Rules Of Engagement Part II - Answering Questions
As you can imagine, my mentions are a mess. This was expected, but it's always difficult for me to answer all of the questions (and callouts) on Twitter. To further complicate things, my article was 3,510 words, and a lot gets lost when you ramble like that. So I will try to make this one much more concise. (I will likely fail.)
First off, I added an update to the first article, so if you haven't seen that (I updated around 9:00 pm), I suggest you start there. The update is at the bottom.
As to the questions (on Twitter, via DM, and otherwise), I think I can group them into a few main categories. The first question is about the "standard" being applied here. Is it just my "rule"? Is it simply "Robert believes fans should have no contact with recruits"? While Robert does believe that, it's not just my rule. It's based on the NCAA's view towards these things.
Let's start with a quote from the NCAA Spokeswoman years ago. Jason Kersey, before he was with The Athletic, wrote this story about Oklahoma fans contacting football recruits. In it, he included a statement from the NCAA:
NCAA spokeswoman Kayci Woodley clearly told us in an email for that story that fans are prohibited from contacting recruits.
"Fans cannot contact a recruit and attempt to entice them to attend a certain school, as this is a violation of NCAA rules," read Woodley's statement. "If a school comes across an instance of this happening, it is expected they would reach out to those athletics personnel, fans and boosters and reinforce the ground rules related to communicating with recruits. This communication outreach would most likely be reported to the NCAA, which would show the school is doing their due diligence to abide by the NCAA rules."
Now, is the NCAA going to come after every single fan who tweets at recruits? Is OU going to be punished because of 172 retweets?
Probably not, just because of how immensely difficult it would be to police such activity.
Even so, why risk it? Does anyone actually believe Joe Mixon is going to choose OU because of fans on Twitter?
Bottom line: Tweeting at recruits is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, an NCAA violation. So if you're doing it, you should probably stop.
Obviously, it's very murky. What qualifies as "entice"? How would a school even know if it's in Twitter DM's and not public? As with all things NCAA enforcement, so much relies on the schools themselves self-reporting. And that makes it even more murky. As the article states, the NCAA is never going to go after fans for violating contact rules. They simply put out guidelines for what is and isn't permissible.
So that's where the standard comes from. And Kersey's conclusion is nearly universal: if you're doing it, you should probably stop. So to most of the "you can't tell me what to do - I'm gonna keep doing it" responses, no, I cannot tell you what to do. But you should probably stop. Especially if you've crossed the line from tweeting at recruits to DMing recruits.
I would also like to clarify the media/"faux media" stuff. Remember, I am credentialed, but I consider myself "faux media" because I do not work for an umbrella media organization. And, believe it or not, there's NCAA Compliance guidance for someone like me.
Once in a while, something from "Oklahoma Compliance" (or Washington, or Memphis, or whatever) will show up in my Twitter feed. Compliance departments often tweet out a "guidance" that they put together, clarifying something in the NCAA guidebook that might be confusing.
Here's a link to a guidance put out by the Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette) Compliance Department. As noted in the link, it's something they got from the Michigan Compliance Department.
I'll go section by section. Here's the intro:
Most prospective student-athletes use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with both their family and friends and the general public. We are often asked, when it comes to recruiting, what kind of interaction is permitted with a prospective student-athlete on these sites? The rules apply differently based on which of three categories you fall into: coaches, media or fans/boosters.
We don't need to cover coaches here (although there's a long list of rules there, too), so I'll skip down further.
Media likewise often contact recruits through social media sites. Provided they are contacting an individual for media purposes, NCAA rules do not regulate the manner in which they contact the prospect - by direct message or public tweet.
I discussed this topic is Part I, but there's the specific guidance. Rivals, 247 - they can contact recruits "for media purposes" by public tweet or direct message.
We're going piece by piece here and I'll discuss it all at the end, so next it covers boosters. As noted yesterday, "booster" is a broad definition which, in the NCAA's view, does not just mean "husband and wife with tickets on the 45 who give $10,000 per year to the University". If you promote the athletic department in any way - and yes, that's as simple as an Illini-centric Twitter account with whatever number of followers - you fall in this category. Fans, on social media, are "boosters" in the NCAA's eyes.
So here's the guidance for boosters.
Boosters are subject to some limitations on their contact with prospective student-athletes. One component of NCAA rules is that only the authorized coaches may recruit on behalf of the institution. This promotes competitive equity by ensuring that every program has the same number of people available to recruit for their program. Boosters are not permitted to recruit prospective student-athletes on behalf of the institution. So it would be a violation of NCAA rules for a booster to contact a prospective student-athlete by Twitter or Facebook to encourage them to attend UL. Likewise, it would be impermissible for a booster to set up a fan page in order to encourage a specific prospect to attend UL, such as a page entitled "Cajuns Fans Love Jake Prospect." Because the institution is held responsible for the conduct of its boosters, doing so would require the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to self-report a violation of NCAA rules.
