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June 3, 2016 Educational Column



Electronic Correspondence, Social Media and Recruiting (I)

 

Editor's Note: The following educational column was written to provide clarification to the membership following the adoption of NCAA Proposals 2015-36, 2015-48, 2015-49 and 2015-51-FBS/FCS by the NCAA Division I Council. Institutions should note adopted changes to electronic correspondence legislation, except for Proposal 2015-51, will be effective August 1, 2016. For guidance related to electronic correspondence legislation, prior August 1, 2016, refer to the July 28, 2015 educational column.

NCAA Division I member institutions are reminded that an athletics department staff member's personal website or presence on any social media platform (e.g., Twitter, tumblr, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn) may include information related to the institution's athletics program, subject to the same restrictions applicable to an institution's athletics website. Accordingly, a personal website may contain information not created for a recruiting purpose (e.g., game scores, season updates, facility updates, information regarding the coaching staff or current or former student-athletes). However, it is not permissible to include information about or directed toward a specific prospective student-athlete or to post video or audio materials directed toward prospective student-athletes generally, unless such content is produced by the institution's official admissions or student-services office and available to all students or is not created for a recruiting purpose (e.g., interviews with current student-athletes or game highlights targeted to a general audience).

Institutions should note that the legislation governing publicity, general correspondence and electronic correspondence is applicable to an athletics department staff member's personal website, social media profile or "handle." For example, a member institution or athletics department staff member may not comment publicly about a prospective student-athlete, other than to confirm recruitment, before the prospective student-athlete has committed (i.e., signed a National Letter of Intent (NLI), or prior to the NLI initial signing date, for those institutions that do not subscribe to the NLI program, an institution's written offer of admission and/or financial aid, or prior to receipt of the student-athlete's financial deposit in response to the institution's offer of admission) to the institution. The institution is also precluded from commenting in any manner as to the likelihood that a prospective student-athlete committing to or signing with that institution. An athletics department staff member may not publicize (or arrange for the publicity of) a prospective student-athlete's visit to campus, including any camp or clinic held on the institution's campus, before the prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution.

Further, an athletics department staff member may not promote or endorse a prospective student-athlete's team or coach, or an athletics facility that is primarily used by prospective student-athletes. Finally, institutions should note, in all sports, all forms of electronically transmitted correspondence to a prospective student-athlete (e.g., e-mail, instant messages, facsimiles, text messages) are permitted before a prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution, provided the correspondence is sent directly to the prospective student-athlete (or his or her parents or legal guardians) and is private between sender and recipient. After a prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution, the institution may communicate publicly with the prospective student-athlete (e.g., comment on prospective student-athlete's wall post, tweet at a prospective student-athlete's Twitter handle).

The following questions and answers are designed to assist the Division I membership with the application of the legislation governing use of social media.

Electronic Correspondence

Question No. 1: Is it permissible to send correspondence to a prospective student-athlete using email equivalent functions that are available on social media platforms?

Answer: Yes, in all sports, all forms of electronic correspondence are permissible after the first permissible date to send general correspondence to prospective student-athletes. Accordingly, it is permissible for an athletics department staff member to send electronically transmitted correspondence to a prospective student-athlete using a service that permits a private message to be sent between only the sender and recipient in a manner comparable to traditional email (e.g., Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Message, Instagram Direct). Any audio/video clips included in such messaging cannot be created for recruiting purposes or must fit within a specific category of institutionally produced audio/video materials expressly permitted under the recruiting materials legislation that may be provided via email attachment or hyperlink. Electronically transmitted correspondence through other services or applications that may be directed to a specific individual but are publicly viewable to other users of the service or application (e.g., Twitter "@replies" or "mentions," Facebook wall-to-wall feature) are not considered private between sender and recipient.

Question No. 2: May an institutional staff member, in a department other than athletics (e.g., admissions), send electronic correspondence to prospective student-athletes prior to the first permissible date to provide recruiting materials

Answer: Yes. Institutional staff members, in departments other than athletics, may send electronic correspondence that is not private at any time, provided the institution's athletics department is not involved in any way, the correspondence is not created for an athletics recruiting purpose and the department outside athletics is operating in a manner consistent with established policies and procedures regarding social media interaction with all prospective students.

