Those who saw Tennessee tight end Justin Meredith's tweet a couple of weeks ago probably didn't think anything of it. At first glance, most people covering college football probably didn't think anything of it either (myself included).
But when Meredith congratulated linebacker Ben Boulware, who is his good friend and a former Anderson (S.C.) T.L. Hanna High School teammate, on Twitter on a his scholarship offer from Tennessee, he stepped over the social media line in college sports.
The good news for the Vols is that what Meredith did wasn't considered a major violation, but it was a violation nonetheless. It can be confusing, but as ESPN's Mitch Sherman writes, it's not OK for college athletes to congratulate prep players via social media when it comes to the realm of football.
The problem is that interaction between players and coaches, and players and players is always changing mainly because of how much social media is evolving, but the NCAA isn't exactly changing with it. Because of that, these sort of congratulatory tweets are getting schools in trouble.
"The problem is this: Social media is ever-changing. The rules of recruiting are specific and strict -- often too strict, unless you're in favor of regulations on the color, size and design of recruiting materials mailed by schools to a prospect. In general, according to a senior Division I administrator who formerly directed compliance, implementation of NCAA bylaws require three to four years to catch up to society.
Nothing that affects recruiting has changed as fast and dramatically as social media. While several proposals under consideration this year address electronic correspondence between institutions and prospects, NCAA legislation continues to lag in trying to apply old rules to new venues such as Twitter.
As long as the NCAA treats a mention on Twitter or post on a Facebook wall no differently than a quote in the newspaper, headaches will remain. Somewhere in this process -- and there's no easy remedy -- social media needs its own rules, because it's a different animal."
Sherman goes into more detail about just how confusing this whole thing can be, but the best piece of advice for student-athletes is just to keep the conversation with prospective prospects away from football. Athletes can wish prep stars a happy birthday or ask them how they're doing or what they're eating for lunch, but just don't bring up football or it could be considered recruiting. Even if it isn't.
Better safe than sorry for now, but until the NCAA attempts to evolve with the rest of us, social media will continue to be an issue in college sports.