#Winning: What You Need to Know About Online Recruiting for College Sports

Picture this: You're a college coach. Your job is to bring in the best student-athletes to the program — the elite players who can give your team a winning edge.

On your desk are hundreds of letters, DVDs, and newspaper articles from student-athletes across the country, all of them begging you for the opportunity to play for your team. And those are just the physical materials — you also have hundreds, if not thousands, of emails and voicemails from students pleading for a chance to be a part of your program.

How do you even begin to sort out the good athletes from the bad? This is the question that college coaches across the country — in every association, league, and division — are faced with.

The NCAA has put in place many restrictions on how colleges recruit student-athletes, and more and more coaches have turned to NCAA-approved online recruiting services to help them in their searches. This strategy allows them to eliminate the clutter associated with physical recruitment materials and to get to know all of the contenders more efficiently.

The Benefits of Online Recruiting

Online recruiting services allow student-athletes to create profiles, which increase their visibility to the coaches who may be considering them. Coaches in turn, may search for student-athletes by criteria based on their sports, positions, heights, weights, and even academic records (including high school transcripts, GPAs, and scores on exams like the SAT and ACT).

It sounds like a win-win situation for both student-athletes and coaches, right?

The Struggle for Attention

Hold on to your seat, because here's where the controversy begins. While wins and losses happen on the field or the track or the court, recruiting battles happen over social media.

More and more, coaches are having conversations with potential recruits through Twitter and Facebook. These sites have allowed coaches to connect one-on-one with student-athletes — but everyone involved must also be careful when engaging in these conversations to ensure compliance with recruiting rules.

The NCAA strictly regulates when and how college officials can interact with student-athletes for recruiting purposes. Many programs have faced penalties and sanctions for violating these regulations. Still, despite codified regulations, some coaches and student-athletes remain confused by the definition of “recruiting.” This could be a costly mistake, especially for student-athletes, and it may lead to penalties like the loss of a scholarship or ineligibility to play college sports.

The Rules

The NCAA defines recruiting as “any solicitation of prospective student-athletes or their parents by an institutional staff member or by a representative of the institution’s athletics interests for the purpose of securing a prospective student-athlete’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.” According to Article 13 of the NCAA Bylaws on Recruiting Rules, college programs are restricted to contacting student-athletes exclusively during certain parts of a calendar year. The NCAA created these rules to control intrusions into the lives of student-athletes. The four acceptable time periods are as follows, and you may find specific calendar dates on a sport-by-sport basis on the NCAA’s site:

Contact Period

A coach can have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, watch student-athletes compete, visit their high schools, and write or telephone student-athletes or their parents.

Evaluation Period

Coaches can visit student-athletes at their high schools to watch them play, but may not have face-to-face contact with them or their parents off their respective college campuses.

Quiet Period

College coaches may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools, but they are allowed to write or call college-bound student-athletes or their parents.

Dead Period

Coaches can write and call student-athletes or their parents during a dead period.

During any recruitment period, coaches may not post public messages on student-athletes’ Facebook profiles or instant message them. They may, however, send private Facebook messages. The rules are similar on Twitter: Coaches are not allowed to mention student-athletes publicly, but they are allowed to send them direct messages.

The rules are important: Understanding and following them will help you create a productive recruiting experience; not knowing them may put your college career in jeopardy.

Follow these links to learn more about student athletes in college, and find advice from Chris Peters, founder of the website Student-Athletes.