Have you ever found yourself tweeting Go “(Insert your favorite school)”? Congratulations you are now a booster.
No, we’re not joking.
According to the NCAA, that tweet has just landed you into the same category as those older alumni with the chairback seats who have nothing better to do then give money to see their school do great. Or those shady people who assist getting athletes under-the-table jobs during the summer, the guys that you think are going to bring down your program and turn your school into the main story on every sports network. You’re all boosters, and realize it or not, that designation places limits on what you can, and can’t do.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Boosters, the support of an athletics department, play a huge role in building and promoting a school. While we tend to think of boosters in association with major programs, in the OVC it’s no different; No matter their size or conference, each university has boosters, and their school is responsible for keeping those boosters from getting the department in trouble.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve talked with compliance offices from across the OVC, and within the conference itself. What we’ve found is a laundry list of rules and regulations, but much fewer means to enforce them.
So how is the typical fan who wears their lucky gameday colors each Saturday to the football field, bring their lucky sign to the basketball arena, the same as someone who donates thousands of dollars to the university? It all comes down to an NCAA Bylaw buried deep in the thick NCAA Division I manual. In fact, it’s along side rules about what you can and can’t serve to a prospect on their campus visit for a snack. (Bagels and cream cheese are okay now, by the way) NCAA Bylaw 13.02.14 is this rule, the booster rule.
According to the bylaw, if you meet one of these areas, you are a booster:
If you have participated in or are a member of an agency or organization promoting the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program;
If you have made financial contributions to the athletics department or to an athletics booster organization of that institution;
If you are assisting or have been requested (by the athletics department staff) to assist in the recruitment of prospective student-athletes;
If you are assisting or have assisted in providing benefits to enrolled student-athletes or their families
If you have been involved otherwise in promoting the institution’s athletics program.
Oh, and by the way, once you’re a booster, you’re a booster for life, even if you no longer contribute to or support the institution.
What does that mean?
The University of South Carolina may have said it best in an open letter to their fans: “Every supporter of an institution’s athletics program has an obligation to abide by the same regulations, bylaws and guidelines as the coaches, administrators and staff members throughout the athletic department.”
That’s because, given the rule above, virtually every supporter, every fan, falls under the NCAA definition of a booster.
Some parts of the bylaw are pretty clear cut. If you played for a university any sport, for instance, you are booster. Even if you spent one year sitting on the bench, you are forever linked to the program and to the NCAA.
The obvious one: If you you contribute money to the athletic department, you are a booster. But here’s an extension of that rule you may not have realized: If you have season tickets, you are a booster. Why? In the NCAA’s eyes, you’ve given the university a sweet thoughtful gift. Even if you don’t buy membership into the official booster club, the season tickets are seen as a financial contribution to the athletic department.
Another obvious one: If you assist in recruiting a high school athlete you are a booster. But here’s where things get a bit more complicated: When we think of recruiting, we often think of a face-to-face meeting; a guy finds a player after practice, maybe takes him out to dinner, brings him to the arena, and makes a sales pitch for his school. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated at all. A simple “Hey John Doe, you would look good playing for our coach” makes you a booster according to the NCAA, whether you say that in person, on Twitter or Facebook, or through a text message. This we will discuss in more detail later as it has far reaching consequences for the student athlete, the school and possibly even you the fan.
It’s the last of those bylaw mentioned above where things get very interesting, and drives fans crazy: If you have promoted the athletics program in anyway, by that definition, you my friend are a booster.
Under this definition, (possibly others as well) you can be a booster for numerous schools. I myself am considered a Texas booster and Catlin a booster for Notre Dame, even though we haven’t made huge donations to that school.
This is where the line is crossed unknowingly and can create problems for athletic compliance offices.
So what about the crazed student sections that we see packing arenas? Well these groups are unique in terms of the booster rule. While there is no clear line on whether or not just being in the student section makes a student a booster, some schools in the OVC have already put their students in these organized groups under the umbrella. Under the Morehead State and Murray State umbrellas, you will find student sections listed as boosters, thus making these students lifelong boosters. There are ways for students at other schools to find their way onto the booster list, if they meet one of the requirements listed above. But in the eyes of the NCAA, they are seen as students just enjoying their fellow classmates.
Responsibilities of a fan
While gathering information for this article, we sent a series of questions to every OVC school; one of those questions was to define a booster. Many OVC schools sent back all or part of the NCAA bylaw, but others offered up different definitions all together. Truth is, we all abide by the NCAA rule. This is the broadest rule, an umbrella that covers almost every supporter of a school. And with it, comes a set of responsibilities you’re expected to follow.
Just what are those responsibilities? One of those areas that the NCAA wants boosters kept out of is in the recruiting sector. The repetitive line that we kept seeing from every OVC school was” let the coaches and their staff do the recruiting,” as boosters continue to try to assist coaching staffs.
