The Changing Art of College Recruiting

With the rise of social media, almost every aspect of social interaction and human communication has been altered to a slight degree. The process of recruiting for college football is no different.

Years ago, coaches would board a plane and fly all around the country to watch potential college recruits play. They would go to the recruits’ homes, sit in their living rooms, and promise their mothers that the school and the coaching staff would take great care of their son.

Now with the popularity of social media, especially within the age group of potential recruits, the entire process of recruiting has been turned on its head. Football coaches who used to only have to be concentrated on the X’s and O’s now have to be adept at the art of emojis and hashtags. Take, for instance, the article we read a few weeks ago about BC football’s head coach Steve Addazio attempting to lure recruits to the school using the #BeADude campaign. Instead of flying around the country and sitting in living rooms, Addazio could interact and promote the school with a few keystrokes. As a result, BC’s recruiting class went from 84th a year before to 17th in the nation due, in a large part, to this social media campaign. But this is not the only way that social media has changed the game.

Following are the top 3 key ways that social media has drastically altered college football recruiting. And college football, whether the NCAA wants to acknowledge it or not, is a business and a huge revenue driver for a lot of Division I football schools. The formula is simple: the better the team is, the more they’ll win, and the more money they’ll make. All of that starts with the players that they can recruit.

1. Early Identification

Typically, the first time a college scout would see a recruit play would be in high school by flying to one of their high school games. However, Twitter has completely altered this process with recruits actively marketing themselves to programs over Twitter. Extremely talented players, no matter how old they are, can put together videos and tag their favorite programs, hoping to get noticed and generate publicity for them early on. For instance, 8th grader Rashad Rochelle of Springfield, Illinois routinely tweets training videos of himself to college programs, hoping to be noticed before he even begins his high school career.

College recruiting offices often comb Twitter and Instagram accounts for this type of content. Eventually, Rashad might catch the interest of a big time college program that might not have been interested otherwise. At the very least, they can keep him on their radar.

2. “Extreme Vetting”

This aspect is a huge benefit for college coaches but can be a double-edged sword for recruits. Every year, there is inevitably a story about a 4 or 5 star recruit who falls off the list of many schools and loses scholarship offers due to their inappropriate use of social media. Whether its foul language or questionable retweets, college programs have access to recruits in ways that they never imagined. They can see who the recruit is 24/7, not just during quick conversations on the phone or in the living room.

Throughout college (at least at BC), students are told to watch what they’re doing on social media so that potential employers won’t lose interest due to inappropriate content. Well, the college recruiting process is much like one long interview and many high schoolers have not had the talk about proper social media usage. Unless they’re careful with what they post, one tweet or retweet can ruin their dream of playing college football. While most colleges don’t go to this extent, check out how in-depth SMU monitors a recruit’s Twitter account.

3. Interaction (with coaches and fans)

Once again, the possibilities of interaction on Twitter and other social media platforms offer both advantages and disadvantages for coaches and prospects throughout the recruiting process.

The advantages are relatively obvious. Campaigns such as the #BeADude campaign help promote a school’s program and increase its visibility in a space that is filled with potential players. In addition, while the NCAA has strict rules about communication between colleges and recruits, fans can relish in the opportunity to interact with the recruits, hoping to win them over. At a recent Under Armour All-American Game, 23% of the recruits surveyed said that fans influenced their recruiting process. While 23% isn’t a drastically high number, it is still a large enough number to concern a college staff because they have no control over this interaction.

Which brings me to the dark side of interaction on social media. As it goes with everything on the Internet, where there is one person to say a good thing, there are one hundred to say something bad. With recruits broadcasting every step of their recruiting process over social media, fans can follow along and say whatever they’d like. When the recruit is being positive about their school, they love him. But if he says anything negative, and God forbid he decommits from a program, adult college football fans hurl some pretty nasty comments at 18 YEAR OLD KIDS! What used to occur in private is now available for all fans to witness. Oklahoma State QB Nick Starkel had this to say about the 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.'”

So while the process has changed due to the rise of social media, the end goals remain the same. Recruit the best players, promote the program, win games (and maybe make some money while you’re at it).

Money Manziel

4 comments

  1. Cool insights! Was especially interested in #2 and how coaching teams can scan social media to ensure their recruits fit with a level of character/values that they want in their players.

  2. Great followup to the recruiting post. It’s always interesting to hear the various ways that social media changes “industries” that you wouldn’t normally expect.

  3. Great post, fits in well with the narrative we’ve heard about athletics going mainly online. I always see an article about a school’s innovative social media team for recruiting and how important of a role they play. I liked your SMU posts, it was very interesting to see just how carefully a school will track a propsects social media presence. I wonder if admissions readers do the same thing for applicants!

    1. That’s a great question. I would assume that for undergraduate admissions, due to the vast number of applications, it would be pretty tough to track every potential student’s social media usage. But for highly selective graduate schools, I could definitely see this being a practice. Besides, it’s a pretty well known fact that employers have started looking at the social media use of job applicants. It’s only a matter of time before this practice trickles down (if it hasn’t already).

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