Keaton Kristick's cell phone buzzed with regularity throughout his senior football season at St. Mary's High School and into the winter months. The buzz didn't indicate the arrival of traditional phone calls, but text messages — short, electronically transmitted memos that can be sent by college coaches to prospects with virtually no limit.
Twice a week a message arrived from El Paso, Texas. Twice a week from Evanston, Ill. Every other week or so from Boulder, Colo., and Corvallis, Ore.
Once he even got one from Los Angeles.
"After a while I couldn't remember the area codes, so I'd start putting the numbers in my phone (directory) so when I'd see it I'd know who it was," said Kristick, a fullback, of the often anonymous messages. “I've gotten them in school, in English class. I've gotten them as late as 10:15 and I was like ‘I'm not answering it.’ The process started to nag on me a little bit.”
There was a time when regulating communication between college coaches and high school recruits was simple.
By limiting face-to-face contact and restricting telephone calls to one per week, the NCAA was able to put up barriers between the two parties. Technology has worn away some of those walls as text messaging has slipped through the cracks of NCAA legislation. E-mailing or faxing a high school student with a major extracurricular commitment could hardly be considered more immediate than traditional letter writing.
But texting? That's almost unfair. "(E-mail is) a little bit harder because sometimes you won't be on a computer for four or five days," said Hamilton High linebacker Gerald Munns, who has verbally committed to Arizona State. "Your cell phone you have on you pretty much wherever you go. I think cell phones are much more effective."
And college coaches around the country have taken advantage. In August 2004, the NCAA lumped text messaging in with letters and e-mails rather than phone calls because there's supposedly little pressure on a recruit to respond to a text. The belief was it's one thing to not reply to a written communication; it's quite another to tell a coach you're too busy to talk to him voice-to-voice.
The designation as general correspondence essentially gave coaches a green light to text at will. Coaches are typically permitted to place one phone call to a recruit per week after Sept. 1 of the prospect's senior year. But beginning Sept. 1 of an athlete's junior year, coaches can profess their love via e-mail or snail mail — or, by extension, text message — virtually without limit.
As a result, from Tuscaloosa to Tempe, fingers are going numb typing away on tiny keyboards.
"We use it as much as we possibly can because there is no limitation on text messaging," Arizona State recruiting coordinator Tom Nordquist said. "Kids find the text message to be convenient. They live on it with coaches, girlfriends, family. It's right there on their hip pocket."
The phenomenon is not limited to football. St. Mary's basketball star Jerryd Bayless converses with Arizona assistant Josh Pastner every day via text message. Even after he committed to play for the Wildcats in October, the texts kept rolling in.
"It's reassuring. It's good to know they'll still talk to you even though you
committed," Bayless said before adding, "but I haven't signed yet."
Bayless said his conversations with Pastner, a longtime family friend, address topics ranging from basketball to academics to his personal life. Texts sent to football prospects tend to be less personal. Coaches use text messaging to update prospects on how their team did the previous Saturday or when it will next be on television. They may ask the player how he performed the previous Friday (as if they didn't know) or to wish the player luck in the week's big game.
Such messages help middle-aged or over-the-hill coaches develop a rapport with teenagers from a text-crazy generation. "It's not an interference. I think it's cool how text messaging comes into it," said Kristick, who has committed to Oregon State. "You build these relationships with (coaches) and texting is part of that."
Not all recruits' experiences are as rosy as Kristick's. California wide receiver DeLaShaun Dean, an Arizona commit, once had an $800 cellular bill before he switched to a service with unlimited text messaging.
Florida wide receiver Darrell Davis was getting 25 messages a day from recruiters before turning off the text messaging option on his cell phone. Arkansas' Mitch Mustain, the nation's top quarterback prospect, turned off his text messaging option early in the recruiting process.
Additionally, there have been reports of coaches asking players to call them back. Though it doesn't violate NCAA regulations, it's a bit shady because it's an easy way for coaches to get around rules limiting coaches to placing one call per week to a prospect. There is no rule limiting prospects' calls to coaches. Regardless of the potential for abuse, it doesn't seem the NCAA is in any hurry to regulate text messaging. The topic of restricting electronic communication was discussed by the NCAA's Student-Athlete Advisory Committees last summer, but no formal rule changes have been proposed. Nordquist believes that could change in the future.
"It seems like the NCAA wants to regulate a lot of things, and I'm sure it's on their discussion plate so to speak," Nordquist said. "I don't know what the NCAA will do, but until they do something we're going to use it."