According to another NCAA rule, boosters are prohibited from contact with a prospective athlete in the interest of persuading them to come to a specific university. While there are no NCAA rules that state the words social media, it is implied that existing restrictions, no texting or emailing, apply to electronic media. Hop onto any social media, such as Twitter and follow a hashtag for your favorite school. While a high school player may reach out and say, “Hey (Team)Nation give me a follow” it is the responsibility of the booster to restrain themselves for contacting the recruit in a persuasive way.
With the creation of social media, compliance departments have been racing in how to crack down and limit exposure to violations. Most of the schools we spoke with have a rule stating boosters are prohibited from talking to athletes on social media. Plain and simple, just don’t tweet or facebook players. When a recruiting source tweets out a player, and you want to pass around this information, just delete the athlete’s twitter handle. Better to be cautious and just spread the information but not give boosters a way to the athlete. This is another part where the simple “fan” can become a booster.
You can tweet back to the athlete, “Hey great game today,” just not “Hey great game today, hope you would look great in our colors.” When communication is seen by compliance, congratulations you have just added to the workload for that office. Once a tweet is spotted by a compliance officer, the department must investigate the matter to see what was was said and report it to the NCAA. Imagine the inbox for the NCAA for just tweets in today’s networking society.
Breaking the Rules
In the eyes of the NCAA, you are responsible for what you say, regardless if the athlete asks for information. A simple tweet may look simple and supportive but it is recruiting, no way around it.
Meet Taylor Moseley who was a North Carolina State freshmen who was seen as just a student until he he decided to try and support his school on Facebook. Moseley created a Facebook group called “John Wall PLEASE come to NC STATE!!!” NC State swiftly reacted to this by sending the freshmen a cease and desist letter from compliance and if he failed to comply to the letter, he would be “disassociated” from the athletic program. Surprisingly the majority of OVC schools told us that they could use this against boosters if a booster continued to jeopardize the athletic department. But its not just the booster who could miss out attending games, the student athlete could be ruled ineligible and miss games over a simple little tweet that gets retweeted or liked numerous times.
Now once a player has signed his letter of intent to the university, boosters are allowed to tweet the newest member of the school as much as possible but only until he has signed the letter. A verbal commit does not give the green light to congratulate a player. He is still in a sense a free agent, and as is typical for a teenager, the mind changes.
Messages from the schools
We all are involved in this process and sometimes don’t think before we do something small such as tweeting an athlete. Everyone is a fan, even your writers for this article. But the fan has become a booster and you have to help your favorite team, not hurt them. We decided it would be best to wrap up our story by letting the universities give you their message. For more information about more specific questions feel free to click your school and visit their compliance page.
Austin Peay: “We appreciate your support of our athletics department, but in accordance with NCAA bylaws, we ask that you not contact PSA’s in any fashion for purposes of recruiting to our institution. These type actions can have negative consequences to our program and department.”
Belmont: Per NCAA rules, boosters are not permitted to “recruit” prospects to Belmont.
Eastern Illinois: We would tell the fans/boosters thanks for caring so deeply about Panther athletics. Please leave contacting PSA’s to our coaching staff and that from this point forward please do not contact any PSA’s at any time.
Eastern Kentucky: We appreciate the support for our athletics programs, recruiting must always be left to the coaching staff. Again, we would educate them on how they can support our programs without “recruiting”.
Jacksonville State: (unable to reach for comment)
Morehead State: We would inform the booster that recruitment by anyone other than coaches that have passed the recruiting exam is a violation and may prevent the institution from recruiting that PSA. I would ask them to leave the recruiting of a particular sport up to the coaching staff and if they had any question please feel free to contact the athletic department.
Murray State: (unable to reach for comment)
Southeast Missouri: “We appreciate our fans’ support and appreciate the passion they have for our sports programs. However, it is important for our fans to understand that, while inadvertent, those types of activities could negatively affect our programs and the students’ ability to compete in his/her sport.”
SIUE: “Don’t do it. Leave the recruiting to our coaches. If they know of a potential prospect, they should notify the coaching staff, but never contact the prospect directly.”
Tennessee State: “TSU is forever grateful for all the ways fans/boosters contribute to the success of our athletic programs; however, please be cautious not to let your enthusiasm for our programs lead us into conflict with NCAA rules and regulations. A violation of NCAA rules by a “booster” can result in serious individual and/or institutional sanctions. NCAA rules are created to protect you, the institution, and PSAs. Please visit our compliance website designated for “Boosters, Alumni & Fans” on www.tsutigers.com for more information and educational material. You may also contact the Compliance Office at your earliest convenience with any questions or concerns. As always, we remind you “Once a Booster, Always a Booster” and to “Ask Before You Act” to prevent potential rules violations.”
Tennessee Tech: Leave the recruiting to the coaches. Purchase tickets, show up at games and support that team and help in any way the coaches request that are allowed by the NCAA. No more, No less.
UT Martin: Don’t do it.It’s that simple.