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The Twitter Stalkers Of College Football Signing Day

For college football recruits and fans alike, signing day is the culmination of a long process—and years of constant, weird Twitter-stalking and wooing from fans.

by Mike Piellucci
Feb 4 2015, 7:00pm

Photo by Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Iman "Biggie" Marshall is a high school senior in Long Beach, California who enjoys listening to Erykah Badu and Rick Ross in his free time. He is also, it's generally agreed, the best high school cornerback in the country, and so one of the most sought-after recruits in college football.

Unless he's into humming a few bars of "Window Seat" after each pass breakup, there would seem to be no discernible way and no compelling reason to stitch these disparate threads of information together. Anyway, it would seem that way to someone unfamiliar with the formidable and insistent thirst of Recruit Creep Twitter:

This phenomenon, it should be noted, does not limit itself to Marshall's musical stylings. Thirsty college football fans solicit him to attend their institution of choice after he muses on the value of time ("I love it man, this man gets it. Now I really want him to go to Michigan!"). He gets similar pro bono recruiting pitches when he retweets pictures of girls taking selfies at the gym ("ucla has women like that") or expresses his dismay at others' inability to make it out of his neighborhood ("Biggie, please choose Florida State. You belong there. We need you there. I'll pray about it. And put it in God's hands."). It happens even when he literally says nothing whatsoever; a tweet consisting entirely of 15 periods was answered with two "go blues" and six emoticons of a tiger, courtesy of @lsufan225. That Marshall is set to announce his college decision on national television Wednesday afternoon is only a partial explanation for all of this. The rest, as ever, is a function of the Internet being a gull-swarmed garbage barge brimming with human weirdness.

No disclaimer needs to be issued, by me or anyone else: this is a strange thing to do, and lobbing Twitter blurts at 17-year-olds with whom one has zero personal relationship hopscotches us well over even Twitter's blurry line of reasonable decorum. It is, in point of fact, something like the social media equivalent of leering at kids on the playground through binoculars in a parked car. Warnings that it would be best to knock it off are dished out, over and over again, by recruiting analysts and hardcore recruiting fans alike, and still it keeps happening. When a porn star chirps at Marshall to pick Florida State, things have officially drifted into a subspace well beyond standard-issue recruiting nerd-dom.

The kicker, of course—with the caveat that we don't have enough data yet on the relative effectiveness of having Mia Khalifa doing the wooing—is that none of this works. Strictly speaking, it's actually counterproductive: Tweeting at recruits is an NCAA violation, although most educated fans understand that the problem is so rampant that the odds of their favorite school getting slapped with NCAA sanctions on account of any one thirst-tweet hovers around those of the average BitTorrent user being sued for illegally downloading music.

In the broader sense, though: why? Handing recruits large stacks of money comes with myriad legal—and, depending on one's perspective, significant ethical—ramifications, but it's also exceedingly practical. People, gifted defensive tackles as much as anyone else, become more likely to want to do something if you offer them financial incentive to do so; college football's sprawling gray market of bag-men and boosters exists for this reason.

For those without the power to sling Jeeps at talented recruits, this sort of tweet-cruiting functions as a satisfying, small-stakes substitute. Not only is the platform's 140-character limit designed to curtail substance, but the barrier to entry is nonexistent, which means that even if a player does get eyes on a message from a Notre Dame fan, it's clumped together with a dozen more from people lobbying for Ohio State or Auburn or Oregon. Recruits hear them, in the way that it's impossible to tune out a rousing chorus of shrieks. It's hard to imagine a player like Marshall listening, but more to the point it's tough to imagine him being able to hear @NoleDaddy17, @Fight0N6969, or @Wolverin3Uprising over the noise. That they are no doubt aware of this won't stop people from shouting, of course. That is a thing fans do, and this is one way to do it.

The bigger-picture explanation, though, has to do with the changing landscape of how these players are recruited, and how recruiting is talked about. This is not unique to college football—the growing fervor for transaction news has engorged the NBA offseason into a spectacle on par with the season itself—but college football recruiting is unique nevertheless. It's not just Twitter partisans following these players around—the best players are courted nonstop for years on end, officially and unofficially. The premier sophomore in the country, a Baton Rouge native named Dylan Moses, has been verbally—read: not binding—committed to LSU since the eighth grade, which means that he'll essentially be on the open market for five calendar years before he formally ties himself to a school in 2017.

The much-pursued Marshall, for his part, has been a household name in recruiting circles since he was a ninth-grader. This is absurd in a very basic sense, as absurd as any activity that involves grown men pitching their brand to boys barely on the onset of puberty. But the NCAA has a hard time curtailing its own incompetence; forget policing the large-scale workings of every one of its member institutions. The elasticity of the recruiting game stretches as far as any one school is willing to pull it.

The result is an environment that slow-roasts the patience and better judgment of everyone involved: the recruits who are entreated every single day; the analysts trading in scoops that date themselves within hours; the coaches that alternately set up hoops or jump through them, depending on point in the recruiting cycle, position of need, and who they are dealing with.

While fans have the least to gain from this process in some ways, they're no less invested and no less a part of the machine. Many have insinuated themselves into Marshall's recruitment for four years, just as they might latch onto a television show—and, make no mistake, Biggie himself has done everything in his power to heighten the suspense accordingly. In that sense, it's inevitable that their emotions will churn furiously with the series finale approaching. As with anything else, some will succeed in managing their emotions and keeping things in perspective. Others will hit him up Iman Marshall to let him know that they are imploring their personal savior to steer him to Tallahassee.

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