FIRE Weighs in on NCAA’s Warning to Students Regarding Facebook ‘Recruiting’

April 15, 2009

The Associated Press reports that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is putting pressure on member schools to crack down on student-operated Facebook groups which urge talented high school athletes to attend their college or university.

The AP’s story, which has been picked up by over 200 news outlets in the past week, details what happened after Taylor Moseley, a freshman at North Carolina State University, created a Facebook group titled "John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!!”. (John Wall is a heavily recruited high school basketball player; the AP notes he is "the nation’s No. 1 basketball recruit.") Moseley’s group quickly gained more than 700 members, but the NCAA argues that even such independent online student effortsstudents acting in their own name and clearly without the authority of their collegeviolate the organization’s restrictions on influencing the choices of recruits. As a result, Moseley’s Facebook group earned him a cease-and-desist letter from North Carolina State’s compliance director.

In the article, FIRE’s Adam Kissel comments on the problems with the NCAA’s effort and its deleterious impact on student speech:

Adam Kissel, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said the NCAA can impose rules on its member colleges. But universities – especially public ones – can’t enforce them if it means punishing students in any way for expressing an opinion.

"A student doesn’t lose First Amendment rights because of a contract the university signs with (the NCAA),” he said.

Eugene Volokh, noted UCLA constitutional law professor and creator of the influential Volokh Conspiracy law blog, expressed his agreement with Adam’s take yesterday. And today, FIRE’s Robert Shibley commented on a similar situation at Duke University for the Duke Chronicle. In this instance, a University of Akron student (and die-hard Duke Blue Devils fan) had created a Facebook group urging Wall to attend Duke. In response, the student received a similar cease-and-desist letter from Duke’s director of compliance. Robert echoed Adam in pointing out that the NCAA’s rules here are serving to infringe on student rights:

"There are some things that are more important than recruiting rules, and one of them is First Amendment rules," said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley, Trinity ’00 and Law ’03, who was also a member of Duke University Marching Band. "There’s no excuse for impairing First Amendment rules in the slightest for recruiting rules, unless you’re someone that can legitimately be within the dictate of the NCAA."

Of course, we’ll continue to watch this issue here on The Torch. Any students who have been threatened with any sort of punishment for stating their opinions as independent fans should contact FIRE immediately.

Schools:  North Carolina State University – Raleigh