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What does contact with a coach mean?

An official contact according to the NCAA is “any time a coach has any face-to-face contact with you or your parents off the college’s campus and says more than hello”. The NCAA regulates how, when, and how often a college coach can contact you during the recruiting process. Many Division 1 coaches begin their recruiting far in advance, so they are contacting athletes as early as eighth or ninth grade, as the rules allow. This means that you need the information to know how and when coaches may be contacting you.

Correspondence refers to all of the myriad ways coaches might try and get in touch with you. Basically all contact you have with a coach that is not face-to-face is considered some form of correspondence. The NCAA has three basic categories of correspondence. Note which forms of communication are in each category:

  • Telephone calls: Any real-time exchange of someone’s voice including voice calls, Skype, videoconferencing, Facetime and video chat.
  • Printed recruiting materials: Any printed document sent to a prospect by a coach through the mail. Includes letters (known as general correspondence, media guides, programs, brochures, scholarship and admissions documents, notecards, postcards, etc.
  • Electronic transmissions: All forms of transmitting text and images electronically. This includes text messaging, email, faxes, social media messages, instant messaging (like AIM or Google Chat), iMessage, and Blackberry Messenger.

The NCAA’s correspondence rules are very particular. How, when, and how often a coach contacts a prospect is critical in determining if the requirements of the rules are met. Let’s look at each category of correspondence individually.

Telephone Calls

Telephone calls are the source of a great deal of stress for coaches because their frequency is strictly limited and they start relatively late in the recruiting process. That is one big reason for the large number of violations that occur regarding recruiting phone calls.

Generally, coaches may not call recruits until July 1 between their junior and senior year in high school. After that, coaches may normally call prospects once per week. A few sports have a different starting date:

  • Football: One call is allowed between April 15 and May 31 of a prospect’s junior year in high school. After that, calls may start again September 1 of a prospect’s senior year in high school.
  • Women’s Basketball: Women’s basketball coaches may first call a prospect one time during April of her junior year in high school, once during May of the junior year, twice during June, three times during July, then once a week starting August 1 before a prospect’s senior year in high school.
  • Men’s Basketball: Men’s basketball coaches may start calling prospects beginning June 15 following their sophomore year in high school, with no limit afterwards on how often.

While men’s basketball is the only sport with unlimited phone calls after the starting date, other sports have periods of unlimited phone calls as well:

  • Contact Periods: For sports with a recruiting calendar, phone calls are unlimited during a contact period. For some sports, like track and field, most of the year is a contact period so coaches will be able to make unlimited calls most of the time. This exception does not include sports without a defined recruiting calendar, which includes sports like golf, tennis, and soccer.
  • Official Visits: Starting five days before an official visit, coaches may call the prospect unlimited times through the end of the official visit (when the prospect reaches home).
  • Off-Campus Contact: Coaches are permitted unlimited calls on the day they have face-to-face contact with a prospect.
  • Signing Day: Beginning on Signing Day and running through the two days following Signing Day, coaches may make unlimited calls to senior prospects. In football this exception runs from two days prior to Signing Day through the day after Signing Day.

The final thing to remember about phone calls regards voicemails and dropped calls. If a coach leaves a message that does not include recruiting discussion, it does not count as a phone call and the coach may call again that week. Same if the coach calls and is unable to reach the prospect or his or her parents. If a call from a coach is dropped, the coach may call back immediately once they are able again. If the coach does not call back immediately, the prospect will need to call back or wait until the coach can call again.

Printed Recruiting Materials

Printed recruiting materials are strictly regulated based on the type of mailing sent. In most sports, printed materials can be sent starting September 1 of a prospect’s junior year in high school. For men’s basketball, the start date is June 15 following sophomore year in high school.

The list of printed recruiting materials is long and complicated, but it includes most things a coach would want to mail. The biggest headache is that it limits the size, color, and design of some mailings. It is easier to list what coaches may not send to prospects in the mail:

  • Media guides: Prospects may not receive printed media guides. Media guides may only be sent as an email attachment or link in an email.
  • Color attachments: Pages included in letters may generally not be color. The most common item included is something printed off a school’s athletics website. These included pages must normally be in black and white.
  • Game Programs: Schools may still provide programs to prospects when they attend games, however programs may not be mailed to prospects.
  • Posters and Giveaways: Prospects who come on visits and attend games may receive giveaways like posters, schedule cards, trading cards, etc. But these items may not be set aside and mailed to prospects.

Electronic Transmissions

Electronic transmissions include may things. And with the pace of change in technology, new types are being invented all the time. Right now, the NCAA classifies electronic transmissions by asking two questions, one easy to answer, the other harder.

1. Is it private?
2. Does it look and act like email?

If something is not private, it is not permitted due to the NCAA’s rules against a school publicizing their recruiting efforts. This includes most public social media interaction, like Twitter replies and Facebook wall posts.

Whether something is like email is a tougher question. Email has two defining characteristics that seem to drive NCAA decision making:

1. It is goes to an inbox where it can be read at any time; and
2. It goes somewhere other than just a phone.

Anything that is not classified as email is prohibited. The most popular means of communication this prohibits are text messaging and instant messaging (like AIM or Google Chat). Twitter direct messages are prohibited, since they are like short emails. In addition, if you receive notifications via text message (like every time you receive a Twitter DM) then coaches are not supposed to send them, as a way to get around the text message ban.

Facebook messages are a special case because they can change based on whether a user is logged in, not just what the user’s settings are. If you are not logged in, messages are sent to an inbox. If you are logged in, many are received as instant messages. Plus you can set up text alerts for any of these events. The NCAA’s stance has been to allow Facebook messages, although the situation could change soon.

For men’s basketball prospects, coaches may use any form of electronic transmission so long as it is private after June 15 following a prospect’s sophomore year. This includes instant messaging, text message, email, or private messages on Twitter or Facebook.

Future Changes

Going forward, the NCAA is likely to deregulate this area more and more. Men’s basketball is the best example, where all recruiting correspondence is allowed after June 15 following a prospect’s sophomore year in college. In the next couple of years, other sports are likely to follow suit. Those changes are not in place yet, but prospects should prepare themselves because they could come any day. That means making sure you have a system in place for establishing how you want coaches to contact you and how often you can talk to them.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!