any other Internet-access device they can find.
Imagine how much quicker the communication between coaches is on the recruiting trail. Now, if a recruiter is out on the road and the rest of the staff wants to have a meeting about certain players, all he has to do is hop on Skype, Google+ or any other video program, and it’s almost as if he’s in the meeting.
Documents, scouting reports, film and opinions can be shared quicker, thus making the recruiting process much more effective.
A negative aspect is that recruiters and coaches can get in trouble if they use the Internet against NCAA regulations in regards to their communication with a recruit. There’s a ton of gray area, but the possibility of getting in trouble, even for a misunderstanding of the rules, is real.
The Internet has given a huge advantage as far as accessibility to what prospects are doing. Even though recruiters may not be able to chat with prospects all the time, they can certainly keep up with what they are doing even if they aren’t in contact.
Everything a prospect does or says is online nowadays, so that information is out there for the coach.
This also changes the game for a coach in regards to players in their program, so they have to take a recruit's social media presence into account. It can be so overwhelming, in fact, that some coaches may just choose to not deal with it. Jimbo Fisher of Florida State has put a Twitter ban on his players in an effort to keep them from saying dumb things on social media.
Don't be surprised if this happens more and more.
Coaches should never rely on other sources to essentially do their homework for them, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
The Internet, social media and technology are ever-changing, which means sooner or later the world of college football recruiting will have to adapt and evolve as well.
The one thing that will continue to change is social media. We've seen how Twitter came onto the scene and directly impacted the way we view and get information on sports, and it's put accessibility to the college football recruiting world just 140 characters away.
Will we see more Twitter bans? How will the NCAA change its stance on social media and recruiting? Those are both topics that I believe will be hot-button issues in the coming years.
Players are going to continue to get more power over the recruiting process, which means coaches are going to have to become smarter and adapt just as fast as the technology does. Some may not be able to keep up, and we'll start to see the more tech-savvy coaches gain an advantage in recruiting.
This is the world we live in. The Internet has changed and will continue to change everything—even college football recruiting.
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