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NCAA to evaluate text regulations
Rules regarding texting recruits back on table to discuss
The NCAA may be ready to hit “send” on the following message about how texting factors into recruiting rules: “Time 2 chng.”
Without being prompted by a centralized or Association-wide task force, Divisions I, II and III are independently reaching similar conclusions about erasing rules that just four years ago drew a line in the cyber sand.
• Division I is considering proposals to include all forms of electronic correspondence (such as email and texts) to be sent to recruits during specified periods.
• In Division II, the Presidents Council and Management Council as part of the division’s desire to “ease administrative burden” are sponsoring a common and much earlier date at which all off-campus and electronic contact, including telephone calls and text messaging, could begin.
• The Division III Presidents Council is endorsing the idea that text messaging from athletics department staff to prospects should be regulated in the same manner as email, for which there are no restrictions on the timing or amount.
All three divisions could adopt changes by January.
That’s a far cry from 2006-07 when the Student-Athlete Advisory Committees scored an important victory by shouting down a proposal that would have done pretty much the same thing. Now some of the student-athletes themselves are the ones saying they’d like the flip-flop.
Why the 180? Because almost everything about communication has changed except the rules regulating it.
The NCAA often takes heat for rules that are outdated or out of touch, particularly when it comes to technology. The way these proposals are being couched, though, is to allow all electronic communication, thus negating the need to revisit the issue anytime some new application comes along.
As forward-thinking as those proposals might be, it doesn’t mean the ones they would replace were considered backward at the time.
In 2006, the Ivy League sponsored a proposal to limit electronic correspondence to recruits to email and the now-seemingly-ancient fax machine (does anyone even spell out “facsimile” anymore?). The proposal was more than an idle thought – student-athletes were getting dinged in the pocket whenever they got pinged in the palm.
It wasn’t just Ivy student-athletes raising the cost concern, either. Athletes in all three divisions were starting to regard texting as a fiscal and social nuisance.
“Texting wasn’t typically free then, so prospects would get charged for receiving a text, not just sending one,” said former Mills rower and Division III SAAC member Kirin Kahn. “So if they weren’t initiating the contact, there was a fear that they would be forced to pay for these unsolicited recruitment attempts.”
For elite-level athletes, that could get expensive in a hurry. Of course, that’s mitigated nowadays since most phone plans come with unlimited texting. Research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project in fact shows more than three-fourths of teens own cell phones and that one in three send more than 100 texts daily. Almost 90 percent of teens text now, compared with about 50 percent five years ago.
“In many cases, our prospects are texting our coaches now,” said Petrina Long, a senior associate AD at UCLA and former chair of the Division I recruiting cabinet.
But costs and technology trends weren’t the only concerns in 2006. A primary pause then – and now – is simply whether texting is appropriate in the recruiting process.
When the Ivy League proposal was adopted and then subjected to an override vote at the 2008 Convention, Division I SAAC vice chair Kerry Kenny stressed the “unprofessional” nature of texting when he urged Division I members to squash the override attempt.
“We believe that text messaging and instant messaging are both highly unprofessional in the recruiting process,” Kenny said then. “You wouldn’t use text messaging to contact an employer when searching for a job, and it’s unlikely that an employer would contact you with a text message to offer you the job.”
That sentiment remains active today, prompting Division I Legislative Council chair Shane Lyons to caution that while there’s some momentum behind this year’s Division I proposal, it’s not likely to be a slam dunk.
“This probably won’t just go seamlessly through the process,” said the associate commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, citing a split among members of the American Football Coaches Association as an example. “There will be a lot of discussion from a lot of constituents about whether this is a direction we should be taking.”
A ‘professional’ method?
Kahn said deregulating texts might not matter so much to the elite-level athletes who know they’ll be inundated with scholarship or financial aid offers, but the prospect who’s just hoping to be wooed might be underwhelmed by digital communication.
“As odd as it might sound, there’s still something almost sacred about the ways we are contacted and how exciting it is to get those letters and phone calls. That formality of the process is part of the excitement and the appeal of being recruited,” she said. “It gives the recruiting process a sense of importance that some SAAC members are afraid would be lost if the process gets too casual. That’s why many of us are concerned about texting being a first point of contact between a coach and a prospect.”
Kahn said texting – especially then but even still today – is regarded more as a chat among friends than it is as a way to connect professionally.
Greg Turner, associate director of programs for iHoops, said recent surveys with basketball prospects indicate a similar sentiment. To many of them, texting is a peer-to-peer communication and not one that should be invaded by the “adults.”
To put that in perspective, Ivy League deputy executive director Carolyn Campbell-McGovern said back then, students thought “it was kind of creepy” that their parents were using text messaging.
“We likened it to our days as high school students when we left notes in each other’s lockers as a way to communicate among friends,” she said. “But we certainly would have thought it was creepy for a teacher or a coach to do that. And that’s the same way student-athletes are talking about texting. It’s an informal way for them to chat with their friends, but it’s not intended to be a first exchange with someone you’re going to have a mentoring relationship with.”
On the flip side, some coaches and administrators say teenagers don’t even answer their phones anymore – only texts get their attention.
Then there’s the whole monitoring discussion that comes with “electronic correspondence.”
