Following up on good friend Dustin Dopirak’s quick hit earlier today on the Scoop, I thought it prudent to bring a little bit of further attention to this notion of social media and recruiting.
By now, most of you have heard about the Cody Zeller Facebook group, which created something of a firestorm when freshman Victor Oladipo and 2011 commitment Austin Etherington became involved. (For its part, Indiana denies that Oladipo had anything to do with the creation of the group, which would appear to have been a violation of NCAA recruiting regulations. Austin Etherington also denies he had anything to do with it, and that he was simply made an administrator once he joined and asked to be removed when he realized that had happened.)
This comes on the heels of something Dustin and I had been looking into separately, which came to a head today via an answer from the NCAA. Oladipo — who is among IU basketball’s most regular users of Twitter — was having something of a conversation via Twitter with Yogi Ferrell on Sunday, which prompted Dustin and I to wonder about the legality of such action. I was further intrigued today by a tweet from Kyrie Irving (we all remember him, surely) essentially congratulating Austin Rivers on his commitment to Duke, where Irving is now a freshman.
And so, ringing the NCAA, I got almost word-for-word the same answer Dustin did:
There are specific ways that student-athletes can assist in the recruiting process. They can communicate via email and phone with prospects, as long as it is not at the direction of their coaches or athletics staff. They can assist with official visits as well by serving as a student host.
Student-athletes are not able to publicly comment on a prospect’s athletics ability or likelihood of signing with a school, just as coaches are not permitted to make these types of comments.
Regarding social media, we recognize student-athletes and prospects can and do develop relationships and could communicate via social media in a public setting, like someone’s Facebook wall or via Twitter. That communication is allowed as long as student-athletes are not posting recruiting messages.
In other words, Oladipo’s Twitter chatter with Ferrell, which was honestly conversational in nature and never appeared to take on a tone of commenting “on a prospect’s athletics ability or likelihood of signing with a school,” seems fine. Irving’s doesn’t seem so cut-and-dry, given that he actually does specifically reference Rivers’ commitment, but we talk mostly about Indiana here, so we won’t waste much space on that.
I bring this to you not so much as an indictment on any one player. From what we know, it seems fair to say everyone associated in some way with Indiana anyway was acting in bounds.
What’s interesting here, I think, is the case study in social media that this provides. As the NCAA spokesperson I talked to said, current players often have private relationships with recruits, e-mailing them, etc. But social media is such a different beast, it’s awfully hard to define how the two parties can have a relationship within clearly defined boundaries.
Facebook, I would argue, is semi-private, in that only people you approve as friends do things like write on your wall or see your photos, and you can control what your friends see. But it certainly doesn’t offer the privacy of an e-mail or a phone call.
And Twitter is even less private. Unless one protects their account, anyone can follow anyone, creating what, in essence, seems like a public forum. But it’s so informal that sometimes it doesn’t always feel like one, and that’s a distinction that, while not empirical or concrete, I think bears thinking through when considering it as a mode of mass communication similar to a TV interview. Bill Simmons has more than a million followers on Twitter — when will he ever have the opportunity to literally speak to that many people, all at once?
So what say you, as we continue to blaze this new path into the communications future? I know this is a lot to be thrown your way on a Thursday night, but as a graduate student in sports journalism who actually spends a decent amount of time thinking critically about questions just like this, I am legitimately interested in what you have to say, particularly since so many of you use Twitter and Facebook, and some of you interact with us through those mediums on a fairly regular basis.
Sound off, if you so desire.