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By Jeff Kolpack, Published July 12 2009

NCAA all a-Twitter with rules: College compliance experts scramble to keep up with personal, professional Web sites

The NCAA manual is 427 pages comprised of thousands of interpretations. Colleen Heimstead has enough to worry about.

But the associate athletic director in charge of NCAA compliance for the North Dakota State athletic department has something else to think about: making sure the Twitter and Facebook pages of Bison coaches are within the rules of the NCAA, a task that is filled with more gray area than black or white.

“The new technology is making the NCAA’s head spin,” she said.

The phenomenon of Twitter, a Web site that asks the question, “What are you doing?” has reached college coaches, who for no other reason are doing it because their colleagues are doing it.

“You don’t want to leave anything to chance,” said Dane Fife, the head men’s basketball coach at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne. “I don’t ever want to think somebody else is doing more than I am to get players, at least within the rules.”

It’s debatable what role Twitter and Facebook accounts play in college recruiting, if at all. NDSU head women’s basketball coach Carolyn DeHoff senses it’s more suited to her generation, people in their 30s and 40s.

Of NDSU head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips 199 followers as of Friday, none could be identified as a potential Bison recruit.

Even if there was, NCAA rules prohibit Phillips from writing about them on any form of Web site. Moreover, it’s doubtful Phillips would want to tip his hand to other schools on whom he was recruiting.

So what does that leave Phillips to Twitter to his followers in terms of pertinent and interesting information? Not much.

“It ends up pretty watered down,” he said. “You take the most interesting parts of the day, gut them out and that’s what you have left.”

Plus, Phillips said, “I find it hard to believe the ins and outs of my day are that interesting.”

Twitter gives insight to lives outside the lines

Steffon Thomas, NDSU’s assistant director of marketing and promotions, has other ideas on the benefits of Twitter and Facebook, which is a social networking site that gives schools an avenue to use their page as advertising for athletic events.

It’s another way – a cost-free way – of reaching fans. The school even put out a release last week touting its Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites. The athletic department’s Twitter, for example, will give up-to-the-minute scores and news updates.

The NDSU athletic department Facebook page has over 3,900 fans, Thomas said.

“We use it a lot to target directly to students, let them know about upcoming game day promotions” he said.

Thomas, probably more than anybody, has been the technology pusher on Bison coaches. Head football coach Craig Bohl, after seeing other coaches using Twitter, asked him about it and what ensued was his account: CraigBohl.

Some well-known football coaches are popular with Twitter. USC’s Pete Carroll has over 30,000 followers and Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin over 10,000.

Bohl had 218 followers as of Friday. He’s given a couple posts on taking instrument lessons for his airplane and reported that he “stuck 6 more landings.”

“Craig has done a good job on giving insight about his personality,” Thomas said.

The Bison women’s basketball program has two Twitter accounts, one by DeHoff called “BisonRule” and the other called “Bisonwbb,” a general program page posted by assistant coaches.

DeHoff has posted about going to RedHawks baseball games, summer camps, Rib Fest and the Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament.

Knowing the NCAA is not keen on coaches posting their locations during recruiting periods, she teased the concept with a Thursday post: “Guess my location: Mickey Mouse is in town, mild but wild thrills at the Epcot Center and you can experience the world of Nemo. Who’s got it?”

Here’s another question: How does a coach posting his or her location constitute an illegal recruiting advantage?

“Right now, there are so many gray areas because it’s brand new,” DeHoff said. “There are plenty of people out there saying where they’re at and where they’re going to next. To me, we just want to be more general right now.”

Any NCAA violation more of a slap on the wrist

Coaches and Heimstead agree: Twitter is a short-term fad. Heimstead gives it a shelf life of a few months.

She regularly checks the pages of Bison coaches and has talked with them on what they can and can’t put on there. She says the NCAA is getting strict on coaches talking about individual skill instruction to their current players in the offseason.

If it sounds picky, it is.

For instance, Phillips could Twitter “today’s workouts are done.” But he could not Twitter “Michael Tveidt had a great workout today.”

“Because it’s publicizing skill instruction rather than in-season practice,” Heimstead said. “Why, I don’t know.”

Last month, Bohl made one post about a quarterback and receiver making a campus visit, but it has since been deleted, probably to safeguard against NCAA rules.

This week, Phillips posted on his Twitter: “Two days into the recruiting period. I’ve seen a bunch of talent and no sun. July is like Christmas morning!”

It talks about recruiting, but Heimstead said it isn’t against the rules because it didn’t get specific.

Even if it was an NCAA violation, not much would probably be done about it. Heimstead said the NCAA has warned other schools about Twitter and Facebook infractions.

“Kind of a slap on the wrist and make sure it doesn’t happen again and put things in place so you know what they’re doing,” she said.

If there is a red flag in either the latest Web fads, it’s probably Facebook. Last year, the NCAA banned coaches from texting recruits by cell phone, but with Facebook, recruits can get Facebook messages on cell phones with Internet capability.

So if there’s a way in big-time athletics to a reach a recruit in a way no other school is doing, it’s most likely being done. But the question remains: do kids really care?

“Twitter might be something this age group hasn’t gotten into yet,” said Fargo South girls head basketball coach Craig Flaagan.

Meghan Roehrich, one of Flaagan’s players who is a college prospect, said she doesn’t pay attention to coach’s Web sites. She’s received letters from NDSU and the University of North Dakota and will probably get further communication from both when she starts her junior year this fall.

Flaagan says his players are more into texting than anything else. They’re also on Facebook.

“But as far as going on coach’s pages, I don’t know,” he said. “I couldn’t answer that.”

In a few months, maybe answers won’t be necessary because something else in the technology world will come along. And it will be one more thing to occupy Heimstead.

“It takes the NCAA a little time to catch up,” Phillips said.

Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the WDAY Golf Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia