Florida State assistant football coach James Coley takes some gentle ribbing from co-workers if they're nearby when his thumbs mambo across his BlackBerry keyboard to tap out yet another tweet.
"Things hit you during the day, and you say, 'I'm going to share this,' " said Coley, the tight ends coach-recruiting coordinator and lone member of the FSU football staff on Twitter. "It's become a part of what I do. I do get heckled for it, but it's up to me to carry the technology torch."
So he tweets.
A tweet is a short message — no more than 140 characters — available to those who have signed up to follow a particular person on Twitter, the Internet's hottest social networking site.
Im in the 305, getting ready to grab some breakfast. No one can hold me down today, Im in a COLEY state of mind — yezzir — BOUNCE with me.
Feel like a CHOP — 83,000 strong for the 2009 season — Go Noles!
The idea for Coley and an increasing number of college coaches across the country — including Florida's Urban Meyer, USF's Jim Leavitt, Southern California's Pete Carroll and Georgia's Mark Richt — is to connect on a more personal level with fans and prospects.
That's a population desperate to feel in the know, and a tweet is a free, real-time burst of information, ranging from the mundane to a bit of news. (Tweets are free on the Web. They're also available to cell phones; some phone plans charge a fee.)
So, you get something like this from Leavitt:
Always stay positive no matter life is so precious!
"I'm not sure how much it's helping, to tell you the truth," Richt said. "But it's another form of communication, and that's always good. It's like anything else. It's what's popular now, and we're all in the business of doing what we can to promote our program, so this is another way of doing it. We'll see how it all goes."
Some coaches don't want to bide their time twiddling their thumbs as they wait to see if Twitter has the shelf life of milk. They figure it's better to tweet than get beat.
"We are in a competitive situation, and we're in the position of trying to put the University of Tennessee's name out there as much as we can," first-year coach Lane Kiffin said. "So anything we can do to communicate with fans, recruits, any way that allows us to get our name and information about our program out there to the public, that's an important tool for us."
New technology often poses new problems, or at least new questions, for coaches and compliance directors. That's something the folks at Tennessee can relate to after a tweet on Kiffin's Twitter page named an unsigned prospect.
It's a beautiful day in Knoxville, Tennessee today. I was so excited to hear that J.C. Copeland committed to play for the Vols today!
That's against NCAA rules, and the school announced it would report a secondary violation for the gaffe, one attributed to an administrative assistant.
"The issue is less about technology and more about how it's being used," said Cameron Schuh, an associate director for public and media relations at the NCAA.
Instead of hastily drafting legislation specific to Twitter, the NCAA has opted to apply an existing Division I recruiting rule that equates a tweet to a fax or an e-mail. Such electronic transmissions, unlike instant messaging or text messaging, are permissible.
Direct messaging via Twitter — like Facebook, another popular social networking Web site — is allowed by the NCAA, provided the prospect has reached the permissible year in school.
"Twitter is an emerging challenge," said Greg Sankey, SEC associate commissioner for compliance. "The reality is our rules were created when everything was print. And while people have tried to keep up regulatory-wise with emerging technology, it's a catchup mode. It has not been the philosophical shift that may have happened in other parts of society."
Brian Battle, FSU's associate athletic director for compliance, said the NCAA is fast approaching a crossroads of policing technology and recruiting. "It's almost impossible to monitor all of the contact or potential contact with prospects. Well, I don't want to say impossible, but it's very time-consuming," he said.
What to watch?
FSU has two coaches on Twitter, Coley and women's basketball coach Sue Semrau. At USF, about 20 coaches are on Twitter, including Leavitt and all nine of his assistants. Five Florida head coaches are on Twitter, including Amanda Butler (women's basketball) and Becky Burleigh (soccer).
Rather than keeping up with tweets, might it not be more prudent, and more productive, for a compliance director to watch out for the welfare of the hundreds of student-athletes on campus and checking for any signs of potential NCAA trouble with, say, agents, boosters or academic fraud?
"It comes down to, 'What is our focus?' " Battle said.
To him and others, it might be time for a virtual deregulation of recruiting; once prospects are of a certain age or year in high school, a college coach can contact them as often as the coach wants. But break a rule, Battle suggests, and the coach can't recruit or sign that prospect.
"The technology has gone beyond us," Battle said. "It's like tax law. Let's be honest. Any time you pass a new tax law, someone finds a loophole."
Said Coley: "We don't want it to get out of control. We need rules and polices, but I hope they don't take (Twitter) away. I'm getting used to it."
Staff writers Antonya English and Greg Auman contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3347.