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Coaches balk at ban on text-message recruiting

Trying to keep up with technology may get a little harder for Division I coaches this summer.

The NCAA's Board of Directors will be voting on legislation at its Thursday meeting to ban some electronically transmitted correspondence, including text messages, between coaches and recruits. The ban, which would exempt e-mails and faxes, would take effect in August.

Text messaging currently has no limits under NCAA rules, unlike phone calls and in-person visits, which are strictly regulated by the college sports governing body. The idea is to keep recruiting fair for the haves and have-nots and to keep the process as unintrusive as possible for the high school athlete.

But is text messaging intrusive?

For many coaches, including those in the Big 4, it's the best way to keep in contact with their recruits.

"I would be disappointed if they banned it," Niagara men's basketball coach Joe Mihalich said. "I think it's great. . . . It's just another way to communicate and one that I think is less intrusive than a phone call."

In the eyes of many coaches, text messaging is not just another way to communicate; it is the way of communication for current college and high school students.

"E-mail is almost outdated when you talk about high school students. They pretty much all text message," Canisius women's basketball coach Terry Zeh said. "Text messaging gives you access to the player where they are and the player can talk when they want to. Text messaging is even how we communicate with our current student-athletes on campus."

But some student-athletes feel that texting is intrusive and costly. The national Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee is in favor of banning text messages as a recruiting tool, citing inappropriate use by coaches and the fact that text messages are billed to the receiver, adding an out-of-pocket expense to the high school athlete.

"For the most part, student-athletes don't like it," said Leigh Launhardt, a volleyball player at Canisius and an executive officer of the school's Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. "You have less control with the coaches. I know my [cell phone] plan charges me for each text message I receive. If you're a top recruit, you're going to pay a lot of money. . . . I also feel it's an intrusion. With text messaging, you feel like you have to respond right away or it's rude. With e-mail, you can wait a bit."

Other student-athletes take a more moderate approach, saying that restrictions on text messaging would be better than banning the practice altogether.

"When I was being recruited it wasn't a big issue because my coach wasn't very phone savvy," said Ashley Turner, a softball player and vice president of the University at Buffalo Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. "But a lot of student-athletes I know feel it can be a little overbearing. It can also seem a bit impersonal. I think it would be better to call. I don't know if we need a ban but we probably should set some limits, like we do with phone calls."

Phone calls are strictly limited by the NCAA. Coaches have restrictions as to when and how often they can call a recruit. Text messaging allows coaches another way to develop a relationship with athletes -- one that hopefully will result in finding the right fit for both the student and the team.

"Coaches can sometimes get carried away trying to keep up with the Joneses," said Jim Kwitchoff, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for UB's men's basketball team. "It can get out of control from a prospect's point of view, and I understand the NCAA's point of view . . . but the NCAA would take away a form of communication without compensating by giving us more phone calls.

"The NCAA is pushing for retention of players -- they want student-athletes to come to your school and stay for four years and graduate. By taking away text messaging you're limiting the relationship building that goes on between a recruit and a coach. The more we get to know a kid, the better able we are to have the right kid come here and stay here."

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Male practice players

When controversy strikes -- do a survey.

That's what the NCAA did after Division III tabled a proposal to severely limit the use of male practice players on women's intercollegiate teams earlier this year. The idea was severely criticized by coaches of women's teams and criticized in the media.

The NCAA then conducted a study in all three divisions and found that the use of male practice players was widespread and that survey respondents said that male practice players did not change the way they used players (particularly non-starters) in practice or reduce the number of grant-in-aids to female athletes.

In Division I, 65.7 percent of schools report using male practice players, most frequently in basketball, volleyball and soccer. In Division III it was 34.6 percent. Only Division III schools were asked about a ban to the practice and only about 25 percent of schools supported it, although the results did indicate interest in limitations.

What next? More study, of course. The Division I Management Council has asked the Championships/Competition Cabinet to study the results and make a recommendation while Division II and III are looking for more feedback from their coaches association and governance structure.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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