NCAA’s Rules on Social Media Exist in Legal Gray Area

It’s hard to imagine that college sports fans can go from die hard supporters to boosters in 140 characters but in the Twitter age it has become a real issue. Many fans and athletes remain unaware that when a fan contacts a recruit via Twitter and encourages them to attend the institution they support, they are committing an NCAA violation.

Herein lies the beauty and the dangers of recruiting high school prospects in the social media age. On one hand fans have unprecedented access to athletes including those who are still deciding which college to attend. On the other hand institutions have to remain vigilant in monitoring their recruits on social media sites. The NCAA’s rules on social media remain vague and still a little behind the times.

For example, it is acceptable for a collegiate athlete to tweet a potential recruit a “happy birthday” message, but if the player mentions an NCAA sport, the seemingly harmless interaction delves into a legal gray area. The good thing is that the NCAA is not bringing down the hammer on these social media recruiting ‘violations.’ Right now they are treated as minor secondary violations which have little to no effect on programs.

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One of the problems facing athletic institutions is that their compliance departments are unable to work directly with potential recruits. Instead it remains the responsibility of the recruit to understand the rules and not violate them. Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame, Justin Meredith of Tennessee, Kenny Demens of Michigan and Keon Hatcher of Oklahoma State all unwittingly committed minor violations via their Twitter accounts. In the case of Hatcher his violation was simply a result of him retweeting some Oklahoma State and Arkansas fans’ requests for his commitment. Hatcher later claimed that these tweets had no impact on his decision, but their mere presence smacked of impropriety.

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Oklahoma State’s Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance, Ben Dyson, explains that “as soon as you contact a recruit and try to persuade them to come to your school, you automatically become a booster because you are helping a recruit come to a specific institution.” On top of that boosters are not allowed to recruit potential athletes.

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As it stands right now the onus is on institutions to monitor social media and there remains little in the way of resources for recruits to educate themselves. Oklahoma State graduate and founder of Fieldhouse Media, Kevin DeShazo, created his company to help high schools and athletes better prepare themselves for the recruiting process. Fieldhouse Media makes educating everyone involved in the process on the pitfalls of social media a priority. DeShazo believes that coaches are the key to helping recruits steer clear of these social media violations: “coaches play a significant role to the recruitment process. Many times they may be the middle-man…We can help the coaches understand that kind of stuff and the parents as well to make sure they are dealing with those things appropriately.”

As mentioned earlier these violations remain insignificant and no school is going to receive a Twitter death penalty. The NCAA does not have any specific rules regarding social media and its ever changing uses. Until the NCAA can catch up to the social media age these violations are going to continue to skirt the gray area between innocent and inappropriate.

Photo Courtesy: (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

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