Every year, the NCAA adopts new legislation. Most fans will never notice the effects of most of those rules. But a rule taking effect on Monday is going to be impossible to miss.
Traditionally, coaches have been able to follow and private message recruits on social media. But because it was always against NCAA rules to publicize a recruit before signing (as in, a coach cannot publicize the school's recruitment of the player), coaches could not share or "like" a recruit's posts. They had to pretend, online, that players didn't exist.
That's all changed.
Here's NCAA Proposal 2015-48, passed by the NCAA's legislative council in the spring and taking effect Aug. 1. (That's now!):
An athletics department staff member may take actions (e.g., "like," "favorite," republish, "tag," etc.) on social media platforms that indicate approval of content on social media platforms that was generated by users of the platforms other than institutional staff members or representatives of an institution's athletics interests.
Why did the NCAA make this change?
From the NCAA itself:
Intent: To establish exceptions to the prohibitions on endorsements of events that primarily involve prospective student-athletes, or endorsements of a prospective student-athlete's team or coach, or an athletics facility that is primarily used by prospective student-athletes, and an exception to the restrictions on publicity before commitment that permits actions (e.g., "like," "favorite," republish, "tag," etc.) by an institutional staff member on social media platforms that indicate approval of content on social media platforms that was generated by users of the platforms other than institutional staff members or representatives of an institution's athletics interests.
Rationale: Under the current legislation, it is difficult to monitor all coaches and their social media activities (e.g., "likes," "favorites," republishing, "tags," etc.). This proposal would create exceptions to the restrictions related to endorsement activities and publicity related to recruiting on social media platforms and attempt to maintain pace with the frequent creation and/or enhancement of social media applications.
Too long; didn't read? The NCAA realizes enforcing its existing social media prohibitions was inefficient at best, and more likely impossible, so it lessened its burden.
"I think social media's extremely important, because remember, these are young people's lives," Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck, a strong recruiter who has an active Twitter account, told SB Nation in April. "We're here to be teachers and educators, and that's the way they communicate. That's the way they learn. Not many young people pick up the newspaper anymore and read it from front to back. All they do is go on Twitter and social media."
Who will be sharing and liking? How will they decide what to share and like?
Many coaches don't actually run their Twitter accounts, but have interns and staffers take care of it for them.
But now the stakes are raised. Will coaches leave their reputations in the hands of an intern when it comes to what to like and reshare? What happens when a staffer or a coach himself retweets something written in slang that he doesn't understand, and it turns out to be a song lyric about something objectionable?
"I'm not sure what tweets some of these kids would actually send out that I would retweet," said Fleck. "I don't think that'll affect that at all. We have people that follow social media, that follow players' Twitter accounts and gain a scholarship or lose a scholarship for some of that stuff, or verify exactly what type of person they actually have.
"I think that's just gonna become a numbers game. 'You know, how many retweets will I get?' And [if] a kid's gonna put that much stock into how many coaches retweet my messages, they're probably not the right kid for us."
But Fleck got to work quickly on retweeting, as did Miami's Mark Richt, Nebraska's Mike Riley and plenty of others.
Every coach we've talked to has some concern about how this will go.
"I thought we had a pretty good situation prior to this rule change," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said in the spring. "Things were in good order, and I'm not sure that this is a good thing."
Via social media, we asked 20 current recruits for their thoughts on the change.
"I guess now we can see how much love these schools genuinely have for us (laughing emoji)," said Jamyest Williams, an elite Atlanta cornerback recruit.
The overwhelming response was that they will be able to see how much a coach really likes them. Yes, recruits can now use likes and retweets as further evidence of a coach's interest.
"Sounds good with me, because I really want to see how much interest they have," said Tyrone Truesdell, a three-star defensive tackle from Georgia.
These quotes expose a new layer of work for staffs. Despite only being able to take average of 20 or so players per class, some staffs give out hundreds of offers. That means hundreds of players might be watching to see which players' posts a coach likes.
Because of the nature of teenagers, this will absolutely lead to a prospect deciding a school that shares his postings more on Twitter is more interested in him than one who does not. Further, if a staff decides to share tweets from multiple top prospects, the recruit who is really No. 1 on a school's wishlist might get the idea that he is not so special.
Teenagers care about social media love to an extreme.
"I feel like it would be more exposure to fan bases and other programs" said Drew Jordan, a four-star defensive end with a long offers list.
"Good (flexing arm emoji). At least they will notice me (crying laughing emoji) (100 emoji)," said Jacob Copeland, a star 2018 receiver.
"Yeah, that would be cool," said Florida QB commitment Jake Allen.
I raised the issue of fans seeing who gets shared by coaches and blowing up that player's timeline. As is usually the case, they didn't seem to care about an issue that many adults seem to care about: the "don't tweet recruits" movement.
Only one player, Alabama QB commitment Mac Jones, raised any issues.
"That's insane," Jones said. "And weird."
Coaches are still somewhat limited in what they can do.
They can subtweet recruits, but they can't tweet directly at them. They can only share, under a policy that's commonly being described as "click, don't type."
For instance, a coach recruiting a high-profile defensive back could post a graphic on Instagram touting the school's freshman All-American defensive backs, with a caption like "Who's next?" He could then retweet something from said defensive back, leaving little doubt about the intended recipient of his comment. But he can't tweet at the player.
Compliance staffs and coaches are already very much on top of this distinction.
Florida's compliance folks:
Today is the day! Coaches and staff can now "like," "favorite," "retweet" and repost social media posts. #ClickDontType— Gators Compliance (@GatorCompliance) August 1, 2016
Houston recruiting staffer Edward Jones II:
This'll be a fun time. Or it won't.