Many people love to follow recruiting. It's easy to do, and there are no end of places to look. Rivals, Scout, and 24/7 have pay sites. Brandon and Brian provide comprehensive coverage of Husker football recruiting right here at CornNation - for free, no less.
It's hard to ignore recruiting coverage anymore, and with social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter now being ubiquitous, fans now can connect directly with recruits.
And that's where fans can get themselves into big, big trouble. It all looks innocent at first. You're excited about recruiting. You want to know what these players are going to do. That, by itself, is not a problem...if that's as far as it goes. That next step could put you, and the school you love, in trouble. Some fans even think they may be helping their school out.
They would be completely wrong.
Never mind the creepiness factor of being fascinated with teenage boys, you might either turn the recruit away or get your school or coach into trouble with the NCAA.
Take the case of Alex Anzalone. He committed to Ohio State last spring, but got spooked when a Buckeye fan talking him into posing with him for a picture. He then started sharing the picture all over Twitter. But he wasn't just any fan. He was also a registered sex offender. And once Anzalone and his family realized what was happening, he had sworn off of Ohio State. He then committed to Notre Dame, but started to consider Florida.
That drew the wrath of a few Irish fans, who chased him away to Gainesville. That's just one egregious example, but it happens everywhere. Check out one Arkansas fan's creepy obsession with Alex Collins who just committed to the Razorbacks. Husker fans are capable of the same bad behavior, sparking some disgust from the media who cover recruiting:
In that light, I recently asked Jamie Vaughn, Nebraska's Associate Athletic Director for Compliance, about how fans should behave online with recruits. Vaughn's responses to my questions are in italics. Bottom line is that the best way fans can help is... don't:
It is important to keep in mind that fans are considered boosters of our Athletics Department because they are involved in promoting our athletics program. As the NCAA rules currently stand, it is not permissible for a fan to have in-person recruiting contact with a prospect or recruiting contact via social media, telephone, text message, or email. All recruiting communication with prospects needs to be done by a member of the coaching staff or other Athletics Department staff members who are permitted to communicate.
I asked Vaughn for some specifics when it comes to sites like Facebook and Twitter.
The most recent guidance we received regarding this topic states that it would be permissible for fans to follow a prospect on Twitter, but it would not be permissible to make a "friend request" on Facebook, "retweet", "favorite" a Tweet, or "like" a Facebook post made by a prospect.
That's right.... merely retweeting something a recruit says, or even just "liking" it, is against NCAA rules. And if that's the case, actually saying something in response is even worse. But what if a recruit contacts you? What if a recruit were to actually sign onto a site like CornNation and start commenting? Could you respond then?
A fan could respond, but only to let the prospect know that he or she should contact our Athletics Department staff members regarding their questions.
What about the CornNation team? Does this apply to us too? Turns out yes, if we ever deviate from our professional responsibilities and move from reporting towards trying to influence a recruit.
Your history as a booster does not preclude you from interviewing a prospect for an article. However, it is important for you and your colleagues in similar situations, to distinguish between doing your job and recruiting on behalf of the University.
If NCAA rules are so severe, wouldn't it be easy to impersonate a fan of another school and get them in trouble? Perhaps...but don't forget, you probably aren't as anonymous as you'd like to think you are. And since violations of NCAA rules are a serious matter, the athletic department's compliance team has no choice but to investigate.
Each school takes any report of a possible rules violation seriously and an important part of reviewing known or potential violations is determining the facts of each situation. Ultimately, if it can be determined that a "fake" identity is in-fact "fake", that information would be used in determining whether or not a violation actually occurred.
Once players sign their letter of intent, the recruiting process is over. Can't fans welcome them now that they are signed? Nope. Until they actually enroll or begin official practices for the University, recruits remain off-limits to fans. So nothing changes on national signing day.
A prospect becomes a student-athlete when one of the following occurs (whichever is earlier):
1) The individual officially registers and enrolls as a full-time student and attends classes in any semester of a four-year collegiate institution's regular academic year (excluding summer); or
2) The individual participates in a regular squad practice or competition at a four-year collegiate institution that occurs before the beginning of any term; or
3) The individual officially registers and enrolls and attends classes during the summer prior to initial enrollment.
So do you feel lucky? What could really happen?
Each violation scenario requires an independent review to establish the facts of the violation. Once the facts have been established, appropriate sanctions can be determined. If a fan violates recruiting contact rules, he or she may jeopardize the University of Nebraska's ability to recruit a prospect. In addition, since fans are considered boosters of the University, they could also be sanctioned through means such as disassociation from the University, banishment from Athletics Department facilities, and removal from season ticket privileges.
Depending on the situation, you could not only lose your football tickets, but be banned from attending any Nebraska sporting event. And yes, it could even mean that Nebraska might face NCAA sanctions as well. Is that really what you want?
I think not. In the end, Vaughn offered this guidance for fans:
At the end of the day, the recruitment of prospects to the University of Nebraska should be left to the University of Nebraska coaching staffs. However, one way that Husker boosters, fans, and alumni can help is by continuing to support all of the current Nebraska student-athletes at their games and events. Most prospects considering Nebraska attend our games at some point during the recruiting process and get to experience the great atmospheres our fans create in each venue.