Generation text

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Messaging ban archaic, backward

On NCAA restrictions

January 22, 2008|By MILTON KENT

Remember when your parents got their first VCR, and how, for the longest time, the clock on the screen would repeatedly flash "12:00" because they had no idea how to do anything more with the machine than insert a tape and push the play button?

A vote at the NCAA convention two weeks ago smacks of being the athletic version of what happened in your parents' living room -- a group of people, who seemingly have little concept or use for modern technological advances, attempt to keep the rest of their world in the Dark Ages.

Conventioneers ignored a request by the American Football Coaches Association and 30 schools to override a motion approved in August that bars Division I coaches from text messaging recruits. The vote wasn't close. Only 21 percent of the delegates voted to overturn the ban.

Normally, the AFCA has been consistently on the wrong side of issues affecting college athletics.

For instance, its campaign to foist the blame for the decision of some schools to reduce college wrestling and baseball scholarships on meeting Title IX obligations, while refusing to consider cutting bloated football budgets and rosters, has been unconscionable.

But, on this issue, college football coaches are entirely right to rise up in protest over a rule that fundamentally flies in the face of the way life is lived today.

Though many of us from older generations may not grasp the concept, today's kids are products of an age when technological changes come faster than traffic on I-95.

At a time when some baby boomers are just becoming familiar with the separate notions of cell phones and MP3 players, along come devices that combine the two. Talk about getting chocolate in your peanut butter.

Many teenagers speak a text-messaging language with their BlackBerrys, Treos, Sidekicks or plain old cell phones that bears little, if any, resemblance to the lexicon their parents know -- old-fashioned written form or even e-mail.

Some coaches have attempted to meet prospective student-athletes at the students' level and speak their lingo, establishing relationships through text messages, the same way high school and college students speak to each other.

The rise in text messaging has created a rift between younger coaches, who embrace the new technology, and older coaches stuck in the 20th century.

It was laughable three years ago, for example, to hear coaches at the women's Final Four speak of texting dismissively, the way people put down rock 'n' roll 50 years ago.

Unfortunately for those coaches, just as Elvis and Chuck Berry never went away, neither did texting, so they whined to the old fogy NCAA membership, which did their bidding by enacting a reactionary ban that keeps some coaches from getting ahead of the game.

Oddly enough, the ban has a sizable loophole in it that smart coaches will drive trucks through.

To wit, while coaches are barred from sending text messages to a cell phone, they may continue to e-mail at will to a given e-mail address. Don't think they won't take advantage of the distinction, or lack thereof.

To be sure, some coaches have made pests of themselves with incessant texting, and some student-athletes lobbied for the ban and against its subsequent repeal, citing concerns that they have to bear the cost of texting.

Their complaints are certainly worth noting, but not to the extreme of shutting the entire process down.

There are reasonable curbs and compromises that can work for all sides. For instance, coaches can be limited to specific times when texting can occur, and numerical limits can be placed on the number of text messages allowed during a certain period.

Those numbers and times can be monitored by a college's NCAA compliance office, and the college in question should be required to pay not only for its texting costs, but for costs incurred by a recruit.

Recruits and their families aren't helpless in the process.

They can make all potential recruiters aware that exceeding reasonable text messaging limits could push them to a rival school. And there's always the idea of not accepting the message.

Sure, it's a quaint concept, but even in the modern technological age, it still has legs.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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