NCAA Eyes Ban on 'Texting' Sports Recruits

In college sports, coaches may only call recruits a certain number of times, according to NCAA rules. But they have found a loophole. They send athletes countless text messages. Thursday, the NCAA's board of directors votes on a proposal to ban the practice of "texting."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you were excited about the stock market yesterday, you or people you know may have received the news via text message.

And we may have tapped away with your thumbs to send the news to somebody else. For many people, sending and receiving written messages on cell phones and other gizmos has become a favorite way to talk without actually having to hear somebody's voice. Or see their face.

In the last few years, text messaging has also become a big part of the business of college sports. Maybe too big. Today, the NCAA board of directors votes on a proposal to ban text messaging between coaches and recruits. This is big business.

And NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: So pretend for a minute that I am a college coach. There are NCAA rules limiting the times when I can call a recruit, so I whip out my cell phone and send the following text message: P-L-E-A-S-E C-A-L-L. Please call. I send and wait and hope that blue-chip athlete I so desperately want at my university gets the message soon. A few minutes go by and…

(Soundbite of cell phone ringing)

GOLDMAN: Hello? Hey, thanks for calling. The athlete called me. So technically, I didn't break the rules. Back to real life now where I'm not a college coach and where Anna Chappell hopes to prevent that little scene you just heard.

Ms. ANNA CHAPPELL (National Collegiate Athletic Association Student Athlete Advisory Committee): We need this continue to support the complete elimination of text messaging.

GOLDMAN: Chappell is a former college basketball player who now heads the NCAA Student Athlete Advisory Committee. Earlier this month, Chappel's committee successfully lobbied for a proposal banning text messaging between coaches and recruits. The final vote is today.

Coaches bending the rules is part of the problem, she says. The main arguments against text messaging are: number one, it's an intrusion, especially for a prized athlete who's being recruited by several schools, meaning hundreds of text messages.

Ms. CHAPPELL: And it's just constant, I mean, how was your day? Great job last night. What are you thinking? What are your plans? And I think it just added on the pressure to student athletes when they're trying to make those choices and weed schools out as it is.

GOLDMAN: Number two, Chappell says text messaging can be expensive for a recruit.

Ms. CHAPPELL: That can be up to 10 cents per text message or 30 cents per text message. And so you if you're averaging 208 text messages a week it's a costly expense there if it's not built into your plan.

GOLDMAN: Most rate plans now offer unlimited text messaging at an affordable rate so young athletes and their parents who get socked with a big charge just need to be educated about the technology. That's what Kerry Keating says. He's the new men's head basketball coach at Santa Clara University.

Keating is 35 years old and has grown up in an era of galloping technology. He thinks the proposed ban is a mistake. For coaches and recruits, text messaging is a quick, concise way to exchange information, he says. And for young athletes who may be intimidated by an adult coach…

Mr. KERRY KEATING (Head Coach, Santa Clara University): There really is a stream of consciousness involved in text messaging that breaks down barriers.

GOLDMAN: Keating thinks the proposed ban is an overreaction to a few extreme cases. For prospective athletes who've been inundated by recruiting letters and FedEx packages, Keating believes text messaging gives that athlete more control in the process.

Mr. KEATING: They can block users, they can block numbers, they don't have to give their cell phone number to coaches. The power's in the hand of the recruit, that's something that we very really had a chance to have happened in our world especially in basketball and I think it's something that's very important.

GOLDMAN: The American Football Coaches Association has sent a letter to the NCAA asking for a delay in today's vote. The coaches want more study on the issue leading, they hope, to a policy that doesn't ban text messaging but allows it with some controls.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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