By David Pickle
After July’s bold move to liberalize recruiting rules, the Division II Management Council devoted time at its meeting this week responding to concerns that have been raised in the interim.
In July, the Management Council proposed moving up the permissible date for all contact, including telephone calls and text messaging, to June 15 before a prospect’s junior year in high school. The recommended change, subsequently backed and sponsored by the Division II Presidents Council, was designed to ease administrative burden and to bring athletics recruiting practices more in line with the way institutions recruit students in general.
The Council remained strongly committed to the legislation after its meeting Monday and Tuesday, although it noted concerns expressed by student-athlete groups, coaches and members of the compliance community.
“The Management Council had a great discussion about these proposals,” said Council chair Rick Cole, director of athletics at Dowling. “We understand that segments of our membership may have concerns, but after our review Monday, I feel more strongly than ever that we’re on solid ground.”
Discussion at the fall Council meeting focused on the following areas:
Unlimited contact would expose prospects to unwanted intrusion. This appears to be the most common concern. The proposal would make no distinctions between forms of contact, meaning that coaches would be allowed unlimited use of everything from faxes to text messages in pursuit of recruits. While that’s literally true, Council members continue to believe that coaches who send unwanted text messages will be ineffective, making the proposal largely self-regulating.
Further, Council members questioned whether the attention is necessarily unwanted. Cole noted a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article describing how three institutions are emphasizing texting in efforts to recruit students to the general student body.
As for prospective Division II student-athletes, Council members noted that many – perhaps most – are lightly recruited and might welcome the additional information that would result from the proposed rule. They said the earlier contact might be especially helpful in relaying information about NCAA rules, such as academic requirements. Proponents noted a parallel between that sort of communication and current legislation, which permits unlimited texting after prospects have signed (to provide them with valued information about enrollment).
The Division II Student-Athlete Advisory Committee discussed electronic communication in recruiting at its summer meeting, with one preliminary observation being that texting was not a sufficiently sophisticated medium for something as important as determining what college to attend. At their recent meeting, however, Council members concluded that the texting medium is not inherently unsophisticated. Rather, the casual image comes from shorthand, lingo and abbreviations, none of which are obligatory on the part of the sender.
Finally, Council members did not believe they should refrain from legislating because of the impression that young people claim to “own” the medium of text messaging. They noted that texting is now widely accepted across all age groups; further, the attitudes of today’s college students may differ from current 13-year-olds who would be affected by the legislative change.
Moving up the permissible contact date by a year would burden coaches with extra work. The administrators who make up the Management Council understood how coaches might feel as though the new legislation would require them to recruit all prospects for an extra year. At the same time, they questioned whether coaches are seeing the opportunities that an additional year of contact would provide. “Coaches say it’s an extra year of recruiting,” one Council member said. “But you can flip it. Right now, you don’t get an extra year to make your case.”
One Council member who also coaches stressed that the current schedule provides little time for getting to know prospects and their parents on a personal level. “As I watch prospects compete, I find I’m in a trance about how physically gifted they are,” she said. “But you don’t have much time to get to know them personally.” Having that information could help her be a better steward of the school’s resources, she said.
Liberalized recruiting rules are supposed to ease administrative burden, but monitoring would still be required. Specifically, compliance officials would still have to track on the first contact date (June 15 before a prospect’s junior year) and on periods when contact is restricted.
The Management Council seemed least tolerant on this point. The broad response was that the Legislation Committee’s charge was to ease administrative burden, not to eliminate it.
Council members noted that the proposal would not set aside the contact restrictions that exist in the football and men’s and women’s basketball recruiting calendars. If coaches in other sports abused their opportunities, similar restrictions could be added as necessary.
In general, however, they rejected the belief that rampant abuse would result from unlimited contact opportunities.
“Coaches say they won’t bother recruits themselves, but that others will (and that they need to be controlled),” said one administrator. “But the NAIA has no recruiting rules at all, and no one’s died. The fact is that only a small number of kids will ever get an off-campus contact.”
In other business at its Oct. 17-18 meeting in Indianapolis, the Division II Management Council: