These days, every coach, player and fan are just mere seconds away from being in direct contact with some of the nation’s top college football recruits.
Sometimes, good can come out of these interactions. But more often than not, so can a lot of bad.
We can thank the rise of social media—not the players or coaches—for that.
Since Myspace arrived on the scene in 2003, the use of similar platforms has ballooned. According to a report by eMarketer last summer, nearly one-fourth of the world’s population uses some form of social media.
The most popular of those platforms—Facebook—finished 2013 with a whopping average of 1.23 billion monthly users.
With more than half of children reportedly using online social networks by the age of 10, it’s no surprise that the majority of college football recruits—typically 17 or 18 years of age—are on one or more of these platforms.
Coaching staffs around the nation have begun to take notice. And believe it or not, social media has had a massive impact on the recruiting process.
“In the beginning, even when I was a recruiting intern in 2000, we did everything through the high school coach,” said Chad Jamison, former director of high school relations at North Carolina State, per B/R’s Sanjay Kirpalani. “Social media starts the process much quicker.”
For most, like former Georgia State head coach Bill Curry, the opportunity to contact recruits was the main reason he chose to join social media.
“I didn’t know doodly-squat about Facebook and Twitter,” Curry said. “Those things have affected recruiting enormously. You better be conversant with how to use it.”
The draw for coaches is that, unlike the use of phone calls and text messaging in the recruiting process, social media is far less regulated by the NCAA.
On Facebook, coaches aren’t allowed to write directly on a recruit’s wall or instant message him, but they’re allowed to send private messages during contact periods. Meanwhile, on Twitter, although coaches can’t publicly mention recruits, they are allowed to send direct messages.
As expected, coaches have tried to bend the rule as much as possible.
In December, both Notre Dame recruiting analyst J.R. Sandlin and LSU head coach Les Miles came under fire for tweets that appeared to be directed at specific recruits:
#Geaux Buga Nation !!!— Les Miles (@LSUCoachMiles) December 19, 2013
At the time, the Irish were heavily pursuing 4-star defensive tackle Matt Elam. Given that Elam was an Elizabeth, Ky., native, it was quite obvious who Sandlin was talking about.
Similarly, it was no secret that the Tigers coveted the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2014 in 5-star running back Leonard Fournette. Miles’ tweet drew ire since Fournette had heavily referenced “Buga Nation” on his Twitter page in the past.
Although their tweets were controversial, neither school reprimanded Sandlin or Miles.
Other coaches have found other ways to work around the NCAA restrictions.
But it’s not like fans need the push. They’ve been taking to Twitter to persuade recruits for quite some time now.
Unfortunately, the results have been somewhat mixed.
“A lot of them were like, ‘We respect your decision, you have to do what’s best for you,’” said running back Mike Davis of the reaction after he flipped from Florida to South Carolina in 2012. “But most of it was negative, people taking it the wrong way, attacking me.”
But before we make the players out to be the victims, keep in mind that many of these kids live for the attention.
Several players will flirt with the fanbases of each of the schools they are considering. The objective seems to be to garner as many retweets and new followers as they can:
Given all the teasing and prodding leading up to their decision, a negative backlash should be largely expected.
At the same time, all that attention comes with great responsibility. More specifically, players need to think twice and be aware of how they represent themselves on the internet.
Non-football related tweets and posts can affect a prospect’s future.
“If a kid posts something stupid on Facebook, it bothers you,” Texas A&M tight ends coach Brian Polian said. “You have to ask yourself, at what point is this kid being a kid, or is this what we will have to deal with?”
Cornerback Yuri Wright found that out the hard way.
A 4-star prospect in the class of 2012, Wright had offers from many of the top schools in the nation, including Michigan, Alabama, Notre Dame and Auburn. However, many schools quickly rescinded those offers after the Ramsey, N.J., native was caught posting several sexually graphic and racially explicit posts on Twitter (Warning: NSFW content).
Wright currently plays for Colorado.
“Hopefully, other people will learn from what happened to me and make smarter choices,” he said. “My days with social media are over, I promise. I have a phone, and if I want to talk to someone now, I’m just calling or texting them.”
How should the NCAA regulate social media in terms of recruiting?
Sure, it’s easy to bash these coaches and criticize the players for teetering over the line at times. However, the use of social media platforms during the recruiting process is still relatively new.
But that doesn’t mean the pressure is any less.
“Social media is an incredible tool,” said Polian. “If you are not using it, you will fall way behind.”
In a nutshell, the recruiting period can be described as a sink-or-swim environment. And acceptable or not, coaches and players will do just about anything to stay afloat.
Thanks to the technological advancements of the 21st century, social media just so happens to be the life raft of choice.