Use of Twitter, Facebook could lead to violations
The tweet was simple, yet straight to the point.
"Illini Fans: Please be reminded that you may not communicate with recruits via twitter or other social media. Leave recruiting to the coaches."
The Twitter account for Illinois Compliance (@UofICompliance) sent out that tweet at 9:47 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 26.
"We got a lot of replies to that with people saying, 'Are you joking?'" said Ryan Squire, Illinois' Assistant Athletic Director of Compliance. "Some people tried to invoke their First Amendment rights, which was a little misguided. That was around the time of a certain prospect's impending verbal, and there were people who were attempting to try to influence his decision. On the technical application of the rule, they're not supposed to do that, but I'm sure it goes on with every fan base across the country to some extent."
The tweet, as of Thursday afternoon, had 49 retweets and 11 responses. Squire said under the technical application of NCAA rules, fans, boosters and alumni cannot contact prospects "whether it be by a written letter, an email or other electronic correspondence."
Even via Twitter or Facebook, you might ask? Yes, even under those circumstances, which Squire admits are hard to track.
"It'd be impossible, really," Squire said. "There's a direct way for fans to write messages to recruits (with Twitter and Facebook). As far as monitoring it, it'd be impossible."
Along with tweeting or sending a recruit a Facebook message and it technically being an NCAA violation, Squire doesn't think the tweets and messages help sway a recruit.
"The coaches put a lot of time and effort into strategically recruiting prospects," Squire said. "There's a lot that goes into it. The prospect's not going to go to the place that has the fans that send the most Twitter messages."
But with the ability for any person with an electronic device these days to either have a Twitter account or Facebook account, fans most likely feel more connected to players today than they did even five or 10 years ago.
Squire said he and his staff tell current Illinois athletes to not publicize if a recruit is visiting or send a recruit a public message.
Notre Dame and Michigan football made news last spring when current players tweeted to high school players who were either visiting their school or had just committed, but not signed a letter of intent yet.
The NCAA bylaws prohibit these type of interactions and are considered secondary violations.
"If they have a friendship with the recruit and they just write to say, 'What's up?' that's OK, but they can't say, 'Hey, come to Illinois,'" Squire said. "We have to educate the student-athletes in all our sports about that."
While some fans might view this as another nit-picky NCAA rule and one that is extremely hard to enforce, Squire doesn't want to downplay the importance of the rule.
"Even though some rules seem unenforceable or inconsequential," Squire said, "we still hold ourselves accountable for following them, and we want our fans and boosters to view the rules the same way."