The NCAA’s Latest Priority: Instagram?

Rest easy, college coaches. Your poorly lighted, sepia-filtered smartphone photos are safe.

So says the NCAA, which on Thursday felt compelled to debunk a rumor swirling around the Web that the association had prohibited coaches from employing the wildly popular photo app Instagram in their dealings with recruits. (Instagram, for the uninitiated, is Facebook’s billion-dollar photography app that uses vintage-inspired filters to spruce up otherwise mediocre pictures of sunsets, flowers, lattes, and rich kids.)

The whispers started on Wednesday, when the NCAA published a guide for its members called “Photographs as Attachments to General Correspondence and Electronic Transmissions (I).” So-called “Educational Columns” like this one, the association says, are “intended to assist the membership with the correct application of legislation and/or interpretations by providing clarifications, reminders, and examples.”

Here’s the question that sparked the rumor:

Question: May a coach take a photo and use software (e.g., Instagram, Photoshop, Camera Awesome, Camera+) to enhance the content of the photo (e.g., changed color of photo to sepia tones or add content to the photograph), and send it to a prospective student-athlete as an attachment to an e-mail or direct social-media message?

Answer: No, a photograph that has been altered or staged for a recruiting purpose cannot be sent to a prospective student-athlete.

Blaring headlines soon said the rule meant college coaches could no longer send Instagram photos to recruits. One ESPN writer named the edict “The Best NCAA Rule of 2012,” citing it as evidence of the NCAA’s clumsy, if earnest, efforts to keep up in an ever-changing digital world. Other hecklers quickly pounced:

In response to all the jokes, the NCAA clarified its rule. “There is no NCAA ban of Instagram,” the association said. “Schools just can’t alter the content of photos—and to be clear, we do not consider Instagram’s filters as content alteration—and then e-mail them directly to recruits.”

Using Photoshop to put a player in a college jersey, or to otherwise alter the scene of an image? Illegal. But touching up a picture with the “X-pro II” filter? Permitted, as long as the content of the photo doesn’t violate recruiting rules.

Coaches, snap away—just try not to use “X-pro II” on every picture.

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