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NCAA Should Focus on Less on Recruiting Restrictions, More on Recruit Empowerment

Instead of trying to enforce 20th Century rules in the 21st, the NCAA should be teaching recruits how to control their own recruitment process.

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Scott Boehm

Iowa State is the latest program to get busted over telephone calls to recruits. Most of it had to do with improper logging of calls, but coaches in football and basketball still made calls they weren't supposed to be making.

It's kind of ironic that the news of that came out yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning, Ad Hoc Labs announced that its Burner app would be available on Android in addition to iOS.

What is Burner, you ask? It's a service that lets you get a disposable phone number. You can "burn" it away at any time, or get one that automatically self destructs if you so choose. This sort of thing makes it a lot easier to have disposable phone numbers, which used to require purchasing and discarding cheap prepaid phones. If a coach uses Burner, it would be difficult to impossible for NCAA investigators to track down impermissible contact with recruits even with phone records in hand.

Burner is just one example of how technology has made many NCAA rules obsolete. The association actually recognized that to some extent and passed some legislation deregulating many things. Member schools have overridden some, though, and those they object to include the removal of restrictions on electronic communications (which includes text messages, phone calls, social media contact, and the like).

The presence of Burner means that it's only a mild inconvenience to get around the phone call rules. Ever heard of SnapChat? It allows you to send a photo to someone that will be deleted from the recipient's phone and the company's servers 10 seconds after it's opened. That means a coach need not abide the lag of snail mail to send his Swag-O-Meter drawings to recruits; he can send pictures instantly through SnapChat that will soon after be gone forever with no way to be traced.

The automatic deletion features of Burner and SnapChat are conveniences to be sure, but any electronic records can be deleted. The key is to avoid using standard phone calls and SMS messages, since they show up on phone records that are out of the coach's and recruit's controls. Instead of talking on the phone, there are Skype, Facetime, Google Talk, Fring, and many, many more. Instead of SMS text messages, there are WhatsApp, iMessage, and any number of instant messaging services. Oh yeah, and there's the original text message, email, which is currently only regulated by player's age and not by volume.

I understand where the rules are coming from. The idea of recruits getting bombarded by communication from coaches at all hours of the day is distasteful to me too. The NCAA can keep holding out as long as it wants, but the best thing it can do for recruits is to educate them on how to take control of the electronic communication they receive. Just as technology makes it easier for the communication to happen, it also makes it easier to prevent it from happening too.

For instance, I'd suggest recruits get a free Google Voice number and only give that out to coaches. If someone tries to use the recruit's real number instead, then he should remove that school from consideration because it doesn't respect him enough to follow his wishes. It also offers unlimited free SMS, so recruits and their families wouldn't have to begin paying for unlimited texting if they don't want to. Google Voice makes it simple to manage communications, so if a coach is calling or texting too much, the recruit can easily block him. All social media services that I know of have blocking features as well.

If the NCAA wants to do something good for recruits, it should be helping recruits take control of their own recruiting processes in this way. They don't have to be inundated with digital detritus from coaches if they don't want to be. Helping recruits learn how to do that makes more sense than trying to enforce unenforceable rules.

Addendum, added for clarity:

More than anything, I want the NCAA to instill the mindset that the recruits are the ones in charge of their recruitment. Teaching them about the tools available is half of it; the other half is giving them the confidence to use them.

I'm not worried about players potentially offending coaches by blocking them. It's not going to be the 2-star guys with only one or two scholarship offers who get an inappropriately high amount of communication. It's going to be the highly sought-after recruits who have plenty of options. There will always be someone else for them, and given the way many coaches behave, most will come crawling right back if and when a recruit lifts a block on them. They'll be just fine.