Social Media Causing Shockwaves in College Sports

Standard

An article that first appeared in The Birmingham News recently discussed the role that the use by football players at the University of North Carolina of social media sites played in the NCAA investigation of the Tar Heels’ football program.

It was reported that the NCAA charged the UNC administration with the dreaded “failure to monitor” charge.  In this case, the University was alleged to have failed to properly monitor the use by its football student-athletes of Facebook.

This issue was brought to the forefront again on July 27 when UNC fired its head football coach, Butch Davis, the day after the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) media days gathering in Atlanta where over two days all 12 league football coaches and selected players were paraded before members of the media.

Readers may recall that going into the 2010 season North Carolina’s football team was generally considered one of the Top-10 teams in the country.  The season unraveled, however, as 14 players were forced to miss some or all of the games during the season for their involvement in receiving improper benefits.  Things first came to light when postings on Facebook and Twitter by pre-season All-American defensive end, Marvin Austin,  showed scenes from a trip he took to Miami Beach that was allegedly paid for by someone affiliated with a sports agent.

The NCAA eventually found additional postings by Austin on the two sites  of photos and accounts of him and family members showing off expensive toys that he hinted were provided by an agent.  That brought about the current NCAA investigation of the Tar Heel program.

The University of Alabama has recently come under scrutiny because of videos that popped up on You Tube showing Crimson Tide players with the owner of a local menswear store who was also shown on the sidelines at Crimson Tide football games in 2010.  Questions were raised about signed Tide memorabilia seen inside T-Town Fashions and about whether or not Tide players were receiving free or discounted clothing from the owner.

Tide officials have provided the media with a copy of a “cease and desist” letter sent on Dec. 12, 2010 to the store owner along with a copy of a hand-delivered letter dated March, 2011 dis-associating him from contact with anyone connected to the Alabama athletic department.

The NCAA appears to have placed a new burden on compliance departments at its member schools.  They must now come up with social media policies for players that balance first amendment free speech and privacy rights with the need to monitor postings that can refer to improper and/or illegal activity.  The NCAA has made known the fact that its Enforcement Department staff members are now regularly searching social media sites for postings by athletes at NCAA member schools.

Indeed, a simple search browser internet search will come up with a number of businesses that now market software programs that automatically monitor selected users and their use of selected social media tools.  Mississippi State University has become one of the first NCAA members to hire a company to provide this service.  The vendor uses a software program that monitors Mississippi State student-athletes’ use of social media sites.  Certain “keywords” are searched for and when one comes up the company sends an email to athletic department personnel to alert them to look into the matter.

This is an important trend that bears watching.  How long can it be before some high school athletic program gets in trouble because of Tweets or Facebook postings by its student-athletics about inappropriate behaviors or about activities that constitute rule violations?

Anyone wanting to work in sports administration today needs to become familiar with the use of social media sites by athletes and the ethical and legal issues that go along with this use.  These are in fact the sorts of things being taught in classes at the United States Sports Academy.  To find out more about these classes go to http://www.ussa.edu.