As UT's 2014 class connects online, Twitter ground rules aren't always clear-cut

UT coaches embrace social media for players

On Wednesday morning, Washington, D.C., cornerback prospect D’Andre Payne tweeted to the world that he was committing to the Tennessee Vols.

“Damn it feels good to be a Vol,” he wrote.

In making his announcement on social media, Payne was far from unique. In fact, among players who forgo hat-on-the-table news conferences, a simple Twitter announcement is quickly becoming standard.

But when Payne pledged to sign with UT, he joined a group of six other commitments who are using Twitter for more than talk about cars, girlfriends, football or other teenage fare.

With the skill of seasoned marketing gurus, potential members of UT’s 2014 signing class have been aggressively touting the Vols’ rebirth under new coach Butch Jones and his staff. More importantly, they’ve been active in reaching out to other prospects, essentially serving as a de facto arm of Tennessee’s football staff.

Verbal commitments are nonbinding and prospects won’t formally sign with UT or any school for another 10 months. But as free-agent high school students, prospects are also free from many of the restrictions that encumber staff members. And coaches are thrilled when recruits are active in recruiting.

“It’s a paramount,” said UT receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni. “We talk to our kids about being a player-coached team rather than a coach-coached team. It’s the same thing with recruits. You’d rather have the recruits recruit each other than the coaches. They’ll listen to each other more than they’ll listen to coaches.”

The Twitter offensive began with Vic Wharton, who committed to the Vols on Christmas Day 2012, not long after Jones was hired, and quickly explained his philosophy.

“There is no reason to wait around to commit if you commit now you can help recruit and make sure you have the number 1 class in the country!” he

wrote.

Since then, the Nashville native has forged relationships with future classmates online and in person. And now he’s got others in on the job.

One of the first to congratulate Payne on his commitment was five-star running back prospect Jalen Hurd, who has been equally active online. “We are building this legendary class,” Hurd wrote. “LETSSS Goooo!!!” Another commitment, Knoxville native Todd Kelly Jr., has taken it a step further, claiming the @UTLegendClass Twitter handle (so called because of the many players like Kelly who have family links to UT) to help coordinate the online efforts.

“Coach Jones always tells me to just keep recruiting,” Wharton said in an interview with News Sentinel partner GoVols247 last month. “He sees what a wonderful job I’m doing.”

While coaches love when recruits use social media to lure future teammates, the lines become fuzzier when current players get involved.

Todd Dooley, UT’s assistant athletic director for compliance, said the NCAA has largely made its peace with social media as communications tool like text messaging or email.

“I think you would see that’s how that age group communicates now, through Twitter and social networks,” Dooley said.

NCAA rules on social media have been crafted through interpretations rather than specific legislation, so the line between what is permissible and what is forbidden is not always clear.

Take senior defensive back Byron Moore, one of the team’s most popular Twitter personalities. An online humorist who briefly declared himself UT’s “interim head coach” last December and now brags of his undefeated coaching record, Moore often joins Wharton and Kelly in drumming up recruiting enthusiasm online.

On April 1, Moore tweeted to “Vol nation,” that they should go to Payne’s Twitter account to follow him and “show him some love.” Moore sometimes fields questions from fans about recruiting and seems to revel in his part in building the 2014 class.

When Twitter was in its infancy, a university might have reported a secondary NCAA violation if a current player mentioned an unsigned recruit by name. But Dooley said the standard is no longer so rigid. Players and recruits are allowed to interact freely via text or chat, which is increasingly indistinguishable from social media. If the tweet is initiated by the player and not directed by the football staff, it’s generally OK, Dooley said.

There are instances that require more caution. Dooley said he was uncomfortable with Moore’s name being attached to the @UTLegendClass Twitter handle. Shortly after the News Sentinel asked about it, Moore’s name disappeared from the description, which now lists only Kelly. UT may be taking other steps to reign in overzealous fans who imply an official connection to the university. The @RECRUITINGUT Twitter handle, which was not affiliated with UT’s football staff, has been suspended by Twitter.

Problems like that exist everywhere fans are passionate about football — not just at UT. And the notion that fans should refrain from interacting with prospects seems almost quaint in the Internet age.

By the time an elite prospect signs with a school, he will have been bombarded with messages — good and bad — from dozens of fan bases. On Twitter, where real identities can be slippery, monitoring millions of messages is nearly impossible task.

“If you’ve got any ideas,” Dooley said, “I’m all ears.”

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 12

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor not sure of rules either but its not like they are trading meth recipes or stuff like that.. more Go Vols stuff I believe.
Bones never lie.

ColdBlackWind writes:

I will bet War dayam Eagles wish they were dealing with potential violation of Tweeting policies. Cam Scam didn't get them so they will probably side step this new crop of allegations too.

TBennettVol writes:

Why does BMoore care what Dooley says? Dooley isnt even a coach at UTK anymore..

jakethevolguy writes:

in response to TBennettVol:

Why does BMoore care what Dooley says? Dooley isnt even a coach at UTK anymore..

