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Anderson Independent-Mail (South Carolina)
Clemson University offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell is a classic, country communicator. He speaks slowly and clearly. And listens intently. He would rather sit at a wooden bureau and craft a handwritten note instead of zipping a text message.
"I wouldn't have a cell phone if you didn't have to have one," said Caldwell, a 64-year-old native of rural Pageland. "I grew up in a time when you didn't have a telephone, and if you did, it was a party line, and Grandma was talking to Mrs. Burch and you pick up the phone and you say, 'Grandma, I've got to make a call,' and you hear, 'Well, you can just wait.'"
Caldwell clings to the nostalgia of simpler times, but he knows his current position leaves little room for patient conversation. One cannot wait for the mail-carrier to deliver handwritten notes along the recruiting trail. It requires fast-paced, consistent communication. The mounds of messages mounts so high that coaches can lose tracks of all their comings and outgoings.
For ordinary citizens, that simply results in an awkward redundant call. For coaches, it can result in a minor NCAA infraction. Luckily, Caldwell and other converted communicators can trust technology to monitor their messages.
College athletic compliance programs utilize robust software programs to log and monitor recruiting activity. Coaches must log each of their calls, text messages and school visits through an application on their smartphone. The activity is reported directly to the compliance office, and any potential problems are flagged.
"This is the beauty of the age we're in," Clemson associate athletic director for compliance Elliott Charles said. "Their phone locks the activity once it occurs. They have to then provide an explanation. They can't erase it. That's a key piece to the monitoring efforts. It requires communication."
After collecting that information, compliance directors can analyze it and tailor their strategies accordingly.
"Compliance administrators, we're not graded on wins and losses," Charles said. "The only way you can paint the picture of how effective your department is is by diving deep on the data, coming up with trends, using longitudinal analysis.
"We're responsive, but we're not being reactive. Even with a system like this, you have a decision as an institution about how you're going to use it. It can end up being a repository that you check periodically, or it can be an active piece of the job."
According to Charles, coaches have adapted to the software without a hitch.
"They just want clarity," Charles said. "They want you to communicate what you're looking for and deadlines. They've been pretty responsive. Coaches tell us what's not working for them and what is."
Caldwell acknowledges the value of the consolidated stream of communication. He also does not mind contributing to the positive environmental impact.
"Does it cut down on paper? Yeah, hopefully that'll keep them from killing so many trees," Caldwell said. "Do you have to have it? No, it was done a lot of years without it. When the power goes off or your battery goes dead, it's hard to beat a pencil and piece of paper."
The software eliminates more than the threat of paper cuts. It eliminates much of the time compliance departments once spent sifting through documents.
"It's extremely more efficient and more accurate. A person can only be so perfect when they're reviewing a thousand phone logs," said University of Mississippi assistant director of compliance Ross Mullet, who interned in the compliance department at the University of South Carolina while in law school.
"To go through and approve all the forms (by hand), it would take three interns and one full-time employee at least a month," Mullet said, recalling his tenure in Columbia before USC fully implemented the software. "Now at Ole Miss, we rely more heavily on the software for a lot of the forms, and one full-time employee can knock it out in a couple of weeks.
"All the NCAA forms we have to complete prior to the start of every year for all of our athletes are there- everything from permission to use their names, image and likeness to them telling us what outside scholarships they have to what vehicle they're driving. All of that is automated. So, we're not going line by line by line. We can focus on the important forms and where the red flags are. It can help catch a minor violation prior to it spinning out of control."
According to Charles, the software subscription costs Clemson approximately $45,000 each year. Clemson has two full-time staffers dedicated to monitoring the software.
Charles contended that the streamline workflow allows compliance departments to spend more time developing better relationships with the coaches and players they serve. Even the most advanced software, he argued, cannot fully replace the value of old-fashioned Caldwellian conversation.
"The grind of compliance leaves the other personal and professional development out some times," Charles said. "You don't want to limit innovation and ingenuity. You want to make sure people have room to be creative, but it's really about communicating what we're doing and why.
"It's less important for me to express my knowledge about a by-law than it is to understand what a coach is trying to accomplish. I know what I know, but it's more important how I take their issue and give them a solution."
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