Question No. 3: May a current student-athlete and a prospective student-athlete connect and communicate via a social media platform at any time and publicly communicate with or about the prospective student-athlete?

Answer: Yes, provided the communication does not occur at the direction of a coach or other athletics department staff member and the communication does not relate to the prospective student-athlete's recruitment (e.g., a student-athlete may not publicly comment on a prospective student-athlete's verbal commitment, a student-athlete may not post any information that would publicize a prospective student-athlete's visit to campus).

Question No. 4: May an institution utilize a social media platform's marketing tool to send institutional recruiting advertisements to a specific group of individually selected prospective student-athletes after the first permissible date to provide recruiting materials?

Answer: No. It is not permissible for an institution to publish advertising or promotional material designed to solicit the enrollment of a prospective student-athlete.

Publicity

Question No. 5: May an institutional athletics department staff member connect (e.g., "friend" or "follow") to a prospective student-athlete's social media profile prior to the first permissible date to provide recruiting materials?

Answer: Yes, provided the only communication to the prospective student-athlete is an electronic notification automatically generated by the social media platform (e.g., the platform notifies a prospective student-athlete that he or she has received a friend request) and the institutional athletics department staff member does not include any additional language in either the request or the reply. Once connected, all limitations governing recruiting correspondence, electronic communication and publicity remain in effect until the prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution

Question No. 6: May an institutional athletics department staff member take an action of approval (e.g., "like", "favorite" or republish) on posts originated by a prospective student-athlete's social media profile prior to the first permissible date to provide recruiting materials?

Answer: Yes, provided the action does not include any additional language (e.g., comment on a republished post) as the additional language would constitute impermissible electronic correspondence. Further, an institutional athletics department staff member may not take an action of approval on posts in reference to recruiting or scouting services as the adoption of Proposal 2015-48 did not provide an exception to the recruiting service consultants legislation.

Question No. 7: May an institutional athletics department staff member communicate publicly with or about a prospective student-athlete on a social media platform?

Answer: No. Institutional athletics department staff members may not communicate publicly with a prospective student-athlete until the prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution. Further, an institutional athletics department staff member may not publicly reference the name, nickname or other personally identifiable information (e.g., address) of a prospective student-athlete, other than to confirm recruitment of the prospective student-athlete.

Question No. 8: Before a prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution, may an institutional athletics department staff member publicly comment on the post of a prospective student-athlete on his or her social media platform?

Answer: No. Such as action would constitute a violation of publicity and electronic correspondence legislation, as the comment is more than confirmation of prospective student-athlete's recruitment and not private between sender and recipient.

Question No. 9: Before a prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution, may an institutional athletics department staff member "tag" or "mention" a prospective student-athlete's social media profile in a post or picture generated by the athletics department staff member's social media profile?

Answer: No. Associating a prospective student-athlete's social media profile with a post generated by the athletics department staff member would constitute a violation of publicity and electronic correspondence legislation.

Campus Visits

Question No. 10: During a campus visit, may a prospective student-athlete or his/her parents or legal guardians post pictures of the visit to their individual social media profiles?

Answer: Yes. A prospective student-athlete or his/her parents or legal guardians may post pictures regarding their visit to campus on their social media profiles provided the photo was not taken or posted at the direction of the institution. Further, institutional athletics department staff members may repost, "like", or "favorite" the pictures regardless of when the posts are generated by the prospective student-athlete (e.g., during the campus visit).

Question No. 11: Before a prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution, may an institutional athletics department staff member post a staged or arranged photograph or video of a prospective student-athlete taken during a camp or clinic on the institution's campus to the institution's website or his or her personal website or social media profile?

