September 14, 2006

Text Messaging Creates Recent Recruiting Buzz

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It’s not even six in the morning, and yet Red junior first-team All-Ivy tailback Luke Siwula is wide awake, already having showered and had breakfast before heading out to his grueling summer workout. Not many people are up with the roosters on these Friday mornings, and yet, despite the small chance that someone has tried to get in touch with him at this odd hour, Siwula checks his phone anyway — on the screen reads the alert that he has one new text message, sent only minutes ago from offensive coordinator Clayton Carlin. In plain black text it reads, What are you going to do to get better today?

“It’s mostly to keep tabs on us,” Siwula says with a smirk. “It’s just to get your mind on football and make sure that you’re thinking about it everyday.”

Fast forward to last Friday, where football head coach Jim Knowles ’87 sits in his office after a long, pensive day of contemplating what is going to take place the subsequent night at the team’s last inter-squad scrimmage before it kicks off the season against Bucknell on September 16.

For a brief moment, you almost think Knowles’ has stopped thinking about football. Beaming, his eyes focus in on something harmlessly placed amidst an unorganized stack of papers.

“Check out my new Treo phone,” Knowles says. “I just installed all my staff’s numbers today.”

Despite talking about features unrelated to football — Bluetooth, GPS satellite technology and enhanced text messaging options — you realize Knowles has had pigskin on his mind the whole time.

“I’m a text freak,” Knowles adds. “If you’re 41 like me, and you don’t know how to text, then you’re out of the loop. You have to be in today’s age. We use it with our players, our staff and our recruits.”
And with one word — recruits — the debate rages.

That same Friday, while Knowles was programming the numbers of Carlin and other coaching staff members into his phone, the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet was submitting a proposal to restrict the use of text messaging and other forms of electronic communication between coaches and prospective student athletes. The proposal, according to the NCAA website, would limit text messaging and other electronic communication to the times between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the prospect’s home time zone on weekdays, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. The new proposal would prohibit electronic communication before September 1 of the junior year for prospective athletes in most sports, with men’s basketball being an exception. For basketball, communication could begin June 15 prior to the junior year. E-mails, it is noted, would not be restricted.

A different proposal, submitted by the Ivy League, wishes to ban the use of text and instant messages altogether in respect to recruiting practices. Concern focuses on the central premise that text messages and other forms of electronic communication intrude into the private lives of high school athletes and, in some cases, cost them a considerable amount of money.

“To be bluntly honest, I don’t think the time limitation [of the Cabinet’s proposal] addresses the problem thoroughly,” said Cornell athletic director Andrew Noel Jr. “I agree with the Ivy League’s proposal in that, given that a text message can cost anywhere up to ten cents, a top recruit at any level could receive an unlimited number of text messages, every day, for the duration of the recruiting period. After a while, it all adds up.”

With its proposal, the Ivy League vows to be proactive in staying ahead of the technology curve, in order to stop text messaging to recruits from getting out of hand before it starts.

“I wouldn’t say it is a problem right now, but I will say it’s an issue,” said Cornell compliance coordinator, Patty Weldon. “One thing the NCAA is trying to do is keep up with technology. We saw it with phone calls a while back before they had restrictions, and now we’re seeing it with text messages. We’re all just trying to stay in line with the times.”

Despite all the proposed changes in recruiting practices, Cornell’s athletic department stays committed to leading by example, proving to be the model citizen when it comes to recruiting at all levels, from the athletic director to coaches and current student athletes.

“Abuse leads to restrictions,” Knowles says, hurling a white and blue NCAA rule book the size of a large print dictionary on to his desk, side-by-side with his phone. “That’s why they have an NCAA manual that’s as big as it is. Everyone’s trying to get the edge. The responsibility weighs in on the coaches, student athletes and families to do the right thing. I don’t make the rules, I just live by them. We’re still going to do the best job we can no matter what. In the end it still comes down to relationships.”

That might explain why the Ivies are willing to forego text messaging to recruits, respect the individual and allow the high school student-athlete a semblance of a normal life — one with a few text messages per day from friends and not seventy from coaches. Sure, schools should be relentless when it comes to recruiting, but the current rules of one phone call a week and an unlimited number of e-mails are more than sufficient.

Tim Kuhls is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. That’s Kuhls, Baby will appear every other Thursday this semester.