When your athletic department is big business, you know you'll want to do whatever you can to protect yourself from scandal or embarrassment. We've previously discussed some of the measures Ohio State is taking to prevent say, another barter-for-tattoo scandal, like requiring players to have bank accounts and personal budgets. The university is taking that proactive approach one more step, now contracting with a private firm to monitor player's social media accounts for potential embarrassment or NCAA violations.
The report, which you can read here, details how Ohio State plans to utilize electronic software to monitor social media accounts (specifically "Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr") to ensure that students are compliant with university, Big Ten and NCAA regulations, as well as not embarrassing the school with derogatory comments about coaches, teammates or school employees. The school has contracted with a third party vendor, Jump Forward, to provide these services.
Basically, if you're an Ohio State student athlete that feels compelled to share potentially controversial social media content, you're basically confined to pinning stacks of cash on Pinterest.
The rationale behind such polices are clear: NCAA violations are expensive and could have significant impacts on your program, so it makes sense to be proactive in trying to prevent them. Plus, when you know that you have an AD that can't be counted on to win a press conference, another Manti Te'o situation would be a huge nightmare for President Gee, probably right up there with Brooks Brothers closing forever.
Plus, college kids can be stupid. Even if no actual NCAA violation occurs, no poorly paid OSU PR flunky wants to deal with a situation like say, Will Hill's twitter account, no matter how much us bloggers love them. If you haven't read this story yet, please do so right now, although if you're at work, maybe open up a Firefox Private Window first.
Some programs have decided the best way to prevent problems is to get players of Twitter completely. Mike Leach banned players from Twitter last October. Jimbo Fisher put Florida State on a Twitter embargo as well. Both actions apparently stemmed from players posting "objectionable" content. I think it goes without saying that Ohio State isn't the only big program, or even moderately sized program, where player's tweets and facebook posts are being scanned by some sort of big brother.
I honestly do not have a strong opinion one way or the other as to whether players should or shouldn't be allowed to utilize social media, or whether a school should monitor social media accounts. I think there are more interesting questions raised here. At what point does a school's efforts to enforce compliance step too far into "big brother" territory? At what point, if they haven't already, do these steps become negative recruiting fodder? And would we be comfortable subjecting ourselves to some of these same rules?
It's certainly no secret that even in the proverbial "real world", your social media presence can impact you professionally. If you're dumb enough to tweet things that end up say, here, and your boss finds out, there is a good chance you could get into trouble. Would you guys willingly give up your social media accounts to a boss if they specifically asked, so they could proactively monitor those accounts? Maybe that's a bit more of a gray area.
If you're a undergrad, and say, the Evans Scholars, or some other kind of academic scholarship foundation, gave you a significant scholarship, but you had to provide proof of certain banking information, or share Facebook information, would you personally consider that appropriate?
Given the sheer amount of money and attention in college football (and that isn't going away anytime soon, no matter what Jim Delany says), it stands to reason that more and more administrators will want to go to Gene Smith route towards more elaborate and proactive enforcement mechanisms, if they think that gives them an edge in risk protection. How much more until some students begin to balk? How much more until a coach thinks he can develop a recruiting advantage by being public with a more hands off approach?
Which coach do you think that would be? Dana Holgorsen? Lane Kiffin? We already know Bert is making fun of people on Twitter himself. Bringing in extra help to make sure we don't have another "we don't need to play school" moment may be permissible given the parameters of receiving an athletic scholarship, but educating on best practices may ultimately be more prudent. Having some sort of conversation about what kind of student privacy rights ought to exist seems smart though, lest coaches and administrators feel the need to push farther and farther, to ensure they remain compliant.