They have never been the quickest to adjust to new thinking the NCAA. At the NACDA/CoSIDA Convention in Dallas in June, school PR heads were still fitting and hawing over “internet media” and who and how they should credential for games bug and small. Instead of aggressively embracing, there was still a wide gap as to how to best make use of the digital space for news and how to best story tell the value of online sites when many were still caught in the old school realm of “traditional print,” a term that is probably walking towards the Smithsonian these days.
However give the NCAA credit in the last few months for issuing new guidelines and finding best practices for schools, yes institutes of higher learning that should be embracing and show the rest of us the curve instead of falling behind it, instead of waiting any longer. Embrace change and lead vs. question and fall behind is a smart move.
The latest of those moves came this past week when the NCAA opened up new regulations not for media, but for coaches, in regards to recruiting and interaction of various forms with all sorts of folks, most notably recruits for schools big and small.
The thought, rightly so, was that social media interaction has become an integral part of the recruiting process and was too big to control. The NCAA could no longer effectively enforce its old rules, which prohibited coaches and schools from acknowledging anything prospects posted on social media. Coaches could direct message recruits, but could not show interest publicly. On Monday, a new rule now said “An athletics department staff member may take actions [e.g. ‘like,’ ‘favorite,’ ‘tag,’ etc.] on social media platforms that indicate approval of content on social media platforms.” Coaches or staff members can also share articles about prospects as long as they do not “tag” or mention the player’s name. They also can retweet a player’s post, then address the post in a separate tweet, again without mentioning the prospect’s name. Still they cannot tweet directly to prospects or retweet a direct comment, but those elite recruiters were all in within minutes of the rile change.
The leader of the pack again in innovation was Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh retweeted posts from more than 20 prospects that discussed committing to the Wolverines or sharing news that they had received an offer from UM. Without a limit on historical posts, the coach went back almost six months (or rather someone on his staff did) to find and engage with older posts around recruits. He was not alone in the push of course, as every passing day sees more and more tech savvy coaches…many of whom with staff now dedicated to just social media (and not just at the big schools but at the Ivies and below as well) getting in on the interaction.
For coaches not in tune with the social site, or not well versed in the rules, this will open a whole can of worms that is fraught with issues; inadvertently liking something or retweeting, making offhanded comments or even worse, trying to make light of a competitive recruiting race. Odds are that the bigger budget schools can avoid the issues through hyper focused staffers, but there will be issues, including for recruits who already may be over-engaged in social already. The balance will be interesting to see…and what will happen when a coach feed gets hacked?
All of this of course is evolutionary, and can actually create new streams of engagement not just for recruiting but for brands looking to engage with coaches, and potentially students or parents, in the digital space. The tech savvy coach now becomes cool and more mainstream; the young disruptor can help sway a decision with a well-placed and constructed post, and a battle for talent which was already complicated gets a bit more involved.
Still for the NCAA this will be a good test to see how progressive or successful digital engagement can be. Streaming is becoming the new norm as evidenced by deals with Campus Insiders and the Pac 12, and the new normal is not to shun tech engagement but to better understand and embrace it. Are the boundaries going to be pushed? Of course, that’s what disruptors do. Is it progressive and interesting to watch, for sure.