• OMG! LOLs No Longer Cause for SMH* from the NCAA
  • July 31, 2012
  • Law Firm: Proskauer Rose LLP - New York Office
  • What do you get when you make 233 phone calls to college basketball prospects? No, not a cell phone overage charge. If you were former Oklahoma and Indiana men's NCAA basketball coach,Kelvin Sampson, it would get you a pink slip and a difficult road to re-employment.

    At least those were the consequences until recently, when the NCAA deregulated the number of phone calls, texts, and other communications that Division I men's basketball coaches can make to prospective recruits. The NCAA sounded the buzzer on the old policies to make it easier for college coaches to build relationships with prospects, and to curb the influence third parties have in the recruiting process.    

    Previously, rule 13.1.3.1.3 of the NCAA's Division I Manual limited the frequency of phone calls recruiters could make to men's basketball prospects, and rule 13.4.1.2 proscribed electronically transmitted correspondence, including texts and instant messages, to prospective student athletes, other than e-mails and faxes. The announced change will presumably amend both rules.

    According to at least one source at the NCAA, the change reflects a more relaxed attitude toward phone call violations as the NCAA instead must "d-up" against more pressing issues. It also may have been in response to the building number of infractions and violations by coaches and schools under the previous rule.         

    In the case of Coach Sampson, the allegations included that he had provided false information to NCAA enforcement staff; but, at their core, they flowed from improper phone calls placed to potential recruits. Under the new rules Sampson may not have fouled out. And the new rules may also have saved Baylor basketball from the three years' probation it received for 738 impermissible texts and 528 improper calls.

    The NCAA's recent announcement additionally permits "some contact at a prospect's educational institution during the junior year." While what constitutes permissible contact has not yet been detailed, the amendment may provide men's basketball coaches worried about facing an Urban Meyer-type predicament a much needed timeout. In May, Meyer, the current Ohio State and former Florida football coach, self-reported a secondary violation when visiting recruit Noah Spence at his high school game. Meyer headed to Spence's coach to wish him well when Spence himself approached the coach to say, "Hello." Meyer replied, "Good luck." Those keeping score on whether wishing a recruit "good luck" before a game will still be considered a violation in men's college basketball should probably keep their eyes on rule 13.1.6 of the NCAA's Division I Manual, which governs contact at specified sites and during the day(s) of competition.

    The NCAA's deregulation announcement also extends to private messages via social media, but public messages will still receive a full-court press because of the prohibition against publicizing recruiting events, which likely keeps intact section 13.4.3, Advertisements and Promotions. This distinction means that the comically impermissible tweet by Memphis basketball coach Josh Pastner, in which he accidentally mentioned a recruit's name, and a student's improper Facebook page begging John Wall to attend NC State, both would still likely run afoul of NCAA rules.

    The new policy on recruiting communications still may not be a complete slam dunk for NCAA Division I men's basketball coaches, but at least in many cases they will be able to avoid drawing a charge from aggressive regulators.

    * Editor's Note: For those, like me, who are somewhat text-illiterate, SMH stands for "shaking my head."