Few Division I or Division II compliance officers would say that today’s restrictions are easy to monitor. A look down the lane of violations bears that out. At least nine schools have been penalized for major infractions involving texting since the current rules were adopted. Even just recently, a Division III school suspended a football coach for crossing the texting line.
In addition, all three divisions have tweaked the rules twice since they were adopted in an effort to make the electronic landscape – now complicated further because texts and emails look alike – more manageable.
Supporters of the overhaul say the monitoring concerns will dissipate with electronic correspondence all under one rules roof since there is little to distinguish a text from an email at a time when smartphones send and receive both in the same way. Institutions in fact have been permitted to send an unlimited number of emails to prospective student-athletes for several years and there have not been any concerns regarding frequency or intrusion.
But the Ivy’s Campbell-McGovern, for one, is interested in hearing more than the “it’s easier to monitor” argument from the deregulators.
“We need to hear from current students, too,” she said. “The SAAC members who brought this to our attention before are sort of the ‘previous generation’ now when it comes to this issue. Current students were all recruited without text messaging, so it would be interesting to hear from them whether that made a difference. Would adding it back make it better or worse?”
Division I SAAC vice chair Eugene Daniels said his primary concern is what’s best for the prospective student-athlete.
“We’re willing to listen and learn and figure out what we can do to make the recruiting process a little easier for coaches, but we want to make sure it stays ethical for the prospect,” he said.
• July 2006 – The Ivy League seeks to regulate text messaging in Division I by submitting a proposal (No. 2006-40) specifying that electronically transmitted correspondence to prospects will be limited to email and fax.
• August 2006 – The Division I Men’s and Women’s Basketball Issues Committees recommend defeat, thus retaining the status quo to allow texting as part of initial contact in recruiting.
• September 2006 – The Football Issues Committee and the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet oppose the proposal. (Actually, the cabinet suggests an amendment that would limit the use of “computer-mediated communication” to between 4-8 p.m. Monday through Friday and between 8 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, to reduce the intrusion on a prospect’s academic life.)
• January 2007 – The Division I Management Council defeats the cabinet’s amendment but sends the primary proposal out for membership comment. During the meeting, DI SAAC chair and former Arizona student-athlete Anna Chappell says text messaging is intrusive, unprofessional and costly for prospects and difficult for compliance officers to monitor. “It’s new and it’s technically hip, but it’s unnecessary,” she says. “There are a lot of other ways to make a personal connection.”
• April 2007 – In a remarkable turnaround forged by a unified and forceful voice from the SAAC, the Management Council approves the Ivy Group’s proposal, thus keeping text messaging out of recruiting. More from Chappell: “It’s intruding on their student-athletes’ lives and creating inappropriate relationships with coaches. If you don’t stop it now, what roads are you going to have to cross later on? If you want to ‘keep up with the times’ and ‘keep up to speed with student-athletes,’ you forget that student-athletes as a whole said they wanted the elimination of text messaging.”
• April 2007 – The Division I Board of Directors adopts the legislation.
• June 2007 – Not pleased with the decision, 34 institutions submit override requests, which means the Board must revisit its decision.
• July 2007 – The Big Sky Conference already wants to adjust the text-messaging legislation, submitting a proposal to allow text messaging after prospects sign a National Letter of Intent. That measure is adopted without fanfare in January.
• August 2007 – The Board upholds its previous action, meaning that the Division I membership must decide the matter during an in-person override vote at the January Convention.
• August 2007 – The Division II Presidents Council backs an amendment to a text-messaging proposal that would allow text and instant messaging only for prospects who have signed a National Letter of Intent or a written offer of financial aid or admission from the institution. The action amends a proposal the presidents previously supported that would have precluded communication other than phone, email or fax to all prospects, regardless of their signing status. The amended version of the proposal is approved by Division II delegates at the January Convention.
• January 2008 – The attempt to override the Division I legislation fails by a vote of 65-240-1. The lopsided vote was foretold by the assembly’s initial refusal to move the proposal. Even once the override was on the floor for consideration, Kerry Kenny, vice chair of the Division I SAAC, persuasively reiterated the student-athletes’ position that text messaging between prospective student-athletes and coaches is intrusive, unprofessional and expensive. “We believe that text messaging and instant messaging are both highly unprofessional in the recruiting process,” Kenny says. “You wouldn’t use text messaging to contact an employer when searching for a job, and it’s unlikely that an employer would contact you with a text message to offer you the job.”
• July 2008 – The Southern Conference submits another tweak to allow text messaging to prospects after May 1 of their senior year in high school. As with the National Letter of Intent exception, it also encounters no resistance and is adopted in January 2009.
• September 2009 – The Division I Recruiting Cabinet begins considering “growing concerns about the methods and frequency used to communicate with prospects in the recruiting process.” Its examination focuses on what constitutes undue pressure and intrusion for prospects in a “technology-driven society.”
• June 2011 – The Division I Recruiting Cabinet proposes that all forms of electronic correspondence (such as email and texts) may be sent to recruits during specified recruiting periods.
• July 2011 – The Division II Presidents Council sponsors legislation calling for a common, and much earlier, date at which all off-campus and electronic contact, including telephone calls and text messaging could begin.
• July 2011 – The Division III Management Council sponsors legislation allowing text messaging from athletics department staff to prospects to be regulated in the same manner as email, for which there are no restrictions on the timing or amount of the communication.
Gary Brown, NCAA.com