I believe famous philosophers, “The Police,” in their song “Too Much Information,” can sum up the state of college football recruiting: “Too much information running through my head, too much information driving me insane.”
College football recruiting has exploded over the past decade. Companies like Rivals, Scout, 247Sports and others have capitalized on this following with multi-million dollar companies. Players who are trying to get noticed are forced to go to scouting combines, all-star games and 7-on-7 tournaments and pay for recognition. But even more frightening, schools are paying literally millions of dollars to scout potential players.
However, one of the biggest issues in college football recruiting is not just with the money that is being spent the follow these followers. In fact, it is quite the opposite; it’s a free service that has turned everyone into a reporter, has allowed every tweet/comment to be over-analyzed, allowed for vicious attacks on 17- to 18-year-olds and has created a ton of controversy, including the expulsion of one player from his high school.
I am guilty; I am an avid user of social media, especially Twitter (@DK_Thompson) and I have reported on high school player recruitment. I have reported the twists and turns, the ups-and-downs and the announcements and de-commitments. But, over the past few years, I have noticed a few issues that have caused, and will cause more, escalated problems in the future.
Primarily, the first flaw is the product of our society. Our society lives in an age of information overload. With 24/7 news networks, online news and smart phones, a person can get news whenever he or she wants. Furthermore, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook and blogs, information can be spread quicker and more of the story can be shared. However, the downfall is that there are no verification standards; “sources” may be made up, and opinion may be guised as fact.
For example, you can look at five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ recruitment and look how many “sources” existed just on Feb. 9, 2012:
Brandy L. Sims (@bls1969) “Award-winning sports journalist for Sentinel Newspapers”: Heard from a reliable source Good Counsel WR Stefon Diggs plans to sign w/ THE Ohio State University!
This is just a small sample size of sources of national reporters.
Now down to non-national reporters who have “sources”
Douglas DiLillo (@douglasdilillo): “I heard from a source… Diggs to OSU…”
Tommy Broughton (@GswFanLee): “a source says diggs will commit to MD”
Curt Szczepanski (@CurtSzczepanski): “”reliable source” says stefon diggs will sign with ohio state tomorrow…”
David Waters (@GatorEagle7): “My source close to Diggs says OSU is out.”
Now, certainly all of these individuals could have sources, or they could be guessing. Twitter does not require legitimate sources. You are not required to submit to an editor, nor are you held to the same journalistic standards.
Now, I believe each person is entitled to his or her opinion and to freedom of speech. Moreover, I believe each person should make his or her own judgment on whether to believe someone. But we are getting carried away. Is the purpose of news to report the quickest news, or is it to report the most accurate news? Remember, being first isn’t always best. You can look at Onward State, the Penn State newspaper that inaccurately reported Joe Paterno’s death.
As more people begin to use Twitter, more rumors will float and more “sources” will appear. It’s unfortunate that quicker is better in news reporting, and it will only get worse.
By the way, Stefon Diggs signed with Maryland, with Auburn as his second choice and made his decision on February 5th.
Another problem with social media is the access to the recruits themselves. While it is neat to follow their progress through combines, camps, the recruiting process and ultimately college, it usually leads to many more problems.
The first issue is that people tend to over-analyze each individual tweet or post. If you want to see a free comedy show, watch a fan base when a committed recruit tweets something ambiguous like, “Re-thinking things”. Now, that comment may have something to do with his commitment to a school, but more likely it is a personal tweet. However, the firestorm that was just created by that tweet will now require the prospect to respond to tweets, answer phone calls, answer text messages and/or clarify the comment. University of California head football coach Jeff Tedford once stated, “a 17- or 18-year-old can get up and type four words in the morning, hit ‘send’ and everyone goes into a tailspin.”
An example of a tweet that people overreacted about, was on April 12, 2011, when Gators wide receiver Andre Debose tweeted “I finally can move on…” .
Was this tweet about transferring? No. But the message boards went crazy with transfer rumors and people were wondering why he would transfer, etc. In fact, we don’t know why Andre Debose tweeted that, but he had no plans of transferring from the University of Florida. That is just one example of hundreds of overreaction to simple messages. While Twitter can provide a look into a person’s life, the reaction to each and every tweet is unwarranted and frankly, annoying.
The next issue with social media is the way people interact with prospects on Twitter and social media websites.
The first issue is that the NCAA says YOU may be committing an NCAA violation by tweeting at a prospect. The NCAA defines recruiting as, “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests (or booster) for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.” The NCAA then defines in NCAA By-Law 13.02.11 as, “NCAA Bylaw 13.02.11 defines the term “booster.” In part, the rule states: “A booster (i.e., representative of the institution’s athletics interests) is an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g. apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have known) by a member of the institution’s executive or athletics administration to:
- Have participated in or to be a member of an agency or organization promoting the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program;
- Have made financial contributions to the athletics department or to an athletics booster organization of that institution;
- Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospects;
- Be assisting or to have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families; or
- Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program.
The last bullet point, “Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program” is something that all fans are responsible. Therefore, social media interactions regarding any particular school are considered a violation of the NCAA By-Laws and would be a secondary violation of that particular university. You don’t think the NCAA monitors Facebook and Twitter for these violations? Read the quick story of Taylor Moseley and his fandom of John Wall
Moreover, here is more evidence why people should not be interacting with prospects on Twitter/Facebook:
The final thoughts regarding this discussion lie not in the actions of you as a fan, but of the recruits themselves. I know and understand that these kids are 16-18 years old and by no means do I expect perfection. However, there are quite a few instances in which these young men bring attention to themselves in a negative way. If these young men were not being recruited and scrutinized everyday, many of these tweets or Facebook posts would not cause any media attention. But because these young men are being recruited, we expect them to act differently, and ultimately, the prospect should know he is being watched by thousands of interested parties.
As I mentioned earlier, Colorado defensive back signee Yuri Wright was kicked out of his private high school and had many scholarships pulled because of his tweets. A synopsis of his tweets can be found here.
Yuri Wright certainly isn’t the only one. The website “Chat Sports” has done extensive research regarding the issue. They have captured tweets from star signees such as Alabama LB Dillion Lee, Florida State QB Jameis Winston, Florida DT Dante Phillips, UCLA Athlete Shaq Roland, LSU OT Derek Edinburg, Georgia RB Keith Marshall, among many, many others.
While these prospects aren’t the only ones using this language, it goes without saying that it’s very inappropriate. With coaches and fans following these prospects, they need to realize the danger of posting crude updates. Dave Mencarini, a Gaithersburg, Md. football coach stated, “It can make kids look foolish. Your perception of someone can be tainted by not only what is said but how they say it. I have had coaches say, ‘This kid is always on Facebook or always on Twitter saying this or that.’ . . . It takes away from what it’s really about, but unfortunately it’s a part of the recruiting process.”
Concluding, while I think social media has certainly benefitted society positively, there are huge downfalls. High school recruits are being targeted for choosing a school and defaming their own character. As a result, we suffer from information overload. I do not expect to win any awards with this piece of journalism, but I do expect you to think about your actions when dealing with these prospects and respect their privacy, even if you think they are inviting you into their lives. If you are a recruit, I ask you to be careful about what you tweet and avoid a Will Hill situation.
Thanks to Lance Davis (@ldavis15) for his assistance.