Social Media has Flipped College Recruiting on its Head

In the modern age of college football recruiting, hashtags and emojis have become as important as tradition or winning records. Social media outlets like Twitter have enabled coaches and fans to be able to contact high school recruits all around the nation. Twitter hashtags and colorful emojis are ways for coaches and fans to create excitement for their program. But the dark side of social media rears its ugly head far too often.

Senior recruiting coordinator for ESPN Jeremy Crabtree wrote a piece on new Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell’s recruiting approach since being hired to lead the Cyclones out of mediocrity in the Big 12 conference.

Building a winning college football program all starts with recruiting. There is just no way to win if you cannot recruit with the best, and the elite coaches in the nation are some of the most active on social media.

“I never thought I would have a meeting to talk about hashtags and emojis, let alone have it be a focus in our first staff meeting. … but stuff like that creates excitement around your program,” said Campbell. “We wanted to make sure we were generating some excitement that was tied with the new hire and the new coaches, and hopefully create momentum going forward on the recruiting trail.”

The rebrand started with strict Twitter guidelines regarding hashtags and emojis, and funny as that sounds. Director of Scouting John Kuceyeski directed coaches to use the hashtag #SoundTheSirens when tweeting anything recruiting related, with a particular #SoundTheSirens tag when a high school player commits to the team.

“Both hashtags — and especially the twister emojis — are hits with fans and prospects, and have helped generate the positive recruiting momentum Campbell wanted for his new program,” wrote Crabtree on Iowa State’s social media transformation. “But in the larger picture, Iowa State’s hashtag and emoji success symbolizes a social media revolution that has forever changed the way football coaches recruit.”

It truly is amazing how much social media has been able to alter the landscape of college football recruiting. “I think, especially in 2016 and beyond, that is going to be a huge part of how you recruit a kid,” said Scout National Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman. “I’ve had kids straight-up tell me a school made a top five because they added more followers. If you aren’t doing that, you are going to find yourself on the outside looking in. You are going to get lapped.”

1-in-4 recruits surveyed in the Under Armour All-American Game admitted social media had influenced their recruiting process. “If recruits tell you that it doesn’t play some sort of role, they’re probably lying,” claimed Lousiana State University (LSU) defender Kristian Fulton (who was uncommitted at the time). It may be embarrassing to admit, but more often than not these high school athletes are ready to soak up all of the attention they can get on social media.

Social media has the power to turn a program around, but there is a dark side to recruiting that comes up on a daily basis. Because recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program, fans tend to go overboard with their social media responses. Trolls can anonymously spread hate to a recruit with virtually no chance of being caught. A good amount of fans put their name and picture on their Twitter profiles but still choose to message recruits.

Messaging a recruit on social media, even if it is as innocent as “congratulations on your scholarship offer,” is a NCAA recruiting violation. The only problem is there is no concrete way of enforcing the millions of tweets that are sent out by college football fans every day.

It is a violation for a reason, and fans need to step back and realize how they may be impacting these young athlete’s lives. For one, it is and will always be creepy to tweet at 17 and 18-year-old kids who you have never met. Leave that to the media professionals who get paid to interview these high schoolers. It is also important to realize these kids are currently making by far the biggest decision of their lives and have never received this sort of national public attention before. Let them figure out what is best for them and their families, even if it may not be what you may think is best for your favorite football team.

Social media is bringing out the best and the worst in college football recruiting. Fans can get exclusive looks into official visits and player’s lives like never before but is it worth it? We don’t want high school aged kids being cyberbullied or influenced via fans, but the fact of the matter is social media is here to stay. Instead, we need to educate fans on how damaging — not to mention illegal — their messages are.

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