Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Recruiting in the age of Facebook

The internet is changing everything. And now it's playing an unwanted role in recruiting basketball prospects to colleges. Here in North Carolina on Tobacco Road, all the buzz is about a high school point guard phenomenon here in Raleigh, John Wall. He's being recruited by all three universities in the Triangle, NCSU, Duke, and UNC. Also Kentucky, Baylor, and Memphis. He's a very hot prospect despite making it quite clear that he's a "one and done" recruit.

Anyway, an NCSU student started a Facebook page urging John Wall to come to NCSU and soon the page had hundreds of members. The school found out about it and requested the kid to take down his page because they were afraid it would violate NCAA recruiting rules.
The NCAA made clear to N.C. State that it considers such sites a violation, Lee [NCSU's compliance officer] said. Making such a public appeal to Wall, in effect, turned Moseley into a representative of the university's athletic interests under NCAA Division I Bylaw 13.02.13.

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the bylaw applies to "individuals who would develop a social networking site or use an existing one to send recruiting messages to prospective student-athletes. Those communications are not allowed."

As to whether the 13.02.13 trumps the First Amendment, "I think that comes up, but the institution has an obligation to say, 'For us to be a member of the association, we have to follow NCAA rules,'" said Shane Lyons, the ACC's associate commissioner for compliance. And the First Amendment restricts government, which the NCAA is not.
I don't see a First Amendment restriction here with the school simply requesting the kid take the page down, but the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is on the alert.
Adam Kissel, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the NCAA can impose rules on its member colleges. But universities -- especially public ones -- can't enforce them if it means punishing students in any way for expressing an opinion.

"A student doesn't lose First Amendment rights because of a contract the university signs with (the NCAA)," he said.

Moseley, the student, didn't respond to a request for comment, but the group has been renamed "Bring a National Title back to NC STATE!" and features a photo of Wall.
It does show how the internet is changing everything. There are rules restricting any fan of a university contacting any possible high school recruit. How the NCAA expects schools to be able to police every sort of webpage that a fan might create is beyond me, but universities have to constantly be on the lookout for anything that might displease the NCAA. I guess conceivably that the recruit could find the page and so this counts as contact. In fact, other universities whose students have started similar pages claim that he is indeed a member of their pages.
One search turned up several such groups -- "Memphis Wants John Jimmy Wall," "Bring John Wall to Baylor," "John Wall in Memphis = Dynasty," "John Wall, come to DUKE!" and "John Wall Belongs at UNC" -- plus some dedicated to luring Wall to the University of Kentucky.

Micah Pearson, creator of the "Kentucky needs John Wall!" Facebook group said he believes the sites affect players' decisions.

"I have heard numerous players make comments about how crazy the UK fan base is," said Pearson, whose Facebook group had 1,738 members as of Thursday afternoon.

Those members included Wall himself, according to Pearson.

The possibility that Wall also belonged to Moseley's group was among the factors that concerned the NCSU athletic department, Lee said. At least two John Walls appeared as members; three John Walls attend or teach at the school.
(A funny coincidence: I once had a colleague named John Wall who coached our middle school basketball team.)

I guess this is one more rule that the NCAA will have to craft to add to the mountain of rules governing recruiting that they already have.
"I think nationally the NCAA needs to address further Facebook and how these groups play a part in recruiting," she said. "Is it realistic for us to be able to monitor them? What harm is a group like this causing? But as the legislation stands right now, this is the position we have to take."

NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson said the group considers its rules "technology neutral." A Facebook page is simply a high-tech way to try to influence recruits.

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.

Christianson said the NCAA expects institutions to act as N.C. State did, reaching out to the creators of such groups to "educate" them about the rules. He added he was not aware the NCAA had ever initiated any action related to a Facebook group or notified an institution about one.
It's a worthwhile goal to limit how much contact universities can have with these students. A high school student shouldn't be hounded by recruiters and boosters from various schools. But a Facebook page or a website demand that the recruit take the initiative to visit. It would be his own choice. It's a bit different from putting a billboard on his way to school.

I've been fascinated about how the internet has altered politics. I know it's also had a big impact on how I teach from doing research, communicating with students, posting assignments, finding primary documents, to having to police plagiarism. I love these stories about other areas where the internet is having an impact. Who would have thought that schools would have to worry about Facebook bringing NCAA wrath down on their heads?