Rutgers football can't compete against the likes of Penn State and Ohio State in terms of prestige, but on Twitter, Scarlet Knights fans are trying to be one step ahead.
Jay Poole, a Rutgers graduate who majored in economics is trying to help the football team by winning on social media. With nearly every recruit on Twitter these days, Poole saw other programs — especially ones in Rutgers' future Big Ten Conference home — were working hard to push their school to possible players. Messages and tweets were sent from other college fanbases “showing love” as these prized teenage athletes call it.
So Poole and other fans got fed up and created #CHOPNation.
“The movement started in the wake of some of the more recent recruiting struggles Rutgers has had. We had just recently lost a 2015 recruit to Penn State after a tumultuous offseason that included plenty of decommits for the 2014 class,” Poole said. “There was a lot of self-reflection happening on the online Rutgers message board at Rivals.com. During that period of self-reflection there was a discussion over Twitter and whether or not we as fans had properly utilized it. In my mind, we never did utilize it to its full potential as there were only a few of us on Twitter, and those few of us were terribly disorganized. Schools much smaller than ours, such as Appalachian State, had organization on Twitter that allowed them to contact recruits quickly and effectively, something we were incapable of.
“So what finally got the ball rolling was when another Rivals message board poster posted that a recruit had directly told him that if used correctly Twitter does help the recruiting process, and therefore that we should finally embrace the medium. So I came up with the idea of using the hashtag of #CHOPNation and then asked for all of our fans’ Twitter handles. I started following all of them and told them to follow me, and the movement started from that.”
There are now roughly 75 to 100 Twitter followers actively using the hashtag, with more being added each week. They tweet encouragement at the players and let them know the Scarlet Knights fanbase wants to see them “On the Banks” next year.
It has caught on with those hoping to get offers. On the Friday before his unofficial visit to Rutgers in early March, recruit Alex Toplyn tweeted “Looking forward to my Rutgers visit tomorrow! #CHOPNation.”
Even the coaching staff has started to use the hashtag in their social media posts.
But while it has promise, it might not be there quite yet.
One of the players most targeted by #CHOPNation is Steven Gonzalez. A consensus four-star recruit out of Union City, N.J., Gonzalez has offers from many of the top programs in the nation. Before an unofficial visit in early March, he had Rutgers outside of his top 5 schools. But after a sit down with head coach Kyle Flood, he has Rutgers in his top 3.
Despite a healthy dose of #CHOPNation coming his way, he said the tweets don’t matter much. But, he also said they haven’t hurt his perception of the school either.
“It really hasn't affected me at all, but it's a cool new trend that Rutgers fans got going on. It's cool but it has made no impact on me,” Gonzalez said. “I think the other recruits do notice these fans. And to me it kind of does make me look at the team but that's not the main reason why I look at the team.”
It is a brand new world, one the NCAA is still coming to grips with.
Fans of major programs are now connected to recruits and would-be players through a click of the mouse. They are just a tweet or a Facebook invite away from having access to players and attempting to lure them to their alma mater.
It makes for a plethora of issues for the NCAA to work through. Twitter and fans reaching out to recruits is just one of those areas of concern.
“A fan can follow and reply to a current student-athlete on Twitter, and can tweet generally about a current student-athlete or team,” said Emily James, associate director of Public and Media Relations for the NCAA. “However, fans/boosters cannot tweet about a prospective student-athlete.”
In fact, NCAA regulations are clear about this. While #CHOPNation is likely not running afoul of the rules, it continues to be a part of college athletics that is changing along with technology.
The NCAA makes it clear that recruiting should only happen from boosters and not fans:
General Rule. All in-person, on- and off-campus recruiting contacts with a prospective student-athlete or the prospective student-athlete’s relatives or legal guardians shall be made only by authorized institutional staff members. Such contact, as well as correspondence and telephone calls, by representatives of an institution’s athletics interests is prohibited except as otherwise permitted in this section. Violations of this bylaw involving individuals other than a representative of an institution’s athletics interests shall be considered institutional violations per Constitution 2.8.1; however, such violations shall not affect the prospective student-athlete’s eligibility.
But for those like Poole, #CHOPNation will continue to be used to show recruits the Rutgers fanbase is behind the potential players. A season ago, what was a top-25 recruiting class disintegrated in the fall, with Rutgers losing seven recruits who were ranked as four stars by the major recruiting services. The hemorrhage of talent had to do with the team's 6-6 regular season as much as issues with the coaching staff.
#CHOPNation hopes to stem that tide, one tweet at a time.
“To be honest there is very little concern over recruiting violations from a fan’s perspective. This use of Twitter is so prevalent that the NCAA apparently doesn’t want to open [a] Pandora’s Box with it,” Poole said. “They would have to go after every school. ... I could see a scenario where if they did come down on schools for it you would start seeing fans of schools impersonating fans of a rival school to get them in trouble. So I don’t think the NCAA would want to go through with that as it would probably take up all their resources just to try and figure it out.”
Follow writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.