“If you want to be a good recruiter in today’s college football, you have to be on [social media]. If you’re not doing it, you’re going to get beat by somebody that’s doing it. You have to be out there. You have to be different. You have to be completely visible and be accessible, and the best way to do that in today’s recruiting world is through social media.”
Iowa State director of scouting John Kuceyeski, who is quoted above, stated what’s obvious to anyone who is a fan of college sports. The way collegiate athletes are recruited has changed significantly over the past 20 or so years. The reason for this evolution is because of the new role that social media plays in the process. Social media tools have brought a plethora of new ways to make recruiting athletes much easier. However, even though it has definitely been the cause of many improvements, social media can also negative factor as well, and has made the process more complicated than ever before.
In the past, coaches and recruiters were at a severe disadvantage when it came to the information they could access on potential recruits. They had little to no access on film on players that they were interested in. There were few forms of communication between coaches and recruits. This all changed when certain websites were created for the sole purpose of being a database for a wide range of statistics and other information on athletes. For example, consider a website like Rivals. This platform ranks an athlete based on many factors, such as how they performed in high school, or how well they tested in recruiting camps. Colleges can see these stats , and factor them into its consideration on whether or not they should pursue that athlete. Other websites, such as Hudl, serve as a place where high school players can put film on the internet so that coaches and schools have easy access to see them play. Tools like this did not exist in the past, and it is now easier for coaches and players to connect in meaningful ways than ever before.
With all the benefits that have come with social media, it has also brought an added element of risk as well. The advent of Twitter exposes recruits to a plethora of coaches and schools. However, these are the not the only groups who can communicate with them; fans have access to their accounts as well. In the past, recruiting was done behind closed doors, but this is no longer the case. Because of this recent development, fans now can be a huge factor to whether or not a player commits, and often times, athletes will de-commit due to negative interactions that they had over social media. For instance, former Oklahoma State QB commit Nick Starkel said this of his recruiting process:
“The whole process was honestly so negative. Fans hop onto social media and take shots at high school kids who are being asked to make the biggest decision of their lives so far. Some fans don’t realize that we’re just kids making a huge decision. It’s very disrespectful when you get tweets saying, ‘I hope you never succeed.'”
In Starkel’s situation, the four-star quarterback walked away from a verbal commitment to the Cowboys with a tweet that thanked State for recruiting him, stating his situation had changed after discussions and prayer with his family. His news was regrettably greeted with vitriol:
These tweets were on the nicer side of things; there were many more tweets that I don’t feel comfortable putting in this blog. These kind of tweets can cause an athlete to not consider going to the school of the fans who said the disparaging remarks. Coaches also have to be wary with how they deal with these kids, as they can be a motivator for de-commiting as well. When Tate Martell, a 5 Star recruit, decided to de-commit from Texas A&M after talking with his family, the A&M wide receivers coach felt the need to chime in.
He later tweeted, “Scared for this next group of kids. There is no accountability and no sense of positivity when it comes to adversity. #selfish #allaboutme.”
Due to this coaches comments, 4 star recruit Mannie Netherly decided he was no longer taking his talents to A&M:
In addition, 5 star recruit Tyjon Lindsey decided to attend another school as well:
On the flip side, athletes also have to be careful of how they present themselves on social media, as coaches and recruiters now have unprecedented access to their personal lives. How these players act on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is constantly being observed, whether they know it or not. Van Malone, defensive coordinator for SMU’s football team, tweeted out a picture that displayed how deep a school can go with how they monitor recruits:
As you can see, they leave no stone left unturned. And if athletes screw up and post something stupid, they can easily get their offer rescinded:
One of the most notable instances of this happening was with a football player named Yuri Wright, who had double digit offers from elite programs, but lost many of them when suspects Twitter posts he wrote emerged.
So in short, while social media has provided great benefits that have improved the recruiting game in college athletics, it has also produced a lot of risk that both athletes and coaches have to navigate through if they want to succeed.