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Keenan Donath is an economics junior and Mustang News sports reporter. These views do not necessarily reflect the editorial coverage of Mustang News.
Retweets, friend requests, various obscure filters.
These terms have become ingrained in our minds as simply another task in our day-to-day lives. The burgeoning social media culture is growing and affecting more and more parts of society. So it comes as no surprise that organizations such as the NCAA have been forced to adapt to these entities that only recently came into existence.
Like any uncontrolled market, there is the opportunity for both good and bad. The potential for Twitter, Facebook and the like to infuse energy into the world of college sports is undeniable. With the advent of live tweeting, personal athlete accounts and apps like Bleacher Report, being a sports fan is as much a lifestyle choice as it is a personal hobby. But this ability to access a myriad of relevant information in mere seconds comes with its fair share of disadvantages.
“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” -@Cordale10
A tweet by Ohio State Quarterback Cardale Jones.
Having a Twitter handle is like having the attention of your own personal audience captivated by your words for a few brief seconds in time. Because of the attention given to their respective sports, the audiences for athletes tend to be a lot larger and a lot farther-reaching. The formerly mentioned Jones, who happened to be the winning quarterback in this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship game, was only suspended for one game for the controversial tweet, but the echo of his sentiment was heard nationwide.
Some schools have taken an austere approach to controlling the social media accounts of their athletes. A recent Harvard study on social media policy in the NCAA helps to explain: “Social media is changing so quickly that regulations are barely able to keep up. In 2006, Loyola University Chicago chose to completely ban student-athlete use of Facebook and MySpace.” This authoritarian approach is uncommon but indicative of a recent effort from universities to monitor the online interactions of their student-athletes.
When discussing a policy such as a ban on all social media, the First Amendment must be considered.
The NCAA already makes millions thanks to the commercialization of athletic events, why would it further sour its reputation and limit the individual voices of the athletes? The answer to that question is a tricky one given the heterogeneous nature of the current policies. Regulation of social media activity is largely taken care of on a school by school basis, with the NCAA acting as the overseer should it discover any examples of “failure to monitor.”
Some could argue that social media can be, as is the case for me, a distraction. When old-school NBA veteran Kevin Garnett was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves this past month, younger teammates were warned that their phones were in danger of being thrown in the toilet if KG caught them texting on game day.
For athletes whose Twitter followers greatly exceed the population of the student body, it is hard to argue against the distracting nature of social media. When a student-athlete like Johnny Manziel is tweeting to a million — at times — loyal followers, the drunken words from a night before can be enough to create an ESPN controversy.
To further muddy the waters, the issue of recruiting has also been greatly influenced by the proliferation of social media accounts.
Interactions between prep prospects and anyone associated with a university that even hint at recruiting are sniffed out by the NCAA. A policy that, while strict, is ever-changing given the rapidly evolving world of social media. The NCAA, like most governing bodies, takes a substantial amount of time to create and enact laws. It may take three years for the NCAA to develop policy on a social media platform that could have already passed the peak of its popularity.
Just as Fortune 500 companies have now invested in “social media background checks,” so, too, have some NCAA member schools.
In 2014, high-profile University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt discussed the damaging effects of irresponsible social behavior by highly touted recruits, saying, “We told (the kid and) we told his coach (that) we don’t condone that, and he was a guy who was already committed to Georgia…We found out about it, and we cut him.”
Players are already held accountable by their coaches for their actions on the field of play, but in this generation of increasing online visibility, they are becoming more beholden to their social media maneuvers off the field.
But for every hubris-inspired misstep by young athletes, there is an inspiring story or humorous anecdote that was spread by the use of social media platforms. When Kentucky’s head basketball coach, John Calipari, infamously tweeted a birthday message to his daughter on the wrong day, no fines were handed out or suspensions given. Instead, the embarrassing tweet was shared to the point where you almost felt bad for the amount of embarrassment the hotheaded Calipari accumulated in a matter of hours.
The consensus reaction to his fatherly faux pas was more tongue-in-cheek than malicious intervention by a hungry Twitter-verse.
And there is the story of Easton Bruere, a state-title-winning high school quarterback who had trouble getting recruited out of the isolated state of New Mexico. A feature column on Bruere was put on Bleacher Report’s site, and the tumultuous tale of the talented yet under-recruited star quarterback was shared by countless sports writers, fans and those within the community. As a result, Bruere received a football scholarship and will continue with his dream of one day making it to the NFL, due in large part to the attention he received by going viral.
Long-established corporations and organizations are scurrying to catch up with the changing online culture, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the NCAA. But the conundrum that social media poses to NCAA athletics is surely a unique one. The contrast that exists between the NCAA’s archaic policies and the modern mindset of a younger, tech-savvy set of student-athletes is stark and possibly problematic.
Our generation has come to be partly defined by the seconds of a Snapchat or the likes on an Instagram post. If the NCAA hopes to play fair with its social media policies, it is time to learn the lingo of the athletes it is more than willing to govern.