That's Todd Dooley a compliance assistant.

jakethevolguy writes:

If Payne committed on Wednesday morning why are we just now hearing about it?

papavol writes:

in response to TBennettVol:

Why does BMoore care what Dooley says? Dooley isnt even a coach at UTK anymore..

I hope you're being facetious with this comment.

UTvols33 writes:

in response to jakethevolguy:

If Payne committed on Wednesday morning why are we just now hearing about it?

It was on ESPN and other sites on Wednesday. Be careful, I got my head chewed off by other posters for asking if any players got arrested over spring break. Apparently, if it's not on this site, it didn't happen.

Here's what I got:
Seriously? You ask that question? On a KNS page?

Did you see any mug shots? Ongoing pictures of a black charger in an impound lot for 6 days running? Cynical columns about rebuilding?

Any of our guys toss a beer bottle, moon a chick, punch out a Hyundai and it's a three inch headline for a week!

Not to mention cheeseburgers taken by force, baby-blue Prius getaway cars and brawls.

Good grief Sparky, you ask that question, here, and not expect to get b!t(h slapped?

mikethehistorystudent writes:

This is good stuff and the future of recruiting. We must take advantage of this if we want to be competitive. I use this technique when I can at my high school. Kids will listen to other kids before they listen to an adult.

bUTch_please writes:

in response to UTvols33:

It was on ESPN and other sites on Wednesday. Be careful, I got my head chewed off by other posters for asking if any players got arrested over spring break. Apparently, if it's not on this site, it didn't happen.

Here's what I got:
Seriously? You ask that question? On a KNS page?

Did you see any mug shots? Ongoing pictures of a black charger in an impound lot for 6 days running? Cynical columns about rebuilding?

Any of our guys toss a beer bottle, moon a chick, punch out a Hyundai and it's a three inch headline for a week!

Not to mention cheeseburgers taken by force, baby-blue Prius getaway cars and brawls.

Good grief Sparky, you ask that question, here, and not expect to get b!t(h slapped?

Hey 33, aka Sparky, if you want an apology from me for going unchained...here you go...I'm sorry. I'll even throw in a bonus icon face just for you :(

Most of the time I'm happy to ignore the troll post..at best it's nonsense..at worst it detours thoughtful conversation about the team. When folks ask an obvious question I'll tend to ignore that most cases as well. someone will jump in there.

But...your question the other day was an exact replica of BS that's been tossed on here for years by farragutless, all the Z's, the idiot from morristown and morons pretending to be Tide fans...so..I jumped in with both feet. Probably will do it again, truth be told.

I'm so effing proud that our 2 mens teams have gone what..a year?..with not a single mug shot. And the last one was for a LB punching out a car.
That takes a tremendous amount of awareness for young men in their positions and three coaching staffs placing importance upon good decisions representing the T.

So..when someone makes a statement tossing our boys under the bus for something that I know they are really working to represent...I see o-rage.

So there's my mea culpa and let's put our energy where it belongs...hating the belly crawlers.

VolGrad writes:

in response to jakethevolguy:

If Payne committed on Wednesday morning why are we just now hearing about it?

My bad, Jake.

I only posted it in one of the story's comments here after seeing it on twitter. I'm getting as lazy as KNS, I guess.

Of course, you can get a twitter account (don't have to tweet, I guess) and just follow some of the guys like Vic Wharton, Todd Kelly Jr, and Jalen Hurd. If someone new commits, they'll be retweeting it. Sometimes they give hints before the guy actually commits. They are on the job... unlike me I suppose.

Go Vols!!! #RockyTopReigns #VolNation

VolGrad writes:

Posted that comment about Payne here on this story... http://bit.ly/Z5kvhz

...Wednesday, April 3rd.

UTvols33 writes:

in response to bUTch_please:

Hey 33, aka Sparky, if you want an apology from me for going unchained...here you go...I'm sorry. I'll even throw in a bonus icon face just for you :(

Most of the time I'm happy to ignore the troll post..at best it's nonsense..at worst it detours thoughtful conversation about the team. When folks ask an obvious question I'll tend to ignore that most cases as well. someone will jump in there.

But...your question the other day was an exact replica of BS that's been tossed on here for years by farragutless, all the Z's, the idiot from morristown and morons pretending to be Tide fans...so..I jumped in with both feet. Probably will do it again, truth be told.

I'm so effing proud that our 2 mens teams have gone what..a year?..with not a single mug shot. And the last one was for a LB punching out a car.
That takes a tremendous amount of awareness for young men in their positions and three coaching staffs placing importance upon good decisions representing the T.

So..when someone makes a statement tossing our boys under the bus for something that I know they are really working to represent...I see o-rage.

So there's my mea culpa and let's put our energy where it belongs...hating the belly crawlers.

Thanks, man. I like your account name by the way, very clever.

GO VOLS! BEAT FLORIDA!

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