Never before have fans had such intimate yet superficial connections with 16 and 17 year old football players. Twitter has given college football fans instantenous game updates (assuming we have enough time to type out tweets in between plays in Urban’s offense), the ability to directly contact players, journalists and coaches, and a constant stream of information to feed your Ohio State addiction.
Not to mention a connection with other Buckeyes - how cool was it when #dealwithit was trending after the Wiscy game in 2011? It's also cool to have 140 character conversations about music with players, like the one Luke posted between himself and Posey. Twitter allows players to directly dissmenate information, rather than relying upon traditional media sources. It also provides high school recruits an alternative to the all-too-prevalent hat ceremony, like this:
Committed to The Ohio State University
— Joey Bosa (@jbbigbear) April 23, 2012
A simple, direct, and humble way to announce your decision.
I love Twitter. Luke captured my sentiments well in his eulogy for OSU players’ twitters (that thankfully wasn’t ultimately needed). There’s also no denying that it has been the most transformational social media tool for sports yet - for better and for worse. I thought it might be a worthwhile endeavor to take a minute or two and reflect on how exactly Twitter has changed recruiting specifically.
While the ability to contact players and recuits can humanize the people we spend hours discussing in article comments and forums, there’s undoubtedly a darkside to so much contact and transparency. One obvious issue is that high school kids can embarrass themselves and the university in front of a large online audience. Will Hill was just the beginning. Remember Yuri Wright? He reportedly lost a scholarship offer due to his tweeting habits.
On the flip side are the problems that arise from fans contacting recruits. I understand the draw. It starts off as a “noble” thing - by simply saying “we want you in the Scarlet and Gray!” or “Urban has a history of developing TEs - look at Hernandez!” you can influence a kid’s decision. Anyone can be a recruiter and support their team.
Yet instead of making a life-altering college decision based upon the input of close family, friends, and coaches, modern recruits have hundreds if not thousands of twitter followers acting as unsolicited advisors. 81,000 fans cramming into the Shoe for the spring game is certainly impressive to a recruit. But it's also impressive when your every thought is retweeted by multiple fanbases every day. Similar is when recruits stage retweet and follow wars between fanbases to get the most new followers or retweets. Imagine how hard it must be to stay humble as a high school student athlete. And we are responsible. This makes really humble recruits all the more impressive. Think about guys like Eli Woodard, Tyvis Powell, and Cam Burrows - these are recruits who have already represented the university well.
It gets really bad when a recruit decides against your school. Fanbases and commentariats do a 180 and decide that a formerly heavily-desired recuit sucks:
I like how grown men talk shit about a 16 year old lol
— Joey Bosa (@jbbigbear) April 24, 2012
Joey may be handling it well here, but seriously, this kind of behavior exemplifies what is wrong with modern recruiting. Joey Bosa, a consensus 4/5-star recruit, didn't have a commitable offer to your school? Please. What's more, Twitter allows anyone access to recruits - effectively giving anyone the ability to "talk shit about a 16 year old" with relative anonymity.
The recruitment of Josh McNeil is just one recent example illustrating how much of a circus recruiting is on Twitter. Let me be clear: I do not think Josh is to blame for this circus. Instead, the somewhat creepy dynamic between superfans (in this case, those willing to continually tweet recruits) and the recruits themselves has become the norm. The thought is that if you're a highschool recruit who isn't getting this type of attention, then you must not be worth your weight in star rankings. However, I've seen this kid get (and then retweet) dozens of messages each day from various fan bases in what amounts to a war to see which fanbase cares more about his commitment. Will this ultimately affect his decision? Who knows.
There’s certainly a gray area between congratulating a recruit, getting information for a blog post, and creepily tweeting high schoolers, but the absolute worst has to be pandering for retweets. Clichéd motivational quotes with a “sure would love a RT or followback!” have to be some of the worst parts of the twitter-era of recruiting. Everyone has heard enough Muhammad Ali quotes to last a lifetime. If that doesn’t dissuade you, think about how tweeting uncommitted recruits is actually an NCAA punishable offense. Thanks to Mark Pantoni (who you should be following if you're not already) for retweeting this:
Student-athletes: please do not tweet at prospects (recruits). Can be a violation...ask me first!
— Kala Andrews (@Kala_Andrews) March 8, 2012
In the end, I think we encourage high school and college athletes to feel entitled. Recruiting is fun and so is twitter, but spamming high schoolers isn't cool. Feel free, however, to RT this article to all your followers.