A person claiming to be a UGA fan recently called one of the team’s top football recruits to clarify the status of his commitment to the Bulldogs.
The ill-advised contact between the “fan” and the prospect, and the story behind it, instantly went viral on Twitter, and ignited heated discussions on a UGA team website and Rivals.com’s national message boards. It also created some speculation that UGA may have to report an NCAA secondary violation — even though UGA appeared to have nothing to do with the phone call, and the unidentified person claiming to be a UGA fan may be a fan of another school.
An NCAA spokesperson told the AJC on Monday that it did not have enough information to “speculate about the situation” and how it applied to the rulebook, and recommended contacting UGA. Jim Booz, who works in compliance at UGA, said Monday he was aware of the situation and said that no NCAA secondary violation had occurred. “Based on the information at this time, there’s not enough information to conclude that there’s a rules violation.”
If anything, it’s a wild and wacky story about how passionate and overzealous some college football fans are about recruiting, and how far they will go to encourage top recruits to go to their favorite school – even if it may threaten to get the college in trouble.
For the record, there’s some gray area between defining the difference between a “booster” and “fan” in NCAA Bylaw 13.02.14, based on the interpretation of this qualifying clause — [Persons that] ”have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program.” That’s about as gray as it gets. But it’s clearly against NCAA rules for boosters or fans to lobby their college to recruits on Facebook and Twitter, even though it happens dozens a time per day across the country. That’s an NCAA secondary violation that may never again be enforced, just because of the sheer magnitude and rapid growth of Social Media.
However, it’s more personal contact like a random phone call to a recruit or in-person interaction that really raises eyebrows.
The UGA soap opera kicked off last week after a California newspaper reported that College of the Sequoias defensive back Steven Nelson said in an interview that he had committed to Texas Tech – which Nelson later denied. Nelson has been committed to UGA since last February.
“There’s no truth to that, and I was thinking about pressing charges because that’s false information,” Nelson said.
Last Thursday, Nelson was contacted by a person who wanted to know if he had indeed switched his commitment from UGA to Texas Tech. They talked for about 5-10 minutes.
“I get phone calls almost every day from college recruiters and reporters,” Nelson said. “He called me up, and I forgot what his name was. The way he was talking, I thought he was a reporter, so I stayed on the phone. He was just trying to convince me to stay with Georgia, told me how good of a player I was, and wished me a good year.”
“I didn’t think nothing of it until somebody called me, an ESPN guy [DawgNation's Radi Nabulsi], who told me the guy put it on Twitter that he talked to me on the phone.”
There was also a Rivals subscriber who claimed the same thing on Georgia’s team website, UGASports.com, and later got banned for it.
“Here’s all I know,” said Steve Patterson, publisher of UGASports.com. “One of my guys contacted me and said there was somebody on DawgVent saying they had been calling prospects of UGA. As we all know, that’s against NCAA bylaws, which are very encompassing when it comes to things stuff like that …
“The site staff removed the post. Then after that, the guy went on and on about how could do that if he wanted, and [to heck with] the NCAA. Then the guy sent some harassing emails to our staff. They contacted me and asked what to do, and I said blacklist him and have him contact me. That’s the last we all heard of it until he made some other posts around the Internet.
“He threatened to say he was going to call prospects, and then call Coach Richt and say we instructed him to do this, which is absurd. Over the years, we’ve gone out of the way to be very educated as a staff at UGASports on the NCAA rules, and we’re written extensively on the various bylaw changes. We’ve actually withheld doing things the way some other people in business, you could say, operate when it comes to dealing with coaches because of that, because we’re a dot-com, and we’re held to a little bit of suspicion in the first place. So we’ve always kept a very even keel when it comes to NCAA rules.”
“We will not stand by and let people knowingly break rules, whether it’s our rules or the NCAA’s rules. If some guy got on the DawgVent and said, ‘Hey, I just drank a 12-pack of beer and I’m driving home as fast as I can’ … I’m not saying we’d call the cops, but we’d definitely remove that post and say, ‘Dude, if you’re going to living outside of the law like that, our board is not a forum for you to brag about it.’”
UGASports.com ended up looking like the “good guys” in this situation. They have no obligation to help UGA monitor possible violations, inform its readers of the NCAA rules, or ban a paying customer for any type of post. Patterson sent an email to Claude Felton, UGA’s sports information director, to make him aware of the situation. “That was end of it until today. I guess he’s out there running his mouth or running his fingers somewhere on the Internet, which goes to show what a loose cannon this guy must be in the first place.”
This recruiting drama really picked up steam when a poster with the screen name of “BoneafideDawg” claimed on Rivals.com’s national messages boards he was “banned on the home board for saying I called a recruit.” It was unclear if this was the same person that called Nelson or posted on UGASports.
There were at least six pages of posts from fans from several SEC schools before the thread was deleted. “BoneafideDawg” made a futile attempt to defend the actions. Here’s a couple of his comments:
Some loser said I violated NCAA rules and I told him I didn’t since I wasn’t representing any program. I think informing other posters of this is what got be banned as Rivals want us to think they have some kind of special domain. Anyway … [expletive] them. I’m done paying money to kiss [expletive].
Why are you so conditioned to think you have to have a press pass to talk to an American citizen? These sites have people thinking they have some kind of special clearance. They don’t
Back to UGA: According to Booz, “There are five things that make someone become a booster, and one of them is if a fan is assisting in the recruiting of a prospect on Social Media, or over the telephone, or in person. If they solicit the enrollment of a prospect, then that’s a violation of NCAA rules.”
When the Bulldogs send out season tickets each year, there’s also a letter from UGA athletics director Greg McGarity which addresses contact between boosters and prospective student-athlete.
“Basically it says ‘Please leave all the recruiting up to our coaches,’” Booz said.
THIS JUST IN …
BECAUSE WE MISS THE OLYMPICS
– By Michael Carvell, AJC Recruiting Blog
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