Krystal Thomas needed a new cell phone plan. She didn’t have much choice.
Every day, the Orlando high school basketball standout was receiving dozens of text messages at 10 cents apiece, whether she viewed them or not. A few came from Thomas's friends, but the majority of messages were courtesy of college coaches on the virtual recruiting trail.
“I was contacted day and night, in and out of school,” said Thomas, who is widely listed among the top 25 female basketball prospects in the country. “It was intrusive that they had access to me 24-7. I could be in bed and get a message from someone I didn't know."
The barrage started more than a year ago, during September of Thomas’s junior year, when coaches typically begin e-mailing and texting and sending instant messages to recruits -- all on top of the letters and phone calls and home visits.
No fewer than 50 coaches from across the country sent electronic messages to Thomas, she estimates. So she sprung for an unlimited plan.
Hundreds of top high school athletes across the country are faced with a similar situation, as communication technology continues to expand and coaches do whatever they can to stay in touch. While the National Collegiate Athletic Association has rules about the number of times a recruiter can phone an athlete, it has yet to regulate virtual communication.
“One of the most common questions we get is, ‘Why don’t you outlaw texting?’ ” said Lynn Holzman, director of membership services for the NCAA and the primary liaison for Division I technology. “The easy answer is to keep communication as it was, but that’s not possible.”
That's why the Division I membership considered two text messaging proposals during the NCAA's annual convention, which continues through Monday: one that would outlaw the virtual communication and the other that would limit it to various times during the week.
The "electronic transmission" ban, brought forth by the Ivy Group, would limit correspondence to a prospective athlete to electronic mail and facsimiles.
“We feel strongly that [text messaging] is far too intrusive,” said Carolyn Campbell-McGovern, senior associate director of the Ivy Group. "We realize that this might not be the best measure, but it's a way to put out all the options."
Myles Brand, president of the NCAA, said he expects some form of regulation but does not support eliminating text messaging outright.
The ban is supported by the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. Several members gave impassioned speeches to the full Division I membership on Saturday, arguing that the status quo is costing them too much money and compelling many to respond to coaches during school hours.
“We feel strongly that regulations need to be put into place," said Michael Piscetelli, outgoing chair of the Division I SAAC and a former Wake Forest University track athlete. The group's first choice would be the ban, he said, but its members would also support the scaled-back proposal.
That plan, sponsored by the Division I Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet’s recruiting subcommittee, specifies that an institution cannot initiate text messages or instant messages (e-mail is OK) with an athlete before September 1 of the athlete's junior year, and that such communication is limited to 4 to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Some said the latter proposal could create compliance headaches, because recruiting monitors are already busy self-reporting phone calls and in-person visits.
On Sunday, the Division I Management Council voted down the time limits proposal; the Ivy Group proposal was sent to membership for comment. The issue will come back to the council in April.
Petrina Long, senior associate athletics director at the University of California at Los Angeles and the chair of the NCAA academics and eligibility subcommittee, said there has not been enough discussion for the division to act as quickly as it would like. A full convention panel session was dedicated to the topic.
“I don’t think the NCAA should allow recruiting to take place while students are in school,” Long said after that session. “We have coaches overwhelmed because they have to get up early on a Saturday to text just to keep up with the Joneses. It’s been abused. We expect adults to behave better.”
Josephine Potuto, vice chairwoman of the NCAA Committee on Infractions and a University of Nebraska law professor, said while neither proposal adequately deals with the issues, there's a "strong feeling that we need to do something soon.”
Division I is the furthest along in its discussions about text messaging, but representatives from Division II and III institutions also attended the panel session. Rob Barnhill, director of athletics at Division III Concordia University, in Wisconsin, said coaches at their level have even more pressure to text students because they are casting their recruiting net wider -- with fewer resources -- than major Division I coaches.
“From a budget standpoint, we’ve had to pay for it,” Barnhill said. "Two years ago, coaches might not have had cell phones, but all do now. We have to pay for all the extra charges."
Long of the NCAA subcommittee said Division I coaches she has polled are mixed about how to handle text messaging. Janie Penfield, an associate athletics director at Brigham Young University, said her coaches say texting makes their jobs easier, because it allows them to spread out their recruiting rather than having to set aside one night to make all the calls.
George Kiefer, head men’s soccer coach at the University of South Florida, said he wouldn't be sad to see texting go away.
“I’d rather pick up the phone," he said. “If the kid needs to be texted or e-mailed every day, I probably don’t want to spend four years with him.”
Added Thomas, the high school basketball player: “It still lacks emotion. It doesn’t show how a coach really feels about you."
Thomas’s mixed emotions show the complexity of the issue. She said that while responding to messages can be a burden, "it helped me come into contact with so many schools and build so many relationships."
In the end, Thomas verbally committed to Duke, whose coach wasn't one of the most frequent texters, she said.
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