SOMEONE GET a hold of Lily Tomlin.
The tin can-and-a-string is back in business, or so the NCAA would have you think.
The great big bureaucracy in Indianapolis is expected to put down the hammer on text messaging today. Fed up with tales of financial hardship, pestering and its inability to translate OMG IOH TTYL (Oh my gosh, I'm outta here, talk to you later), the NCAA plans to tell coaches today to use their opposable thumbs for something other than texting.
The NCAA Board of Directors, following a directive issued by the Division I management council, is scheduled to vote on a proposal to outlaw text messaging to recruits, closing what has been viewed as a gaping loophole in the contact limitations between coaches and prospective players. Currently coaches are allowed to contact high school sophomores and juniors over the phone monthly and high school seniors weekly but can send unlimited e-mail, regular mail and text messages.
In theory, it's a great idea. Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said he knows of top recruits who received upward of 100 text messages.
From one school.
On police blotters, they call that stalking. In college athletics, it just means we really, really like you.
"It's like anything else," Bradley said. "At first, the kids like all the attention but after a while, it becomes annoying. They realize this isn't the head coach contacting me. Like he has nothing better to do?"
Worse, parents who don't fork over the cash for unlimited text services can be greeted by cellphone bills that actually outweigh the NCAA manual (although unlimited text messaging plans can be as little as $5 a month, a small price to pay, as any parent of a teenager who's going to text his or her BFF 20 times a day anyway, will tell you. Besides, most athletes, particularly the top recruits who supposedly are being harassed the most by all these pesky coaches, have a Sidekick on one hip, a cellphone on the other and an iPod dangling around their necks).
And in a demographic that gave us Kelvin Sampson and his 577 illegal phone calls, you can expect that for every Bradley, who uses text messaging reasonably and rationally, there is someone else who might end up with carpal tunnel of the thumb in an effort to cloak his neediness and desperation in the hip slang of a daily "Wazzup?"
"We, as coaches, did this to ourselves," said Saint Joseph's Phil Martell, who proudly has made it his mission in life to refuse to learn how to text message, e-mail or operate a computer. "We have to understand that. When people are playing a game across a gym and you see guys tapping in, getting them a message when that game ends, isn't there something wrong or unusual with that? It's not healthy. It doesn't feel right."
Like a lot of things the NCAA does, this one is good in theory but nonsensical in reality. Should it go through, the new rule will allow the NCAA to once more prove how it is a tough, got-your-back organization, intent first and foremost on protecting the privacy, integrity and homework time of its student-athletes (even the ones who use the first half of that hyphen for a semester before parlaying a class on the history of rock 'n roll into a lucrative NBA career).
But while the NCAA gloats and beats its chest, this will be yet another rule pushed through with little thought, less research and ultimately will end up tinkered, tweaked and readjusted. Martelli recalled the initial phone call rules, which went from no limits, to outlawing, to what he refers to as 'normalcy,' and expects text messaging to follow the same path, perhaps meeting in a middle ground where texting is limited to certain days of the week or hours of the day.
"This is very new and all of us, the NCAA, coaches, student-athletes, need to sit down and look into this further before making some sort of all-encompassing decision," said Villanova coach Jay Wright, who said his staff uses texting as a means to keep up with logistics about such things as practice times more than just as a way to communicate. "It's such a new phenomenon that, to right away make a rule and eliminate it, doesn't seem very responsible. I'd hate to see us do something now without thinking it through and have to rescind the rule later."
Because here comes the catch.
Like a middle-aged parent who believes WTF stands for where's the fire?, the NCAA is sticking its thumb on the text messaging hole, but the dike is springing leaks everywhere else.
If the text messaging ban goes through as currently written, e-mails will be exempt, allowing coaches to still send unlimited electronic mail just as they send unlimited snail mail.
That makes this rule about as sensible as banning lighters but allowing cigarettes and matches.
For those still using rotary dial telephones, hot pots and televisions with picture tubes, try to follow along with your 8-track how-to guide. You no longer need to be tied to your computer to get your e-mail. That little guy doesn't need to say, 'You''e got mail,' to let you know you've got mail.
Between Blackberrys (the weapons of choice of coaches) and Sidekicks (the cool gizmos of choice among the high school/college set), e-mail is available quite literally at your hip almost as fast as a text message. At the Herb Good Big 5 banquet on Monday night, Villanova's Curtis Sumpter whipped out his Sidekick as soon as dinner was over.
Asked how exactly it worked, the senior replied, "I get my Villanova e-mail right here."
So rather than send a text message, a coach can just grab his phone and send an e-mail to a Sidekick.
It can say the same thing. It gets there almost as fast.
And best of all, it's not an NCAA violation.
Not yet at least. *
Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more of Dana Pennett O'Neil's reporting on the issue of text messaging in college recruiting, go to Daily News Sports online at philly.com/dailynews/sports.