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Preparing for Unlimited Phone Calls

It has become clear that at least in football, coaches are not ready for unlimited phone calls and text messages. They either foresee a world where they have to call recruits 24/7 or a world where they are hiring staff members left and right to call recruits 24/7. And for coaches who were following the rules and calling only seniors and only call them once a week and not going crazy during contact periods, they still may end up spending more time on the phone.

But what about the recruits? Schools and conferences, particularly the Big Ten, have cited an increased intrusion into prospects’ lives. 125 schools with 14 coaches (or more) calling at all hours of the day quickly adds up to a continuously ringing phone. On the other hand, supporters of deregulation point to the need for athletes to take control of their recruiting as well as the increased ability of this generation of recruits to handle a torrent of incoming information, communication, and notifications.

But “recruits can just turn their ringers off” is not an answer. If the recruiting process causes a recruit to have to shut out the whole world, then it has intruded too far into the prospect’s life. Athletes should not miss phone calls and text messages from friends and family because coaches will not leave them alone.

Luckily, technology has offered us solutions. There are a number of free and paid software programs that give prospects a greater ability to control recruiting communication. Google Voice is the most prominent, but there are others, like Calling Vault (a Google Voice competitor focused on blocking numbers), Burner (an iPhone app that lets prospects generate disposable phone numbers, and SayWhat (an Android app that enhances phone contact with availability checks and subject lines).

If unlimited phone calls are still the rule come June 15, every prospect in the country should sign up for Google Voice. It offers free text messaging and phone calls, visual voicemail and transcripts, and a variety of ways to control when or what phones ring based on who is calling. And prospects without cell phones or unlimited texting plans would have access to text messaging services.

But it is not a safe assumption that prospects can or will take these steps to filter recruiting communication. Just because a kid knows their way around Facebook does not mean they know how to manage the settings for Google Voice, which requires also learning the Google+ social network. Google Voice’s preferences are not substantially easier to understand than the professional-grade voice-over-IP system that powers my home office phone.

The need for technological solutions also means that prospects who have more money or whose families are more sophisticated will be better able to control recruiting. Being better off financially has always helped prospects in recruiting, but traditionally it has meant the prospect can be more proactive. With unlimited communication, being able to afford a $200 smartphone and $50–75/month voice and data plan may decide which families can handle the recruiting process and which are overwhelmed.

This would be an excellent place for the NCAA to step in, by spreading the word about ways to handle communication (especially free ways) in the absence of NCAA limits. Through outreach programs, its certification of summer events in basketball, and the Eligibility Center, the NCAA can at least make sure that most if not all prospects are made aware of these services. Going one step further and finding ways to explain how to use tools like Google Voice to control recruiting would be another useful step.

Of course, the best thing that could happen would be for coaches to not go overboard with their new found freedom. And the experience of men’s basketball, where both the coaches and the prospects seem to have found a workable model, suggests that there is hope for football. But with coaches already gearing up to try and stretch an envelope that is offering no resistance anymore, prospects should get ready to take matters into their own hands.

Amherst College Athletic Recruiting.

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