It didn’t take long.
Moments after coveted four-star defensive lineman Arik Armstead announced on Sunday that he would sign a letter of intent to play football at the University of Oregon, swarms of fans congratulated the 6-foot-8 prospect on his decision via Twitter.
“Welcome to the family,” said one fan, who uses the handle, @Jason_Tufts. “That Green and Yellow looks real good. #GoDucks.”
The brief exchange wasn’t the first interaction online between fans and Armsted in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s National Signing Day – the first day high school athletes can sign binding letters of intent with college programs.
In recent months, hundreds of fans have sent Armstead, among other highly-regarded prospects, a variety of messages on websites such as Twitter in trying to sway him to one school over another.
Armstead, the nation’s No. 6 defensive end according to Yahoo Sports’ Rivals.com, had also been considering Auburn, California, Notre Dame and Washington.
Because of the Internet, fans now have unprecedented access to players.
“It is fairly commonplace for fans of all fanbases to recruit positively for their school or negatively against opponents on Twitter these days,” said Avinash Kunnath, who serves as an editor for the University of California fan site – California Golden Blogs. “I’m aware that Cal fans try to do the same with recruits, although we try to discourage this behavior. But some recruitniks won’t listen to reason.”
On many occasions, these instances can constitute NCAA secondary violations.
“Representatives of the institution’s athletic interests” — more commonly referred to as as boosters, are prohibited from contacting prospective student-athletes. Historically, such means of communication have been limited to email correspondence, letters and phone calls, but with the popularity of Facebook, Skype and Twitter, among other outlets, such impermissible contact extends to social media as well.
In that case, neither a fan nor former player would be allowed to tweet at a prospective athlete or comment on his Facebook profile during the recruitment process.
Should the NCAA opt to classify the individual as a booster, who can be defined by NCAA bylaw 13.02.11 as someone “promoting the institution’s athletic programs,” the action could then classify a violation.
“Boosters are not allowed to recruit athletes,” said John Infante, an assistant director of compliance at Colorado State University and author of the Bylaw Blog. “They’re not allowed to have any contact with athletes for the purpose of trying to get them to get to one school or another. So this is just extending that rule into social media.”
But monitoring such communication typically falls at the feet of schools’ often understaffed compliance offices. It isn’t always an easy task.
“It’s a case of the volume of it,” Infante said. “You’re probably not going to catch every single instance, which is why you see a lot of the enforcement that is very general and providing education at fans.”
Schools typically send out brochures, among other literature, to fans, reminding them to refrain from contacting prospective student-athletes across all platforms.
“Please leave recruiting to Baylor coaches,” read one letter released by Baylor’s athletic compliance office. “You’re entitled to your opinion of NCAA rules, and no doubt many share it. Many point out that, for example, the booster recruiting ban is commonly violated, and that is true. Nevertheless, please comply with this and other NCAA rules as you do with other rules and restrictions you are subject to but may not agree with.”
A number of compliance departments have also launched their own Twitter accounts to curtail fans who tend stray from policies.
But in the highly competitive world of 21st century college football, not everyone goes by the book.
“Many are aware of the rule, but rationalize that the rule is unenforceable and would probably land every program secondary violations of some sort,” Kunnath said. “The only way to realistically prevent contact of this sort is to ban recruits from using Twitter.”
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