Recruiting's new TEXT

Through modern technology, athletes get the message from college coaches

April 16, 2006|By HEATHER A. DINICH | HEATHER A. DINICH,SUN REPORTER

Considered by many to be among the country's most elite high school basketball players, 7-foot-1 center Kosta Koufos somehow managed to irritate the very college coaches who have been trying desperately to recruit him. Turns out it was a technical glitch.

"I had all these coaches complaining that they were sending me text messages and I couldn't respond to them," said Koufos, a high school junior from Canton, Ohio.

At the coaches' behest, he went out and bought a new cell phone at a discounted rate of $100 - one capable of receiving their mini messages. Now, the superstar from Glen Oak High said his Motorola receives between 40 and 50 fawning text messages a day - "a fair amount" of which he said have come from Maryland assistants.

It's a legal, modern way of communicating with young athletes that skirts the NCAA's limited number of phone calls allowed per week, but it's also a tactic that has interrupted classroom discussions, run up parents' cell phone bills and simply added another loophole into an already unscrupulous recruiting process.

The late signing period for basketball began Wednesday and lasts through May 17.

"Coaches don't even call anymore," Koufos said. "They send messages and say, `Hey, call me.' If they can get around the rules, that's pretty nifty I think."

Dave Sollazzo, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for the Maryland football team, said it's necessary because of the NCAA's stringent limitations on communication with recruits.

"What we're doing is no different than what anybody else is doing in the guidelines of the NCAA," he said. "We're doing what we have to do to stay in the ballgame with any recruit, especially a top recruit. In this day and age, the way recruiting is going, any edge you can get within the guidelines of the NCAA, obviously you're going to take advantage of it."

For now, the NCAA doesn't have a problem with it, but several groups - including the Women's Basketball Coaches Association - have already proposed eliminating text messaging and are likely to do so again in the late spring or early summer.

Text messages are currently considered "electronic transmissions," and lumped together with e-mail, instant messenger and even facsimiles. The only rules are that text messages cannot be sent to recruits until Sept. 1 at the beginning of their junior year in high school. For men's basketball, the date is June 15, after their sophomore year.

"There is definitely an acknowledgement that the intent of the rule and the application of it are very different," said Crissy Schluep, an NCAA spokeswoman. "We probably will see changes coming in the near future regarding correspondence."

Finding a loophole

Maryland assistant coach Keith Booth chuckled at the memory of the technological trend used to recruit players when he was in high school: beepers.

"You never really knew who it was until you called back," Booth said. "You compare that with now. I can automatically text a kid and say, `Hey, it's Coach Booth. Good luck with whatever tournament you're in.' I can stay in constant contact. We can go back and forth, and even have a conversation. That's a good thing if I'm in an airport, or he's on a bus, I can send him a quick good luck. That really means a lot to kids."

Maryland has joined a long list of high-major programs seeking Koufos, who has also caught the attention of North Carolina, Michigan State, Illinois and Ohio State. He shared some of the messages still in his phone (it holds up to 200), but declined to say which coaches sent them:

Great talking to you yesterday. Keep thinking about (our school). It's a special place where we can do special things together. Think of a national championship.

Another coach asked about his fracture.

Is your foot healing up pretty nicely?

There's a way around the NCAA's rule limiting basketball coaches to one phone call per month through July 31 to juniors like Koufos. It reads something like this:

K-squared, hit me on my cell when you get a second.

There's no rule against Koufos calling them.

"I'm sure coaches use it to get players to call them," said Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, whose staff recently purchased Nextel's Blackberry 7100 I for its instant messaging capabilities. "They'll text me and ask if it's a good time to call me, around my schedule. Sometimes they might think are they bothering you, so they text you to see if you're around."

This week is the NCAA's "quiet period" for football, meaning the coaches can talk to the players only when they visit campus, and the "evaluation period" is April 15-30. Starting Sept. 1, football coaches can call high school seniors once a week.

Basketball coaches can call high school seniors twice a week.

Sollazzo said the text messaging helps establish a relationship with the players when the NCAA prevents it. Football coaches are allowed to call high school juniors only once in May.

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