HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Todd Hartley's tweet on the morning of Nov. 8 sent a ripple through the waters of the college football recruiting world.
"Now that all the paperwork has been processed, we would like to OFFICIALLY welcome @Ice_Cole13 to the #HerdNation family! #TheFuture," he wrote.
That Twitter handle belonged to three-star quarterback Cole Garvin of Tyrone, Ga., a Class of 2014 member who led Sandy Creek High School's football team to 39 wins in 42 games. Garvin was graduating high school in December in order to enroll at Marshall for the spring semester. Yet under usual NCAA rules, even if Garvin did enroll early, Hartley, Marshall's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, couldn't utter a peep about the prospect before he could sign his letter of intent.
Under a reinterpretation of one NCAA rule, Hartley could announce Garvin to the world before he took his first college class.
That reinterpretation allows student-athletes on track to graduate early to sign college financial aid agreements at schools where they want to play football. Those on both sides of the recruiting landscape - the recruiters and those being recruited - say it has done wonders in removing the shackles on communication which especially hinder early enrollees. Many, though, wonder how long it will last in its current form.
Garvin started looking into that rule after after his Sandy Creek teammate Demarre Kitt took advantage of it by signing a financial aid agreement with Clemson.
"He told me about it and I mentioned it to Coach Hartley on Twitter to look into that because I wanted to do that," Garvin said last month. "He got back to me a couple of weeks later with the paperwork, and then I signed it. We were good to go after that."
The official letter of intent still isn't signed until today, the first day in which football players can sign them. But signing an early financial aid agreement sets many other wheels in motion. It binds the school to providing a scholarship to the student-athlete. Yet, because no letter of intent has been signed, it doesn't bind the student-athlete to the school. If a football player signs an early financial aid agreement with a school and gets injured, the school can't pull the scholarship offer. It also doesn't stop other schools from recruiting him.
It also allows college coaches to speak publicly about those recruits before they enroll at their respective schools, as Hartley did with his November tweet and how the LSU football team did in tweeting its November welcome to Bossier City, La., quarterback Brandon Harris.
But what many consider the greatest benefit is that, after signing the agreements, the schools and recruits no longer are restricted by the NCAA's rules on unlimited communication.
"It was great," Hartley said. "We were able to do it and it was phenomenal. When you have open lines of communication, it makes the whole recruiting process easier."
Before, early enrollees had been handcuffed by those communication restrictions - limits on the number of phone calls coaches can make and other messages they can send to recruits - until they arrived on campus. That made things tough for recruits like Garvin, who was a solid verbal commitment to Marshall from the day he made his announcement and always had planned on enrolling in the spring. If that recruit isn't available for the coach's phone call, there was no guarantee when they'd talk next.
"They used to call me once a week and I'd be busy and I'd call them and they'd be busy," Garvin said. "They'd try to get me the next day and I'd be busy and we'd be playing phone tag forever. Now he'll just text me and I'll text him back. He'll say 'Call me tonight,' and I'll call him. It made it a lot easier and less stressful."