Tweeting College Football Recruits: Everybody's doing it.

Word cloud of tweets to an Arkansas target - TelcoAg

The landscape of fan-recruit interaction has been reshaped dramatically by social media. We looked at tweets directed to five elite recruits to better understand the situation.

ESPN's Jeremy Crabtree recently posted this "Social Distortion" article highlighting the downside of fans' direct social media access to recruits. The most alarming example involved a fan threatening to commit suicide if Tyler Luatua did not commit to USC. Other anecdotal accounts detail instances when fans used social media to seek out recruits offline. Erin Sorensen wrote about a more common practice of fans responding negatively to recruit decommitments like we saw after Otaro Alaka flipped from Texas to Texas A&M on Sunday.

If you spend any time reading through the Twitter mentions of a highly-ranked recruit, you'll notice that most tweets contain positive recruiting messages. These tweets are sometimes creepy, but generally seem harmless. Do they constitute recruiting violations? Technically, many of them probably do under the NCAA's broad definition of a booster. But how pervasive is fan contact with recruits on Twitter and what is the nature of these interactions?

Good Bull Hunting's technical ace TelcoAg conducted an investigation by compiling and parsing Twitter mentions for five 2014 recruits to the extent the Twitter API would allow*. His report included counts of hashtags, words, users tweeting recruits, and other users mentioned. You should follow @TelcoAg on Twitter. We voted him "most likely to break a huge story someday."

We chose to analyze players who were uncommitted so that fans would perceive that the recruit could be influenced. This article is not intended to be an indictment of specific fanbases. The number of tweets is clearly influenced by the recruit's offer list, likelihood to commit, timing of visits, and more.

We manually combed through the Twitter history of each athlete to identify hashtags affiliated with each fanbase. For example, hashtags for Florida State include #FSU, #Noles, #FloridaState, #NoleNation, #TallyBound, #GoNoles, and #FearTheSpear. Note that not all tweets using these hashtags come from fans. News and recruiting services might use #FSU to announce that a recruit is taking an official visit to Florida State. The vast majority of tweets are from fans and the relative volume of tweets shows which fan bases are most engaged with the athlete. Most tweets analyzed were drawn from a two-week period in January.

Adoree' Jackson (@AdoreeKnows)

Rivals.com 5-star Athlete (Visits: Florida St., LSU, Oklahoma, Tennessee)

Fanbase Hashtag Count % of Total Hashtags Tweeted
Tennessee 1365 55.9
Florida 336 13.8
Oklahoma 174 7.1
LSU 107 4.4
USC 75 3.1
Florida State 28 1.1
UCLA 25 1.0
Illinois 9 0.4
Oregon 5 0.2

Matt Elam (@FballIsLife69)

Rivals.com 3-star DT (Visits: Alabama, Kentucky, Notre Dame)

Fanbase Hashtag Count % of Total Hashtags Tweeted
Kentucky 1087 40.9
Alabama 719 27.1
Tennessee 103 3.9
Oklahoma 73 2.7
Notre Dame 60 2.3
Mississippi State 14 0.5
Ole Miss 14 0.5

Kenny Young (@KennyYounggg)

Rivals.com 4-star LB (Visits: Arkansas, Oklahoma St., Texas A&M, UCLA)

Fanbase Hashtag Count % of Total Hashtags Tweeted
Arkansas 1164 53.5
Texas A&M 388 17.8
LSU 193 8.9
Oklahoma 115 5.3
UCLA 93 4.3

Malachi Dupre (@MalachiDupre)

Rivals.com 5-star WR (Visits: Alabama, Florida St., LSU, UCLA)

Fanbase Hashtag Count % of Total Hashtags Tweeted
Florida State 582 27.7
Arkansas 351 16.7
Alabama 302 14.4
LSU 203 9.7
UCLA 162 7.7
Ole Miss 64 3.0
Tennessee 9 0.4

Marlon Humphrey (@marlon_humphrey)

Rivals.com 5-star CB (Visits: Alabama, Florida St., Mississippi St.)

Fanbase Hashtag Count % of Total Hashtags Tweeted
Florida State 375 22.7
Alabama 372 22.5
Mississippi State 187 11.3
Georgia 57 3.5
UCLA 48 2.9
LSU 17 1.0
Auburn 9 0.5
Clemson 9 0.5
Tennessee 8 0.5
South Carolina 8 0.5

Observations

1. Underdog schools for a prospect are more likely to recruit the player on Twitter.

Player 247Sports.com Crystal Ball Favorite Top Three Fanbases Tweeting
Adoree' Jackson USC 1. Tennessee 2. Florida 3. Oklahoma
Matt Elam Kentucky 1. Kentucky 2. Alabama 3. Tennessee
Kenny Young LSU/UCLA (tie) 1. Arkansas 2. Texas A&M 3. LSU
Malachi Dupre LSU 1. Florida State 2. Arkansas 3. Alabama
Marlon Humphrey Alabama 1. Florida State 2. Alabama 3. Mississippi State

2. Fan interaction is often instigated by tweets and retweets from recruiting services and news outlets. We counted Twitter mentions and found that many fan tweets to recruits are replies to media personalities. In our own experience, when we retweet a Texas A&M prospect, a handful of followers will often tweet a recruiting message to the player.

Player Top Mention Outlet
Adoree' Jackson @JaysonSwain (186 mentions) Tennessee Sports Talk Radio
Matt Elam @AndrewJBone (73 mentions) TideSports Recruiting reporter and Rivals.com
Kenny Young @ArRecruitingGuy (96 mentions) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Recruiting (also makes radio and TV appearances)
Malachi Dupre @TomahawkNation (55 mentions) SBNation Florida State Recruiting
Marlon Humphrey @AndrewJBone (201 mentions) TideSports Recruiting reporter and Rivals.com

While most media tweets involved legitimate reporting, where should the line be drawn between reporting news and encouraging fan recruiting?

3. Some fans take things way too far.

Player Top Tweeter Fans with 20 or more tweets
Adoree' Jackson @GatorsDominate (30 tweets) 3
Matt Elam @RollTideRichard (40 tweets) 7
Kenny Young @PatRossDavis (54 tweets) 2
Malachi Dupre @FreedomWarrior (22 tweets) 2
Marlon Humphrey @TruMaroonNation (53 tweets) 11

We're interested in hearing your stance on fans tweeting recruits. Leave a comment below, and we'll leave you with this small selection of recent tweets (not part of our data collection):

*Note: Twitter data used was pulled by searching for the recruits' twitter handles through the Twitter API and by scraping results from the website's "search all" function. Data sets were combined and de-duplicated to create a set with tweets dating back to 8/1/2013. A majority of tweets used come from the two-week period between 1/10-1/23, as Twitter only returns high scoring non-recent tweets (generally tweets from users with higher follower counts or mentions) using the search function. Results were filtered to exclude tweets sent by the recruit.

The percentage of total is based on hashtags with at least 5 uses, our criteria for including hashtags in the team lists. For example, one user tweeted #SweetPeaOnRockyTop to Adoree' Jackson, but that does not appear in the Hashtag Count and is not accounted for in the numerator or denominator of percentage of total.

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