Answer: No. While, it is permissible to post a photograph or video of a prospective student-athlete taken during the normal course of camp or clinic activities within permissible camp or clinic information and advertisements, an institutional athletics department staff member may not post a photograph or video of a prospective student-athlete (or multiple prospective student-athletes) for other purposes prior to the prospective student-athlete's commitment to the institution.

Endorsement

Question No. 12: May an institutional athletics department staff member connect (e.g., "friend," "follow" or "like") with the profile of a prospective student-athlete's team, coach or recruiting/scouting service on a social media platform?

Answer: Yes, however the institutional athletics department staff member may not comment on athletically related information posted by a prospective student-athlete's team, coach or recruiting or scouting service (e.g., good luck in tonight's game, congratulations on your 400th career victory), as such activity is considered to be an impermissible endorsement.

Question No. 13: May an institutional athletics department staff member "like", "favorite" or repost athletically related information posted by a prospective student-athlete's team, coach or high school facility on a social media platform?

Answer: Yes.

Question No. 14: May an institutional athletics department staff member "like", "favorite" or repost information posted by, or in reference to, a recruiting or scouting service on a social media platform?

Answer: No, such activity is considered to be an impermissible endorsement of the recruiting or scouting service as the adoption of Proposal 2015-48 did not provide an exception to the recruiting service consultants legislation.

Question No. 15: In Facebook, what is the difference between "liking" the profile of recruiting or scouting service and "liking" posts generated by the recruiting or scouting service?

Answer: Unlike personal profile pages, in order to follow the public profile of a business or entity, one must "like" the page. Therefore, it is permissible to "like" an entity's public profile in order to become a follower, however, "liking" specific posts on the entity's profile page is not permissible, as it would be considered an impermissible endorsement of the recruiting or scouting service.

Question No. 16: May an institutional athletics department staff member send a generic good luck or congratulatory message which mentions a specific high school via his or her social media profile (e.g., a tweet or wall post that states, "Good luck, City High School, during the 2015 soccer season!")?

Answer: No. Such messages would constitute an impermissible endorsement of the high school.

Question No. 17: If an institutional athletics department staff member's child is a prospective student-athlete, is it permissible for the staff member to send a good luck or congratulatory message in which the child's high school or team is mentioned (e.g., `Congrats to my daughter, Suzie, and the Central High volleyball team on winning the conference tournament this weekend!")?

Answer: Yes; however, the institutional athletics department staff member is not permitted to comment specifically on any other prospective student-athlete on the team unless the prospective student-athlete has committed to the institution.

Question No. 18: May an institutional athletics department staff member post a good luck or congratulatory message to the social media profile of a prospect's coach, mentioning the coach's name?

Answer: It is permissible for an institutional athletics department staff member to post messages to the social media profile of a prospect's coach that are unrelated to athletics (e.g., Happy birthday or congratulations on the birth of your child.). However, it is not permissible for an athletics department staff member to post messages to the social media profile of a prospect's coach that are athletically related (e.g., good luck in tonight's game, congratulations on your 400th career victory).

Question No. 19: May an institutional athletics department staff member generate a post commenting on a particular facility used by prospective student-athletes (e.g. "Great ballgame at Township High School. One of the best high school baseball fields in the country!")?

Answer: No. While it is permissible for an institutional athletics department staff member to publicly post generic information on a social networking website including locations visited (e.g., visit to a high school or town, attending a contest), comments made about a specific prospective student-athlete, coach, high school or athletics facility that is primarily used by prospective student-athletes are not permissible.

Question No. 20: May an institutional athletics department staff member post a "hashtag" commonly utilized by a prospective student-athlete's coach, high school team or facility (#LionPride) on his or her social media platform?

Answer: No, referencing a hashtag that is commonly used to identify a prospective student-athlete's coach, high school team or facility would constitute an impermissible endorsement.

Question No. 21: May an institutional coaching staff member, who is permissibly employed as a coach at a local sports club, operate the social media profile of the local sports club?

Answer: Yes, provided the coach is acting solely as a local sports club employee and not recruiting on behalf of the member institution. Further, an institutional coaching staff member may not use his or her personal social media profile to promote the local sports club.