Silly Recruiter, Texts Are For Kids

The Division 1 Board of Directors voted 13-3 yesterday to place a moratorium on text messaging as a recruiting tactic. It will go into effect on August 1st. Personally, I prefer the term “moratorium” to “ban” because in all likelihood the issue isn’t dead, only muzzled, for now. Though less stringent proposals had been on the table – strict 4pm-8pm time limits on school days and 8am-8pm limits on weekends– the board voted to get rid of text messaging all together in large part because “student athletes expressed some problems” over the number and frequency of the messages they were receiving from college recruiters. One unnamed recruit told of receiving 52 texts while he was sleeping. A barrage of calls by a Penn State defensive coordinator prompted one aggravated kid to say to him, ‘Why are you calling me? You’re not my girlfriend. I’ll see you at practice.’

What’s interesting is that recruits generally love having their egos stroked by adults. Letters and phone calls are like status indicators for high school athletes, like pieces of expensive jewelry they can flaunt, even in spite of the hot-air most of them contain. The fact that the NCAA has moved to protect overburdened recruits from recruiters means things must’ve gotten out of hand.

And yet, coaches and their boardroom cronies still aren’t satisfied. Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, sent an appeal asking for a “moderate approach” to dealing with text messaging. An assistant coach for the University of Hawaii lamented that underdog schools like his wouldn’t be able to compete with the BCS fat cats now that they couldn’t recruit via text message.

Rob Ianello, the chairman of the Division I assistant coaches committee for the American Football Coaches Association, was “extremely disappointed” by the decision. Ianello used the “This is how young people today communicate” defense without noting one important caveat: This is how young people communicate with each other today. They certainly don’t communicate with their parents via text message unless its necessary, and we’d all be a little concerned if their teachers (or future professors) communicated with them this way. So why on earth should it be okay for recruiters to reach out and text recruits at any hour of the day?

Amid all of the uproar over the moratorium is the little discussed fact that recruiters can still e-mail recruits. Given the fact that more and more phones are coming equipped with e-mail capabilities, it’s hard for me to sympathize with the ‘woe is me’ chant coming from the chorus of coaches. Ah, but therein the lies the rub: E-mail actually takes effort and involves wait-time. Furthermore, as the rivals.com article covering the story pointed out, cell phones outnumber home computers in many prospects’ homes. Translation: A lot of these recruits come from ‘underprivileged’ backgrounds and therefore can’t afford to have computers in their homes therefore texting is the most efficient way to reach them on a regular basis.

Text messaging is efficient, but it also really lazy. Sending out letters, even e-mails, requires some thought. It demands that the recruiter sit down and at the very least lick an envelope before sending out the latest form letter. Texting requires nothing but a phone number and a press of a send button. If e-mail was the watered down version of the letter, then text messaging is the watered down version of e-mail. Text messaging is a vulgar way to stay in someone’s mind without having to actually say in touch. Message to coaches: Doesn’t a kid who’s being asked to spend the next 1-4 years of his life winning you games so you can keep your job deserve a little bit more than an abbreviated text message? Isn’t he worth the effort of an e-mail?

Moreover, if you have to send a kid 10, 12 messages a day in order for him to commit to your school, how badly does he really want to be there in the first place? Granted, the recruiting process is complex. Kids don’t always know where they want to go or what is best for them. But should that mean recruiters are given even more weaponry with which to bombard recruits?

Of all of the responses to Thursday’s decision, Georgia Tech’s Chan Bailey’s might’ve been the most disappointing. “My opinion of it is it’s a knee-jerk reaction,” the coach said. “In two years, we’re going to have something that takes the place of text messaging and we’ll be looking to have a rule against whatever that is. And then it will change again two years after that.”

Is that really such a bad thing, Coach? I mean, do we just give up trying to maintain some sane limits on recruiting just because technology is always evolving faster than the laws and ethical standards? Or do we at least protect the illusion of sanctity surrounding the collegiate game?

I rarely commend the NCAA, but this time around they got it right, even if it is for the wrong reasons. As for those who wonder whether the rule can even be enforced, I have only question: What century are you living in? Erasing a text from your phone doesn’t wipe the message out of existence. Just as e-mails can be recovered, so too can cell phone text messages. If the NCAA is serious about enforcing this new moratorium, it can do it.

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