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Social Media and Collegiate Athletics
February 7, 2012 - 8:23pm

Social media has been present in the lives of collegiate athletes for as long as there has been social media. However, it would seem that coaches and the NCAA are just now realizing that social media is something that they may want to learn more about. In a recent ESPN article about the recruitment of athletes, the effects of social media are quite apparent. Coaches, realizing that the NCAA hasn't quite implemented a policy that actually regulates social media, have capitalized on the ability to send direct messages via Twitter and private messages via Facebook. Whereas phone calls and text messages ("banned altogether") are regulated, it is open season for using Twitter and Facebook to recruit potential athletes.

Contrast the efforts of coaches to recruit student athletes with the recent story about Towson University's Head Football Coach Rob Ambrose. According to an article in The Towerlight, Ambrose has banned his players from using Twitter. The penalty for using Twitter -- indefinite suspension from the football team. Ambrose's rationale for banning Twitter usage was based on the NCAA's decision to sanction a Lehigh player for "using an inappropriate and repugnant racial reference to describe Towson University student-athletes on his Twitter page." I get it. A student says something on Twitter and they are suspended. However, in Ambrose's case, his banning of Twitter isn't really a preemptive move. In fact, judging by Ambrose's own quote in The Towerlight piece, the NCAA may want to do a little digging around the Towson University Football Team's Twitter accounts:

“I watched about seven or eight players from Thanksgiving until Jan. 1,” Ambrose said. “If I were to have adhered to the letter of the law, I bet we would have suspended 50 percent of my team and at least 50 percent of the athletic department.”

“It’s not about controlling [the players],” Ambrose said. “It’s about safety. It’s about the appropriate uses of it and how not to be hurt by it. If these kids put something out there that is misinterpreted by the wrong person and blown up in the media, they are ruined for life. People are afraid to stand up and say anything. It is a privilege to play football. It is a privilege to represent the institution and it comes with responsibilities.”

Did Ambrose really say what I think I just read? He basically admitted to not following the rules. How is it okay for a head coach to admit that they did not "adhere to the letter of the law."

So, while the recruitment of prospective athletes via social media is okay...and, seemingly a "great" workaround to the NCAA's current set of recruitment regulations, student athletes (in this case, football players) learning how to use social media (just like other students at any higher education institutions) are to be controlled for their own "safety." When did student athletes officially start working for an institution? Because, this is what it sounds like. Heck, with companies like Fieldhouse Media and Varsity Monitor offering social media monitoring specifically for the social media activities of student athletes, you have to wonder if George Orwell will suit up for the next game.

Collegiate athletics, at least in the big time money sports is chock full of hypocrisy. Everyone knows this to be true. Social media has become the latest communications channel to be polarized by the "coaches can do whatever they want" while "players are monitored and controlled" phenomenon. Coach Ambrose is doing his players a massive disservice by banning them from using Twitter. I thought that he, like every other head coach at a college or university, was an educator? While I understand that companies that offer social media monitoring for collegiate athletics are offering a service for which there is a high demand, I wish that coaches and institutions would instead spend their time and money on educating student athletes on how to manage their digital identity.

 

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