Regulating recruiting in the 21st century ain’t easy

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The social media age is a great one to be living in.

Whether it be via email, AIM, Facebook, Twitter, or Skype, its never been easier — or cheaper — to keep in touch with friends and family around the world. Whether I’m tweeting with a friend touring Europe with his band or looking at pictures of my Uncle’s birthday party in Alaska, the world is closer than a phone call. Its the click of a link away.

As great as social networking is for the general public, its an even greater annoyance for the NCAA. The more methods there are for communicating, the more complicated the NCAA’s regulations on contacting recruits gets. John Infante of the By Law Blog explains:

Much of the backbone of the NCAA’s regulation of recruiting contact is based on the medium a coach uses to get in touch with a prospect. An email is seen as different than a text message (email is unlimited starting with the junior year of high school, text messaging is prohibited). A voicemail is seen as different than an audio file sent via email (voicemails are treated like phone calls, audio attachments are mostly prohibited). Videoconferencing is treated like a phone call rather than face-to-face contact.

Social networking has always had to fit into these definitions. If a message looks like email, it’s regulated like email. If a conversation looks like instant messaging, it goes into that pigeonhole. Not to mention that social networking introduces a much more nuanced approach to the idea of public vs. private messaging.

It may seem like tortured logic to say that Twitter direct messages were like email, and thus permissible to prospects who had started their junior year. It might make you scratch your head further to learn that if the prospect received updates of those messages via text messaging, they suddenly became impermissible.

Complicated, right?

Becomes a bit clearer why NCAA investigations take so long, doesn’t it?

And now things will get even more complicated thanks to a new “modern messaging system” that facebook has implemented:

The messaging system is also designed to be platform-agnostic, so users can send and receive messages via mobile, IM or Facebook. It’s designed to make it simpler for users to communicate in real-time with their real friends, wherever they are. The system will be rolled out slowly over the next few months in an invite-only process, Zuckerberg says.

Have fun trying to put regulations on that.

The biggest issue here is that the NCAA is operating in an era where phone calls and text messages are not only the easiest, but the only form of communication. Simply put, the NCAA isn’t adapting to the times. I haven’t, either. I don’t video chat with people. I’m rarely on facebook anymore. And I’m 25. I’m no where near as social media literate as the average high schooler.

And therein lies the problem.

The people making the NCAA regulations aren’t from the internet age. They didn’t grow up with AIM, where you were forced to block your parents so they couldn’t see your away messages. They didn’t go through college on facebook, which forced you to put privacy settings on your photos once your Grandmother friended you.

As Eamonn Brennan explains, the newest generation of high school recruits understand how to insulate themselves from unwanted attention:

The point is, the kids are all right. They know how to manage their incoming stream of text-based coaching communications no matter the format. They understand that the inbox can be a wonderfully insulated place. It’s easy to respond to the messages that matter and easy to ignore the ones that don’t. And if you’re willing to grant that e-mail use should be unlimited, and that cost is the main reason for regulating text-based communication — insane cell-phone bills were one of the main reasons the NCAA banned SMS messaging last year — then you should follow suit with Twitter, Facebook, and the like. (As for phone calls? Many would argue that phone call restrictions are dumb, too. Coaches don’t land recruits with extra dials. But the cost issue is still there, and it makes sense.)

So what’s the answer?

Long story short, there isn’t an easy one. For every option provided in Infante’s post, there are a unique set of advantages and disadvantages, and there are people a lot smarter than me working out the kinks.

But what’s clear is this — the kid’s that text, tweet, facebook message, and video chat on their iPhone’s are more equipped to deal with the deluge of coaches contacting them than the NCAA decision makers that are at regulating those coaches.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.