Ivies push ban on messaging recruits

Basketball guard Chris Andrews ’09, a heavily recruited athlete, spent much of his senior in high school fielding contacts from colleges looking to attract him to their sports programs. One of his most aggressive recruiters was American University, which courted him with dozens of text messages.

“American University wants you. We want you to be our point guard in the future,” read a typical message, Andrews said.

But these messages —emblematic of the new intersection of popular technology and sporting life — were little more than an annoyance for Andrews.

“I thought that the text messages were really superfluous in the sense that coaches do a lot anyway to recruit you and tell you that they want you to be a part of their program, and I feel that [text messages are] not necessary,” he said.

But recruits like Andrews may no longer have to deal with frequent text messages, since proposals to restrict the use of text and instant messaging for recruiting purposes are being discussed at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and could be implemented as early as next April if they are adopted.

The Ivy League is sponsoring a proposal to the NCAA that would ban altogether text and instant messaging from being used in the college athletics recruiting process, said Amy Backus, Yale’s assistant athletic director for compliance. A more moderate proposal already in the works at the NCAA would simply limit coaches to sending messages between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Backus said she thinks something closer to the NCAA proposal is more likely to be adopted than the Ivy League proposal.

“I think limiting the amount of text messages which one can give and receive is a good idea,” Backus said. “And I think we’ll see some kind of legislation pass.”

Backus said text messaging has become a dominant part of college recruiting, as coaches have become conscious of how cell phones are an integral part of teen culture.

“People aren’t really in favor of doing away with it completely, because it is an easy and effective way to communicate with people,” she said.

Text messaging can be a time-consuming process, both for students and for coaches, Backus said.

“Prospective student athletes are just being inundated with text messaging,” she said. “Coaches are then feeling compelled to text message as much as possible to keep up with the Joneses. Having to do that as a coach and recruiter certainly impacts your time and energy as well.”

Backus said text messaging, as well as other common recruiting methods such as e-mails, air mail and phone calls, is frequently used by Yale coaches.

Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, the senior associate director of the Ivy League, said she thinks text messaging has become a problem in recruiting. She said students such as those on the Ivy League student-athlete advisory committee have told her that they agree.

“Coaches feel compelled to contact student-athletes at all hours of the day and night, so we wanted to start a national dialogue to see if there’s a way to rein this in,” Campbell-McGovern said.

Sending the Ivy proposal to the NCAA is only the very beginning of this process, she said, and it is likely that the proposal would be modified before its possible adoption in April.

Football and men’s and women’s basketball are the sports in which text messaging is most prevalent, she said.

Yale women’s basketball head coach Chris Gobrecht not only uses text messages frequently but also believes that they are vital to her success in recruiting a diverse team.

“My coaching staff has pretty regular text dialogues, maybe two to three times a week with top prospects — people that we’re heavily involved with,” she said. “It’s just a nice, easy communication form that I’d hate to see taken away from us.”

Recruiting for basketball can be more demanding than recruiting for other sports because there is so much competition for top recruits, Gobrecht said.

“Basketball is given a lot of emphasis on every campus,” Gobrecht said. “There’s a huge number of institutions vying for the same athletes. So there’s a lot of recruiting activity that the women’s basketball players have to deal with.”

Still, Gobrecht said she thinks regulating the sending of text messages would be sensible, but she is opposed to banning it entirely. She said text messaging is a good tool for sharing information about the University and for keeping in touch with her recruits.

Men’s basketball head coach James Jones has a similar approach to recruiting, and he said he is upset by the Ivy League’s proposal. He said that he contacts his top recruits once or twice a week and does not worry that they might be turned off by frequent texts.

“I think, just like anything else, you can choose to ignore what you want to ignore,” Jones said. “I don’t think it’s annoying to the kids; sometimes it flatters them.”

But Ilya Byzov ’09, a swimmer who was recruited by means other than text messages, disagrees. He said he was flattered by the thirty minute weekly phone calls he received from a coach at Ohio State, but he said he would find text messages unhelpful and annoying.

For Andrews, the high school basketball star, meeting students and coaches in person had a much greater impact on his college choice than electronic messages.

“Showing me around the campus and showing me the camaraderie that students have, as well as the academic reputation of our school, was very attractive,” he said.

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