USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities and play at the college level. Jason Smith is a former NCAA DIII athlete and college coach at all three division levels. Jason is just one of many former college and professional athletes, college coaches and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience and dedication, along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community, have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
College recruiting is constantly changing for student-athletes. Whether it’s new NCAA regulations or technological developments, the recruiting process is constantly being tweaked throughout the years. College coaches and recruits had to overhaul their approach when social media became an integral part of recruiting, with communication becoming much more public. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to how to use social media for recruiting and there will undoubtedly be more developments in the future, but here is a rundown of some of the issues recruits currently have to consider.
Rules are becoming more lenient
At the 2019 NCAA Rules Convention held in Orlando, several new proposals were passed, including one that deregulates recruiting communication for Division III schools. Adopted by a vote of 391-82, this new rule allows Division III coaches to publicly react to content posted by prospective student-athletes, including likes, favorites, shares and retweets. Coaches are now also allowed to friend and follow recruits. The rule change aligns Division III rules with those at the Division II and Division I levels.
Additionally, some universities now have less power in regulating the social media use of their athletes. In 2016, the National Labor Relations Board decided that some private schools shouldn’t be able to control players’ social media. However, that doesn’t mean athletes can’t get in trouble for anything they do on social media. They just have to do more self-regulation.
Coaches are becoming increasingly likely to search athlete profiles
According to college coaches surveyed by Cornerstone Reputation, 85 percent search athlete profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms. From a coach’s perspective, this makes a lot of sense. When they are looking for a recruit, they are looking for someone that their college will invest a lot of money into — sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarship money, training and equipment. Coaches want to make the best decision they can, as it can impact their careers, their paychecks, and the well-being of their families.
So, when coaches use social media, they are on the lookout for prospects making poor decisions, engaging in questionable behavior (especially drinking or using drugs) and using foul language. And they’re also getting a lot sneakier in how they do it, as some teams are using “fake accounts with cute girls” to monitor athletes. In fact, some athletic departments are doubling down, monitoring athletes and creating detailed reports about their activity. See for yourself:
We have a team of people who monitor what recruits are putting on social media. Watch what you tweet and retweet. pic.twitter.com/MNjrwSbuEd
— K-State Coach Van B Malone (@VanBMalone3rd) September 16, 2015
Fans are piling on the pressure
For standout recruits, interacting on social media can result in a lot more scrutiny. On one hand, Twitter and Instagram can help athletes get seen by coaches during their recruiting process. On the other hand, there are many fans online that want recruits to play for their favorite college and can be quite critical of student-athletes if they make the decision to attend somewhere else. Speaking to ESPN, four-star QB prospect Nick Starkel said, “Fans hop onto social media and take shots at high school kids who are being asked to make the biggest decision of their lives so far. Some fans don’t realize that we’re just kids making a huge decision.” And all that online attention does end up influencing recruits. ESPN added that of the top 80 high school football recruits, “23 percent said fans on social media influenced their recruiting process.”
Fake accounts are becoming more common
One way for student-athletes to avoid online scrutiny while still using social media is to set up fake accounts. This offers some privacy for student-athletes while still offering the opportunity to have fun with social media. However, standout recruits that don’t set up social media accounts for themselves are also at risk of being imitated with fake accounts. Former standout college players Marcus Mariota and Royce Freeman have both been subjects of fake social media accounts, for example. So, it’s also important to keep an eye out for these to ensure your reputation stays intact.
Recruiting through social media isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it will probably become even more common. That’s why it’s important to keep up with new rules and regulations, and to always present a respectable image online.