Recruiting contact through Social Media: Know the Rules!

By Jason Paul

A few years ago I was working on a compliance story after the surge in social networking and fans following recruits every move, posting on their Facebook walls (DON’T), and so forth. That kind of got put on the back burner, then the whole Michigan football stuff came out and the compliance department went boom.

A couple of weeks ago the issue was brought forth again after a post on MGoBlog’s message board where a fan encouraged everyone to start sending tweets to a prospective Michigan football recruit, who had asked fans for their opinion on where he should go. A separate discussion formed on what is and isn’t permissible.

The Michigan Compliance Office sent out an e-mail to fans with the Top 10 things you should know. I e-mailed Interim Chief of Compliance Elizabeth Heinrich to get more information on top of that, specifically as it relates to social media. After the jump is the e-mail, Top 10 list, and the additional information I obtained. I encourage everyone to read this!

Dear Michigan Fans:

We thank you for being our most loyal fans, spectators, and supporters. As a University of Michigan season ticket holder, a UM alumnus or a member of any booster organization, you are by NCAA definition a representative of UM’s athletics interests. UM is held responsible for anything you do related to UM’s prospects and/or our current student-athletes.

The NCAA has strictly limited the role you, as a Michigan Fan, may take with regard to prospects and student-athletes. The penalties for breaking those rules, whether by accident or intentional, can be severe. Any infraction will jeopardize a prospect or student-athletes opportunity to attend and compete for UM no matter how minor it may seem. In addition, you might expose UM to NCAA sanctions, and you could be disassociated from the program.

University of Michigan’s athletics programs value your continued support. The best message you can take from this information is to ask someone who is knowledgeable about NCAA rules before taking any action with a recruit or a student-athlete. The rules are complicated, and there are far too many to mention in this e-mail. Therefore, if you have any questions do not hesitate to contact the Compliance Services Office at (734)-615-7341 or by e-mail at compliance@umich.edu.

GO BLUE!!!

Elizabeth Heinrich, Interim Chief of Compliance

The Top 10 Things Fans & Friends of Michigan Athletics Should Know:

  1. ALWAYS ASK BEFORE YOU ACT! Breaking NCAA rules can render prospects and student-athletes ineligible for competition at the University of Michigan. The NCAA holds the University of Michigan accountable for the actions of its fans and friends
  2. You MAY NOT make recruiting contacts with prospects, their relatives or legal guardians. A prospective student-athlete is a student who has started classes for the ninth grade (7th grade for Men’s Basketball) or above. This prohibition includes written and telephone communications.
  3. You MAY NOT contact a prospect’s coach, principal, or counselor in an attempt to evaluate the prospect.
  4. You MAY send newspaper clippings and other information about talented prospects to the Michigan coaching staff. Also, you MAY continue established relationships with friends and neighbors whose children are prospects or current student-athletes, provided the relationship pre-dates reaching prospect status and is not based on their status as an athlete.
  5. You MAY attend high school or junior college competitions provided no contact occurs with the prospect or the prospect’s relatives.
  6. You MAY NOT entertain any coach from a junior or senior high school, preparatory school, or junior college or provide them with tickets or any other type of benefit.
  7. You MAY NOT become involved in arranging for a prospect, a Michigan student-athlete or their family to receive gifts, money or financial benefits of any kind.
  8. You MAY NOT provide transportation to a prospect, student-athlete or their friends and family. Also, you MAY NOT spend funds to entertain prospects, student-athletes or their friends and family.
  9. You MAY employ a student-athlete provided you are paying them only for the work they actually perform, paying the going rate for similar services, are not paying them or providing perks based on their status as a student-athlete and the employment has been approved by the Compliance Services Office.
  10. You MAY NOT use a photo or name of a student-athlete for commercial purposes or sell student-athlete memorabilia.

Recruiting Contact through Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc…)

The following information is directly from Elizabeth Heinrich:

  • Most prospective student-athletes use social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to communicate with both their family and friends and the general public. We are often asked, when it comes to recruiting, what kind of interaction is permitted with a prospective student-athlete on these sites? The rules apply differently based on which of three categories you fall into: coaches, media or fans/boosters.
  • Coaches are permitted to use social media sites on a limited basis to communicate with recruits. Since coaches are permitted to send recruiting correspondence to recruits during their junior and senior years of high school, there are certain functions on social media sites that are similar to email correspondence, such as the direct message feature on Twitter and the Inbox feature on Facebook. The key is that these are person-to-person communications. Coaches may not post communications with a prospect in a public forum, because the coaches may not publicize who they are recruiting. So posting on a wall or @replying to a Twitter message from a prospect is not permitted since that can be viewed by anyone viewing the prospect’s page.
  • Media likewise often contact recruits through social media sites. Provided they are contacting an individual for media purposes, NCAA rules do not regulate the manner in which they contact the prospect – by direct message or public tweet.
  • Boosters are subject to some limitations on their contact with prospective student-athletes. One component of NCAA rules is that only the authorized coaches may recruit on behalf of the institution. This promotes competitive equity by ensuring that every program has the same number of people available to recruit for their program. Boosters are not permitted to recruit prospective student-athletes on behalf of the institution. So it would be a violation of NCAA rules for a booster to contact a prospective student-athlete by Twitter or Facebook to encourage them to attend Michigan. Likewise, it would be impermissible for a booster to set up a fan page in order to encourage a specific prospect to attend Michigan, such as a page entitled “Michigan Fans Love Johnny Prospect.” Because the institution is held responsible for the conduct of its boosters, doing so would require the University of Michigan to self-report a violation of NCAA rules.
  • It is not, however, impermissible for booster to follow a prospective student-athlete on Facebook or Twitter, as long as they are not reaching out to that recruit to in any way encourage them to attend Michigan. Boosters may not contact a prospect even if a prospective student-athlete invites people to contact him or her to advise them about what school to choose.
  • Also, keep in mind that someone can be both a member of the media and a booster, depending on the context. As a member of the media, you would expect that someone would be seeking information, not pushing a particular agenda. So if a media member/booster contacted a prospect to say “I hear you are leaning towards Michigan, would you care to comment” that would be an appropriate contact by a member of the media. If that same individual sent a message saying, “I hear you are leaning towards Michigan, I think you would look great in Maize and Blue. Is it true?” that would be impermissible contact by a booster because they are encouraging the prospect to attend Michigan. It all depends on the context.

Links of importance

Remember, you are responsible for your actions whether you know the rules or not.  If you are unsure if something is permissible, contact the Compliance Office – (734) 615-7341.  They are more than happy to help assist you!