Return to Bylaw Blog

How the NCAA Banned Text Messages

As the fight over recruiting communication regulations moves on to the next phase, it is instructive to look back at how and why text messages were banned back in 2007. The story shows how every group involved has changed their mind about text messages. And how with coaches the biggest problem is not what the recruiting rules are, but that the NCAA wants to change them.

Proposal 2006–40 was submitted by the Ivy League in 2006–07. But the biggest supporters of a text message ban were student-athletes:

The Student-Athlete Advisory Council had complained that text messaging was too costly and so intrusive that it sometimes bordered on harassment. Some of those stories prompted the board to ignore the coaches’ plea and vote anyway.

“The board was swayed very much by what the student-athletes had to say,” [NCAA vice president David] Berst said. “We heard anecdotal stories of someone waking up and having 52 text messages.”

The proposal was forwarded to the membership where it received 11 comments supporting a ban and 17 opposing the proposal. On top of a general membership mood against a total ban, the coaches associations and NCAA committees of the three biggest sports (football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball) all opposed Proposal 2006–40.

And it was not just coaches who were against the ban. The Academics/Eligibility/Compliance Cabinet had this to say:

The cabinet unanimously opposes Proposal No. 2006–40. Limiting the use of electronic communication to electronic mail and facsimiles eliminates other very efficient and cost effective methods of communicating with prospective student-athletes (e.g., text messaging, instant messenger). Although a certain level of intrusion exists in permitting these other forms of communication, a better approach is to adopt reasonable restrictions that will promote efficiency in the recruiting process and control the intrusion factor. The WBCA has expressed strong opposition to the proposal.

Despite the membership opposition, the Management Council sided with the athletes and passed the rule 32–17, followed by the Board of Directors approving as well, 13–3.

In the meantime, coaches associations had been working on alternatives. Basketball coaches tended to favor regulating text messages like phone calls, to one per week. Football coaches went with the calendar approach, which at the time was unique to football in many regulations. Text messages would be permitted during certain periods, just like football coaches could make unlimited phone calls during contact periods (a rule expanded to many other sports today). This proposal was worked on by both college and high school coaches for six months, a rare case of coaches being on the ball when it comes to legislation.

After the Board of Directors passed the rule, it was overridden and sent back for reconsideration in August 2007 where the board declined to take action. That put the ban up for an override vote at the 2008 NCAA Convention. But no only was the ban upheld by a huge margin (65–240), but the vote almost did not happen:

Indeed the interest to overturn the ban had such little support from those not in the coaching ranks it almost didn’t even come up for discussion. On the first go-around during the legislative forum, Clemson University president James Barker, the chair of the Division I Board of Directors, couldn’t even muster a vote. Calling for a motion to consider the override, Barker was met with a bunch of people glued to their chairs. One gentleman made a move toward a microphone but sheepishly shook his head when Barker asked if he was going to make a motion.

Unable to get the text messaging vote in front of the delegates, Barker moved on. It wasn’t until other issues were considered and voted on that a representative from the University of Texas made a motion to consider the text messaging ban.

Part of the reason the override vote was barely moved for much less a serious contest was it occurred under the old override rules where it took just 30 override requests to start the process. The text message ban got 34 requests, and in what appears to be a good rule of thumb in overrides, essentially doubled that for the final vote, far below the 5/8 majority needed to overturn the ban.

So at the time, athletes were in favor of the ban while coaches were ambivalent and not as well organized. Now as the ban is being reconsidered, student-athletes have changed or at least moderated their position:

“In the sport of football, allowing text-messaging would open up whole new venues for coaches to contact recruits. A lot of communication comes through text messages now. It could be a good thing,” [Georgia football player Christian] Conley said. “But we want to keep the student-athlete’s best interests in mind. There should be a little bit of breathing room so they’re not badgered all the time. It has the potential to be overwhelming.”

Conley acknowledged that coaches probably won’t bombard recruits with texts if they believe it could backfire, but said there’s no real way to regulate that. For their part, he believes some recruits will be intimidated enough by coaches that they won’t be able to say “stop.”

“It will be a risk we take,” he said.

This despite the fact that we already know what will happen with text messages, at least at the start, because it happened before:

Coaches love loopholes. As competitive as recruiting is, once one coach found the loophole, the rest of the industry poured through. For instance, Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen estimates that he sends 50 to 100 texts on a typical day.

So why did coaches flip? More than anything, coaches want predictability in recruiting. Same goes for recruiting rules. Coaching staffs have a recruiting process, their pet tricks and special moves for landing a recruit. More regulation means potentially outlawing their favored recruiting practice. Less regulation means potentially making those tricks less effective, forcing coaches to come up with new ones.

When text messages were not banned, coaches did not want to lose them. Now that text messages are banned, coaches do not want to relearn how to use them in the recruiting process. This despite that all the opposition to the ban is even more valid and more logical than today. Blackberries, Treos and Sidekicks have been replaced with iPhones and Android devices that allow for even more control of different types of communication. Monitoring is even harder. And more prospects do not face massive bills because of unlimited text plans or apps that do not use text messages to communicate.

History tells us that despite reaching 75 override requests, it is unlikely that the text message ban and phone call limitations will survive. Come June 15, coaches and athletes are most likely going to have to start the process of figuring it out all over again, like they did in 2008.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!