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You've Got (Too Much) Mail
GEORGE DOHRMANN
August 03, 2009
In the age of Facebook, Twitter and texting, top prospect Roberto Nelson was still courted through thousands of postal deliveries from college coaches. Is the annual flood of letters effective—or a waste of paper?
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August 03, 2009

You've Got (too Much) Mail

In the age of Facebook, Twitter and texting, top prospect Roberto Nelson was still courted through thousands of postal deliveries from college coaches. Is the annual flood of letters effective—or a waste of paper?

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Most striking about the correspondence Nelson received was not the volume, not even Kentucky's whopping total of 295 mailings, but how little of it was personalized. Of the 2,161 pieces of mail that arrived on Nelson's doorstep, only 200—or 9.3%—featured writing tailored specifically for him. Everything else was a form letter, a media guide, a press release or, most often, a photocopy of a page from a media guide.

SI deemed correspondence to be personalized if a coach wrote anything unique on it. Washington (86 mailings) was the only school to personalize every piece of correspondence it sent Nelson, but rarely did the Huskies' coaches pen more then a few words.

All of Kentucky's dispatches were impersonal, as were those from Clemson (210), Tennessee (196), Oregon (93), Wisconsin (53), Kansas State (50), California (44), Florida (42), Kansas (41) and 27 other schools. In total, only 18 schools sent him any personalized mail.

SI had to search long and hard to find nuggets of original work. North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase sent photocopies of the syndicated sports cartoon In the Bleachers. In one panel a coach explains the physics of a slam under the title "Introductory Dunk," to which Haase added his own punch line, written in Carolina-blue ink: "Roberto—Are you ready for 'Advanced Dunking?'" On another cartoon showing "a 7-footer" who actually had seven feet, Haase added, "Roberto—This guy can really tap dance!"

The closest any school came to truly personal correspondence were a few letters from Ohio State. The Buckeyes' coaches sent cards following up on phone conversations they had initiated with Nelson or his father, Bruce, who grew up in Columbus.

Roberto,

Your family knows as well as anyone how passionate Columbus is about the Buckeyes. You and your teammates are the show in town. Being a Buckeye is a very special honor.

Go Bucks,

Coach [John] Groce

P.S. Great job in summer school—B in Algebra!

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