Posted: Wednesday July 26, 2006 1:07PM; Updated: Wednesday July 26, 2006 5:51PM
Old Rules, New World
How does the NCAA rulebook apply to MySpace.com comments such as those left on Patrick Patterson's page by Kentucky fans? Awkwardly and indirectly. The commenters are considered, at least in Kentucky's eyes, to be "representatives of an institution's athletic interests" and the comments themselves are improper "written communication" with a recruit.
Crissy Schluep, a spokesperson for the NCAA, explained that "there are currently no references in the NCAA bylaws that directly talk about personal Web pages such as MySpace. That said, it is up to each individual college and university to self-report a violation if they feel that a fan is considered under this definition [as a representative of an institution's athletic interests]."
Kentucky decided that any of the fans who posted pro-Wildcats comments were involving themselves in the recruiting process and therefore could be considered boosters. That's why the school self-reported the violations last week.
Schluep said the following NCAA bylaws were applicable, although "it is important to note that when these bylaws were voted on by the NCAA member colleges and universities, this type of technology [meaning personal Web sites] was not used as a common method of recruiting":
• 13.01.4: Recruiting by Representatives of Athletics Interests
Representatives of an institution's athletics interests (as defined in Bylaw 13.02.13) are prohibited from making in-person, on- or off-campus recruiting contacts, or written or telephonic communications with a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete's relatives or legal guardians. Specific examples of the exceptions to application of this regulation are set forth in Bylaw 22.214.171.124.
• 13.02.13: Representative of Athletics Interests
A "representative of the institution's athletics interests" is an individual, independent agency, corporate entity (e.g., apparel or equipment manufacturer) or other organization who is known (or who should have been known) by a member of the institution's executive or athletics administration to [non-applicable sections omitted]:
(c) Be assisting or to have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes;
(e) Have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution's athletics program.
• 126.96.36.199: General Rule
All in-person, on- and off-campus recruiting contacts with a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete's relatives or legal guardian(s) shall be made only by authorized institutional staff members. Such contact, as well as correspondence and telephone calls, by representatives of an institution's athletics interests is prohibited except as otherwise permitted in this section.
Violations of this bylaw involving individuals other than a representative of an institution's athletics interests shall be considered institutional violations per Constitution 2.8.1; however, such violations shall not affect the prospective student-athlete's eligibility.
Earlier this summer, a handful of Kentucky fans tracked down the MySpace.com page of Patrick Patterson, a coveted basketball recruit from Huntington, W.Va., who calls himself the "King of DubV" on the site. He's an undecided, 6-foot-8 forward who is rated No. 16 overall in the class of 2007 by Scout.com and is being targeted by the Wildcats and nearly every other national powerhouse.
And so those UK supporters, in their overzealousness, posted comments on Patterson's page, ranging from innocuous ("I'd sure like to see you in blue and white! GO CATS!"), to promotional (a photo of UK coach Tubby Smith coaching troops in Kuwait) to outright sexually suggestive (a pic of lips with the message, "Hey there sexy ... you need to make a trip down to Lexington soon so we can play a little one on one").
In the last poster's defense, Patterson did have a somewhat suggestive message of his own, which read, "I'm black and 6'8 and 217 lbs. So ladies, y'all know what that means" -- but in making that statement, he didn't break any NCAA rules. The UK fans who posted, however, may have -- and last week the school self-reported secondary violations for unacceptable written contact with recruits by "representatives of the institution's athletic interests" (as reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader).
MySpace, to the world at large, is a social networking site with 94 million users (in the first week in July it was the U.S.' No. 1 Internet destination, accounting for 4.46 percent of all Web visits). But in the college basketball world -- where the NCAA's archaic rules fail to effectively address modern technology -- MySpace is one big recruiting violation waiting to happen.
The NCAA's Recruiting Subcommittee plans to examine Internet issues at its meeting in September, but can it really extend its umbrella to interaction with high schoolers on MySpace? As one Division I athletic department official told SI.com this week, "You'd have to have someone on staff 24/7 to monitor it the right way -- and the cost of that would be unbelievable." Another said, "How in the world would that be policed?"
Putting restraints on the 21st-century text-messaging craze, which is currently unrestricted between coaches and recruits, is feasible; the NCAA attempting to regulate MySpace, however, would be futile. Accountability is difficult; how can you prove the true identity of a fan with a screen name like "WildcatBlue," or be sure he's not, say, a saboteur from elsewhere in the SEC? And the sheer enormity of the site -- 94 million users -- makes keeping tabs on all new messages nearly impossible.
And yet as of now, if the interpretation reached by UK (with counseling from the SEC compliance office) holds, any recruiting-oriented post made by a fan on a prospective player's MySpace page could equate to unacceptable contact by a booster. "A booster doesn't have to be someone who donates money," said Kentucky compliance director Sandy Bell. "As soon as they involve themselves in recruiting, we have to consider them a booster."
By that reasoning, far more institutions than Kentucky have potentially been put in minor trouble by their own fans, including powerhouses such as North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Arizona and Florida. It seems absurd that MySpace comments could cause such a commotion, but since UK set the initial standard, SI.com has discovered the following MySpace activity that, until the NCAA steps up and offers a clarification, could be construed as violations:
North Carolina and UCLA "fans" posted pleas this year on the MySpace page of recruit Kevin Love, who is ranked No. 2 overall in the class of 2007. Love committed to the Bruins on Tuesday (and, shockingly, did not mention message-board posters as his reason for doing so). Here's an unedited sampling of a few of the comments:
July 12, 2006, from "Steve_O," allegedly a UCLA student: "dude u have to come to ucla and now that mayo is gonna go to $C all the more reason to show him up for his one year in south central!"
June 25, 2006, from "Toby," allegedly a UNC fan: "K-LOVE Or should I say 200 -2008 NCAA Basketball Champion UNC TARHEEL!!! Thats right you WILL be a Champion if you come on down to N.C. to join the Famous Tarheel Family. I noticed on scout.com you are going to Ucla to visit w/ fam and maybe to camp for a day. Dont get exicted because , UNC is Much better. Anyway thanks for the add. GO HEELS!!"