The NCAA Manual is the instruction guide for just about anything that can go wrong in college athletics. The rules are dense, loaded with details, and designed to cover the minutest of infractions. One consideration that the NCAA hasn’t quite figured out is how do deal with the issue of student-athletes and social media.
The question I find myself asking is how to control what a student-athlete says via social media without detracting from that individuals freedom of speech rights. It’s a tough call, and neither the NCAA nor its member institutions have quite figured out how to deal with it.
In October, Ohio State University third-string quarterback Cardale Jones tweeted:
“Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”
It was front page news, and not in a good way. The university public reprimanded Jones and issued a statement noting its paramount concern with respectfulness and appropriateness when it comes to athletes and social media. The guilty tweeter’s account was subsequently deleted.
Here’s the full statement from the Ohio State.
We allow our student-athletes the opportunity to express themselves via the social mediums. What we do ask of them and communicate to them is the importance of being respectful, appropriate and aware that their communications can impact many people. We remind that others may have different views and opinions on what may and may not be appropriate, so always remember not to post or tweet anything that could embarrass themselves, their team, teammates, the university, their family or other groups, organizations or people.
Earlier this year, two University of Michigan football players’ publicly contacted unsigned recruits and earned their team secondary NCAA violations. What medium of communication was the culprit? Twitter!
The big problem with social media is that you can’t take back what you put out there. Once it’s said, it’s said, irrespective of whether it’s later deleted or not. There’s always someone or some company out there trolling feeds waiting for a slip up. And if that person catches a message before anyone has an opportunity to destroy the evidence, the damage cannot be undone.
On the flip side, there are companies who are looking out for student-athletes who take things too far on social media. Check out UDiligence, Varsity Monitor and Jump Forward. They’re all companies that have products designed specifically to help athletic departments monitor the social media feeds of student-athletes, potentially stopping trouble before it starts.
In the Summer 2012 edition of the Harvard Law School Journal of Sports & Entertainment Law, Vicki Blohm discussed the NCAA current regulation of social media and where things may potentially head in the future. Of particular note is that at present, the only NCAA regulations pertaining to social media fall under the recruiting context. Some schools and individual coaches have developed codes of conduct that ban the use of social media during the playing season, but that’s as far as it goes. Blohm notes that schools with such policies effectively skirt the freedom of speech issue because the policies don’t involve a comprehensive ban and student-athletes voluntarily agree to abide by the rules upon entering the athletic program. Seems simple, right? That’s obviously not the case since the NCAA hasn’t established its own set of rules.
The water is muddy, no doubt about it, but social media is not going anywhere. The NCCA and colleges and universities alike cannot hide from the trend. They have to work together to develop a set of rules and regulations that protect and regulate without stepping on student-athlete rights. Maybe they should look to the NFL, NBA and NHL for a little guidance since all currently have social media policies in place. Just a thought.
- Tweet shows truth about academics (espn.com)
- NCAA Legislating Instagram Is Just Another Out-of-Touch Decision (bleacherreport.com)