I'm not sure it gets any clearer than "only the authorized coaches may recruit on behalf of the institution". But we still haven't gotten to me, which is the question I'm trying to answer ("what do you consider faux media?"). There's a whole category just for us:
Also, keep in mind that someone can be both a member of the media and a booster, depending on the context. As a member of the media, you would expect that someone would be seeking information, not pushing a particular agenda. So if a media member/booster contacted a prospect to say "I hear you are leaning towards UL, would you care to comment" that would be an appropriate contact by a member of the media. If that same individual sent a message saying, "I hear you are leaning towards UL, I think you would look great in Red and Black. Is it true?" that would be impermissible contact by a booster because they are encouraging the prospect to attend UL. It all depends on the context.
And there you have it. Very specific guidance for fanalysts like me. My gut instinct when I started the blog - "I probably shouldn't ever contact recruits" - proven to be true. Any ounce of irresistible "really hope you end up in Champaign" - or, perhaps easier to let slip, "Northwestern? Really??" - would be impermissible contact and would put my access at risk. So I leave the recruit DM's to the writers at Rivals and 247 who don't use "we".
I do have a credential, though, so by these definitions I could be defined as media (or at least "media/booster", not just "booster"). But that seems to be a very tricky line, and at least up until now, I haven't wanted to get anywhere near it. If I wasn't credentialed media? Well, by my read here, I'd be 100% booster and should never contact a recruit.
Why am I so careful with this? Because of the Kentucky story. It's the boogeyman story told to any kids dreaming of being a fan/blogger. A guy running a Kentucky website was found to be encouraging recruits to attend Kentucky while contacting them for interviews. His penalty: he was banned from having anything to do with Kentucky athletics (tickets or otherwise) for 27 years. Yes, 27 years. I want nothing to do with getting anywhere close to that line.
So now we're to the uncomfortable "why", which is the big question. Who am I to think I can tell everyone what to do? Why would I call out someone specifically? What does it matter to me?
It's a complicated answer.
First off, as I said, I've debated writing about this topic for years. Tyler and I have discussed it many times (he read my draft of the 2018 post I never published, so we've discussed it for at least three years). His first text to me last night: "The post that finally lived!". I say that so you understand that I debated those very questions above for at least three years, probably longer. Is it really worth it in the end? What's the real reason for writing this?
Yesterday, for whatever reason, I felt like it was time. My motivation, as with anything, was almost certainly rooted in my fandom. In my estimation, we had reached the point where I felt like the "we'll handle the recruiting, Brad and Bret" crowd was doing actual harm to the programs I cover/support. And I felt like I should shine a spotlight on it.
I also felt like awareness was needed. That's not the right word here, but it will do. No one seems to know that there's a Kentucky fan sitting under a 27-year ban simply because he contacted recruits and, under the guise of an interview for his website, encouraged them to attend Kentucky. No one seems to understand the very firm line drawn by the NCAA between media and booster (fans) when it comes to recruiting coverage. Maybe if I write about this there will be some "oh wow I had no idea there were very clear lines drawn" and things will begin to shift a bit.
Social media, of course, makes all of this nearly impossible to trace. The "we'll help the coaches recruit" crowd is going to work under the cover of DM. So when I had information shared with me about some of those interactions, and that same Twitter feed had Adam Miller tweets being questioned by AAU programs (the Adam Miller thing - truly - was such a low point for our fanbase), it all combined together in my head with "it's time".
And yes, I was prepared for what the result would be. I feel like I fully understand the dark side of Illini Twitter, so I knew what was coming. There will be lots of stuff like this for the next few months:
(The argument here is that by writing this article and pointing to our fans contacting recruits, sanctions will come down on Illinois like they did with Bruce Pearl. That's not how any of this works, but whatever.)
You will see photos of me spread everywhere:
When you've lost @69iowasucks69, you've lost America.
(Is it just me or do I look pretty good there?)
Basically, my Twitter life will be full of this...
...for the next few months. That side of Illini Twitter is absolutely unwilling to stop. There's a guy who, because of my article, told me he is going to contact every recruit and is now sending me links when he does it. These guys will come after me for a very long time. Before publishing, I went as far as having my immediate family unfollow me on Twitter just in case these trolls went looking for people named Rosenthal who follow me. I am fully aware of what they're capable of.
Which is my whole point, really. My hunches of what they were doing in the dark are now being live-streamed in the light. There's really no greater confirmation that yeah, it was time to say something than the way they're reacting right now.
I think that's it. Let's see how we did on words. 2,008! Much better than 3,510.
I'll keep working on it. And you keep... not contacting recruits.