Monday January 14th, 2008

Gr8, nw cntctng rcrts wl tk 4eva.

A few tech-savvy college football coaches probably fired off a text similar to the one above (Great, now contacting recruits will take forever) on Saturday afternoon when they learned -- possibly by text message -- that the NCAA had upheld its ban on texting recruits. An override vote, originally spearheaded by the American Football Coaches Association, barely made it to the floor at the NCAA Convention in Nashville, Tenn. When the issue finally came up for a vote, only 21.3 percent of Division I members supported the override.

So what's a coach to do? A year ago, coaches still could only call once a week, but they could text to their hearts' content. And what did many of those text messages say? "Call me." But with their BlackBerrys holstered since Aug. 1, how do coaches get their message to recruits?

Tyler Love, a Birmingham, Ala., offensive tackle who has committed to Alabama, said after the ban, he noticed e-mail from coaches came more steadily. Love said he does not get e-mail on his mobile phone, but teammates and friends who do seem to get e-mails regularly from coaches. That may ultimately be the simplest solution as well as the target of the next piece of NCAA legislation. Coaches may gently suggest to recruits that instead of upgrading their mobile plan to include unlimited text, they upgrade to unlimited data. The NCAA allows unlimited e-mail contact, and to a recruit with a Sidekick and a souped-up plan, a text and an e-mail look essentially the same (though it would be far more entertaining to learn whether Texas coach Mack Brown or USC coach Pete Carroll uses the phrase "LOL" to save space in a 160-character text). For coaches and their flying thumbs of fury, sending an e-mail might be easier than sending a text. On a BlackBerry it takes one fewer click to send an e-mail than a text.

Zebrie Sanders, a Dayton, Ohio, offensive tackle, has noticed another ploy. "[Coaches will] just tell one of their players to text me," Sanders said. Players exchange numbers all the time at combines, camps and on official visits. If the NCAA ever asked about the practice, a coach could say the player acted on his own, hoping to lure a quality teammate. Sanders said coaches also will use a legal, low-tech method. During their weekly, NCAA-permitted call, they will remind players to call in at regular intervals. The NCAA places no limit on the number of times a recruit may call a coach.

The ban may also force players to be more proactive. After getting caught in a scholarship crunch that squeezed him out of Florida's class, Sanders is looking at several other schools. He likes Georgia, but he also may check out Florida State, UCLA and possibly Miami. Sunday, he said he planned to call a Miami coach after his telephone interview with A player in Sanders' position may have to make a few more calls to gauge programs' interest. Before, he could simply count the texts.

So is the ban a good thing? Coaches argue that it wasn't the text messages that helped build relationships, it was the phone calls those messages facilitated. Every year, coaches complain that the NCAA allows them less and less time to learn who they're recruiting. More contact, coaches argue, would help them discern who truly wants to win championships, who can handle the rigors of college life and who might get into trouble. Of course, coaches also could help by not accepting commitments 11 months before signing day, but why police themselves when they could blame the NCAA?

Kerry Kenny, a former Lafayette basketball player and the incoming chair of the NCAA's student-athlete advisory committee, said the constant texts were a nuisance. Before Saturday's vote, Kenny implored delegates to uphold the ban. "Only five months have passed since the ban, and I am delighted to say the recruiting process has survived," Kenny told The Associated Press.

Love, the future Alabama lineman, agrees. Love said before the ban he would clear his inbox before going to bed and wake up to find a full inbox. He said he would get six or seven texts during each school day. He also said he once went over his monthly allotment by 300 messages, which stung when the bill came.

"So we got the unlimited plan," Love said. "Then three weeks later, the ban went into effect."

Fear not, Alabama fans. Yes, Crimson Tide commit Burton Scott of Prichard (Ala.) Vigor High did set foot in the Loveliest Village on the Plains this weekend, but Scott's coach said you have no reason to worry. Vigor coach Kerry Stevenson said Sunday night that Scott, a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder who likely will play in the secondary, went to Auburn strictly for fun.

Stevenson said Scott visited Auburn to hang out with former teammate Sen'Derrick Marks, a star defensive lineman for the Tigers. After Scott signs with 'Bama, Scott and Marks will be friends on opposite sides of a bitter rivalry. Stevenson also said Scott plans to visit Florida and Miami, though the coach said Tide fans should be equally unconcerned about those visits.

Such visits may rile fans, but if it bothers you that much, think about how you would have felt at age 17 had someone offered you an all-expenses paid trip to hang out with a bunch of cool college kids. You probably wouldn't have turned it down, either.

The fourth year of Academic Progress Rate data will be released this spring, and The NCAA News estimates that 15 to 20 percent of men's basketball programs could lose scholarships as a penalty for not keeping players moving toward graduation. That means -- at least temporarily -- fewer players will have access to scholarships, making the competition for a scholarship more fierce.

That competition may not be on the court, though. It may be in the classroom. As penalized programs try increase their APR and earn back those lost scholarships, they'll be far less likely to take a player considered an academic reach. That has raised concern among some NCAA members. One fringe benefit of the current system, some say, is that it allows access to higher education for some players who might never have had an opportunity to attend college otherwise. Now, coaches may not recruit those players out of fear that their APR could dip even lower if the player washes out. At the NCAA Convention on Saturday, NCAA president Myles Brand urged schools not to turn their backs on players with less-than-stellar academic backgrounds.

"We want to continue to recruit the students for our teams that we have in the past," Brand said, "provided that with adequate assistance they can be successful academically."

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