Although college football’s recruiting process still concludes with the help of a prehistoric device, the process leading up to the sealing of the deal has changed drastically over the past five years.
In keeping with age-old tradition, a signed letter of intent typically wraps up the recruiting process with a noisy journey through a dusty fax machine—the Pony Express equivalent of communications technology. All other intelligence obtained during this process, however, sails across at 21st century speeds.
We now get our information in 140 characters or less, and we’re content using Twitter as our one-stop shop to do so. Or at least I am.
The popularity of the sport has drastically increased, no question, but new media is rapidly reshaping how recruiting is completed, covered and consumed.
Forget about having designated websites that send along updates through thousands of different Twitter accounts. Coaches, schools, athletes and even fans have embraced this technology because they have to. To stay up to date on what’s happening and when it’s happening, we go directly to the source.
This change became obvious on national signing day, but really it’s been building for a while. After all, the NCAA has gone as far to create new rules centering on social media, removing contact limitations for coaches. Forget about those old-school calls and even text messages. Twitter and Facebook are in right now, until something better comes along.
Because of the coverage and access along the way, national signing day in 2013 had a much quieter, uneventful feel.
Outside of Alex Collins’ captured letter of intent, a SWAGtastic Miami hat, a costumed elephant and the out-of-nowhere dominance of Ole Miss, college football’s biggest day lacked intriguing storylines.
The decisions played to form, and you knew where the top players were headed—as a whole—months ahead of time. The likes of 5-star defensive backs Vonn Bell and Mackensie Alexander were just a few of the exceptions, but for the most part we were prepared.
Sites like Rivals, ESPN and 247Sports have suctioned some of the fascination out of the day with their superb coverage. Although paywalls are still very much prevalent, much of their reach comes through Twitter. Visits and “leans” are reported as they happen, and fans can manage their recruiting circle with whom they follow.
It doesn’t cost anything, and the information will be delivered to you. Forget about a month or two of recruiting frenzy. With Twitter, you get a sense of the year-round nature of this process.
The result is a more in-depth view of an athlete’s recruitment. The reason we didn’t see many “flips” or shockers on national signing day is because the indecision was covered like a blanket along the way.
Yet, despite the fact that we saw many of these decisions playing out long before they became official, national signing day has never been more popular than it is right now.
Twitter’s role in this cannot be ignored. Outside of the coverage, universities have recognized just how popular it has become and embraced this technology.
Most major schools spent national signing day sending out tweets when a faxed letter of intent would come in.
No Fax Cam or television coverage? No problem. You’ll get confirmation of a commitment only seconds after they do.
— Auburn Football (@FootballAU) February 6, 2013
Beyond the school’s involvement, coaches have also flocked to Twitter to market themselves and their school. If you told me last fall that we would find Bobby Petrino tweeting at a new home less than one year after his debacle at Arkansas, I would have thought you were nuts.
You can now get all the latest Western Kentucky happenings from Petrino at @CoachPetrinoWKU if you’re so inclined.
Coaches such as Washington’s Steve Sarkisian and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin have specific, Twitter-centric code when it comes to recruiting. Throughout the year when they picked up a verbal commitment, each would turn to his page and offer up a vague celebratory cue.
No names (that would be a violation pre-NSD), but something that gets the point across.
Sarkisian prefers to embrace his inner husky.
— Steve Sarkisian (@CoachSark) January 8, 2013
Sumlin offers up his very own celebratory take.
— Kevin Sumlin (@CoachSumlin) January 7, 2013
Other coaches choose to keep their thousands of followers involved as well, and this is a trend that will only become more prevalent.
Being active on Twitter is no longer a way to stay above your competition. At this point, you’re simply keeping up with everyone else.
“Keeping up” seems like an appropriate term, and even as avid fans we want our information delivered—hopefully correct, although Twitter is still working this part out—immediately. We want to know what is happening, when it’s happening.
There’s an insider feel to it, and this certainly holds true when it comes to recruiting. The result has been a lucrative business for many but also pressure to be the first to deliver.
Because of it, our access to this process has been greatly enhanced. The updates are more frequent, and by the time national signing day finally gets here, some of the suspense has been removed. Twitter has helped alter every facet of recruiting, and this isn’t a trend that’s expected to change soon.
Coaches will continue to market themselves and their school and also push the limits on how they can recruit players through 140 characters.
Our coverage standards will also be pushed, and we will demand our news faster. National signing day excitement may suffer because of it, although it’s clear the momentum for this day is only on the rise.
The faxes will continue to pour in once a year to culminate the end of another recruiting cycle. But these are the only ancient remains of a process embracing change 140 characters at a time.