Twitter, NCAA rules, and Kyrie Irving.

In an article headlined "Tom Crean's too-obvious Twitter blunder," Yahoo!'s Eamonn Brennan (an IU alum and one of the contributors to Inside the Hall) takes Tom Crean to task for "following" IU recruit Kyrie Irving on Twitter.  While I use Twitter for this site, it's a bit beyond my personal understanding.  I know what it is and I know how it works, but I still don't "get" it.  For the uninitiated, Twitter is a mini-blog on which a person can make posts, but the posts cannot exceed 140 characters.  To read what someone is saying on Twitter, one can either go to the posters Twitter home page (here are Tom Crean's page and the Crimson Quarry's page).  If a Twitter reader doesn't want to visit each individual page, then he can "follow" certain users, and the "tweets" will show up on the reader's Twitter home page in chronological order. So, what's the issue?

As Eamonn notes, Tom Crean, for most of his Twitter account's life, had hundreds or thousands of "followers"--in other words, people who had subscribed to Tom Crean's Twitter stream.  But he was not himself "following" any Twitter streams of any kind.  Eamonn explains:

No more. Now, Crean is following other users: @YahooSportsNBA (yeah, son!), @NBA, @kevineastman and @kyrieirving. Irving is the important one here. He's Rivals's No. 14-ranked recruit for the class of 2010. Indiana has been heavily involved in his recruitment.

Eamonn makes clear that he doesn't consider this a violation, but simply "sketchy." 

It's obvious that Crean isn't trying to hide this, and like I said, it's not like there's a law being broken here, but it does kind-of-sort-of violate the apparently happy medium coaches had carved out for themselves on Twitter. Catering your Tweets to recruits is one thing; borderline-interacting with them is another.

This raises a number of issues.  First, what do the NCAA rules say about pre-signing contact and use of electronic communication?  Second, where does Twitter fit into the NCAA regulatory scheme?  Finally, is it really that unusual for coaches to follow top recruits?

Here are a few NCAA recruiting rules to consider:

13.4.1.2 Electronic Transmissions.

Electronically transmitted correspondence that may be sent to a prospective student-athlete (or the prospective student-athlete's parents or legal guardians) is limited to electronic mail and facsimiles. (See Bylaw 13.1.7.2.)  All other forms of electronically transmitted correspondence (e.g., Instant Messenger, text messaging) are prohibited. ....(Adopted: 4/28/05 effective 8/1/05, Revised:  12/12/06, 4/26/07 effective 8/1/07, 4/15/08)

As this ESPN Mag column by Ryan Corazza, yet another Inside the Hall contributor, makes clear, the NCAA generally regards Twitter as comparable to e-mail. 

"We view that option on Twitter the same as we view normal e-mails," said Cameron Schuh, Associate Director of Public and Media Relations for the NCAA. "It's just you can't post those (direct messages) on your main page. [...] As long as coaches are on there talking about what they're doing with their day and how their practice went or things like that … not getting into specific terms, that's fine. They can't talk about a person they're recruiting, or they can't use it to talk about their whereabouts on a recruiting trip."

Another important thing to know about Twitter is that it's possible to direct messages to individual users.  Those messages can be publicly visible to all uses, or can be private, just like any other E-mail. The NCAA says it's fine to use Twitter as an alternate form of private e-mail, but a coach cannot publicly send direct messages to recruits.  Finally, here's the NCAA rule on pre-signing comment.

 

13.10.2 Comments Before Signing.

Before the signing of a prospective student-athlete to a National Letter of Intent or an institution's written offer of admission and/or financial aid, a member institution may comment publicly only to the extent of confirming its recruitment of the prospective student-athlete. The institution may not comment generally about the prospective student-athlete's ability or the contribution that the prospective student-athlete might make to the institution's team; further, the institution is precluded from commenting in any manner as to the likelihood of the prospective student-athlete's signing with that institution. Violations of this bylaw do not affect a prospective student-athlete's eligibility and are considered institutional violations per Constitution 2.8.1

Still, the "following" issue isn't addressed by Ryan's interview with the NCAA and does seem to be something in between.  First, I agree with Eamonn that it doesn't appear to be a violation of the rule on electronic communications.  Merely following Irving simply would generate an automated e-mail to Irving that says something like "Tom Crean is now following you on Twitter."  Crean could send that message anyway.  The issue is that I find a bit more concerning is whether it might run afoul of the "comments before signing" rule cited above.  Explicitly, Tom Crean isn't saying anything other than "I'm following Kyrie Irving on Twitter."  Implicitly, it says that of all the millions of Twitter streams and all of Crean's thousands of followers, he has seen fit to follow only five, and Kyrie Irving is the only IU recruiting target that Crean is following.

Still, I'm hesitant to call this "sketchy" without knowing whether IU or any other school has discussed this with the NCAA.  Also, if the NCAA is going to police implicit comments, where will the NCAA draw the line?  Showing up at a recruit's AAU games nearly every time he takes the court also sends an implicit message, but it's not an impermissible message.

Here is a link to the Twitter page of Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.  Among Brey's five "follows" are ND verbal commit Eric Atkins and...you guessed it, Kyrie Irving.  I looked at about a dozen other coaches' Twitter pages and didn't see any other "follows" of recruits, but I welcome any other examples you might find.  I suppose that it could be a technological breakdown.  Perhaps Tom Crean and Mike Brey aren't sufficiently technologically savvy to realize that everyone can see who they are following.  We have all seen the "unintentional reply all" and know of Facebook users who don't realize that wall posts are visible to all of their friends, not just the recipient. 

Ultimately, it strikes me as more of a publicity issue than a communications issue.  Tom Crean can  hit refresh on Kyrie Irving's Twitter page 100 times a day if he wants.  But publicly announcing that he is following it?  Well, if the NCAA hasn't provided guidance on all of Twitter's functions, that might be a good idea.

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