COLUMBIA — Secondary NCAA violations in all divisions have increased by nearly 50 percent over the past five years, with many of the missteps involving text messages between recruits and coaches, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported.
That was the case at the University of Missouri, where 32 of the 77 secondary violations committed by the school's athletic department in 2009 and 2010 involved either text messaging or the Internet, the article said.
Most of those infractions involved coaches sending text messages to recruits, which is banned until a high school athlete signs a letter of intent. The violations also involved improper use of instant messages and Twitter.
The violations found by the newspaper through a public records request include:
- A sophomore student manager for the football team initiated a public Facebook conversation with a junior prospect and posted photos of recruits at a 2010 home game against Oklahoma.
- A university employee linked to a newspaper article touting a high-profile commitment on the school's official Twitter account.
- A women's track and field assistant responded to three texts from a recruit who had become ill overnight during her official visit to campus. Even though the prospect initiated the contact to inform the coach of her illness, the entire track and field coaching staff received a one-week ban from having any written or phone contact with all recruits.
The NCAA considers secondary violations as "inadvertent or isolated," providing only a minimal recruiting or competitive advantage. The penalties are generally far less onerous than cases deemed as major infractions.
"With Facebook and Twitter and eBay, we could have a full-time position just for Internet monitoring, and they'd be 40-hours-a-week busy," said Mitzi Clayton, Missouri's assistant athletic director for compliance.
The Missouri compliance department publishes a monthly newsletter highlighting recent NCAA rule changes and holds group sessions for coaches four times a year. Coaches also must pass an annual exam in order to recruit each season.
Communicating with recruits via texts, instant messages, online chat rooms or message boards is banned. Facebook messages to prospects are allowed because they are similar to e-mails — but posting on a recruit's wall violates bylaws barring contact in open forums.
Women's softball coach Ehren Earleywine called it a struggle to keep up with NCAA rules interpretations that don't usually keep pace with the technological innovations that can stretch the limits of existing rules.
"We get written up for things, and we have zero knowledge that we broke a rule," he said. "Even if you're a coach and you study them, the book is really big and it's hard to know them all. Sometimes your knee-jerk reaction is not a legal one. It's just to be cordial or courteous, and the next thing you know it's a violation."
One of the softball program's violations involved a coach providing a free meal to a high school coach the staff member had known since college.
In another instance, the team mistakenly billed a recruit and her parents $1.04 less than the value of their three meals with the softball staff during an official visit. The recruit made a $1.04 donation to charity to make up for the violation.
The Missouri football team reported 17 secondary violations to the NCAA over the past two years, according to the Tribune. Nine of those violations involved sending impermissible text messages to recruits — including one instance in which a coach reflexively responded after a prospect informed him that he would be late for an unofficial visit because of a flight delay.
The Tigers men's basketball team reported eight secondary violations in the past two years, including an instance where the team's strength-and-conditioning coaches gave players fish oil supplements over a seven-month period beginning in June 2008, thinking the tablets were legal to dispense because they did not contain any banned substances.
When the NCAA placed Texas Tech on two years' probation in January after coaches sent almost 1,000 text messages to football, softball and golf recruits, former Red Raiders football coach Mike Leach said he often didn't know whom he was texting.
"Somebody would say, 'Merry Christmas,' and I would say 'Merry Christmas' back," Leach said, according to the NCAA report. "Or I would get, 'Nice win against A&M,' and I would reply, 'Thanks.'"
Coaches and other employees from Missouri's 20 athletic programs send an average of 40,000 to 45,000 text messages each month, Clayton said.
Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson thinks the text ban will soon be lifted in a further nod to today's digital realities.
"I've got 12-year-old, 13-year-old boys, they don't even know how to talk on the phone," Jamieson said. "They just text. I really envision within a short period of time the text rule will go out the door."